If you build it, they will sing
Now for a bit of good news. In the midst of the terrible headlines about laid-off critics, slashed arts coverage and cutbacks in music education in the public schools, I figured I'd pass on some positive tidings for a change. I was excited recently to write a different kind of arts story: a piece about a fantastic new performing arts center opening smack in the middle of California's Central Valley.
And here's the most amazing thing: It belongs to a high school.
The Clovis Unified School District puts a premium on the arts, and officials here have planned for years on how to provide superior facilities for its students. After voters passed two bond measures, the district budgeted $17.5 million to build an arts center that houses a 750-seat concert hall and a 150-seat black box theater.
All the schools in the district will share the performing arts center. That means instead of building individual all-purpose facilities on each site, the district could splurge on specialized structures. The new Paul Shaghoian Concert Hall, named for a beloved music teacher, is designed for instrumental and vocal music only. Because of that, architects didn't have to design a stage that has to double as a theater. (The district already has a newly remodeled, state-of-the-art theater shared by the high schools in another location.) As I write in my story:
Everything about this building on the new Clovis North Educational Center campus is designed to make these singers sound as good as possible, even the walls, with their acoustically engineered curves and intriguing pyramid shapes.
"Even the applause sounds good in this building," says Brent Moser, visual and performing arts director for the Clovis district.
You should see this place. Over the stage, a grill with 20 sound reflecting "clouds" made of reinforced fiberglass provide sound reflection both to the performers and the audience. The apparatus has the ability to be raised and lowered and also to tilt at an angle depending on the type of music being performed.
The materials feel substantial and lavish: walls of maple, specially designed slate-purple curtains to absorb the sound, an exquisite stage floor. Hidden speakers hide all traces of electronics. An extra-quiet heating and cooling system uses larger duct sizes, slower-moving air and special vents to allow the air to seep in without a whistle.
The local Fresno Philharmonic is already drooling over the facility. It plans to use it for some of its smaller concerts, particularly for chamber music. The community has gained a gorgeous new facility.
It's nice to know that there are still schools out there that are determined to keep the arts alive. One of the teachers told me simply: "When you raise the bar in public education, kids are going to rise to it."