I got some bad news on Sunday night. It appears that the practice rooms at my undergrad, Ithaca College, were vandalized. At the time 60 pianos and some percussion equipment were thought to be destroyed. This on the eve of the beginning of juries, the “final exam” for the playing portion of a musician’s studies in higher education. In the end, though ¾ of the pianos available in the practice rooms were overturned or had parts ripped out, most were in “playable” condition after some intensive work by the piano technicians. The police are investigating, and no one has been caught, nor is there any indication of why this was done.
I’m still in shock, mostly because I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would do this. I keep thinking of the sheer amount of time and strength it would have taken. When could this have happened? You cannot be in the music building during any of its open hours find yourself alone in the building. It’s generally open from 7AM to 1AM, and I have heard that often you can stay later than that. This 6 hour period of lockdown is really only to force music students to get some sleep. Could it have been a music student? More than one? This at least, does not seem true to me. A normal music student would never consider this kind of damage to a musical instrument. And they would not do it on the eve of juries. While this seems like the “best” time to do damage, and it’s true that the practice rooms get a lot of use at this time, the reality is that the practicing that needs to be done has already been done, and most people avoid the practice rooms entirely after juries are over which means that about Wednesday things get really quiet. The school has a lot of time to repair the pianos, get replacements, clean up, and generally put things to right again before school starts up. A more disruptive time would have been the first day of the new semester.
And still I do not understand. This shock goes around and around in my head and my heart, never reaching any kind of destination, open-ended and searching. Why?
This may seem trivial to a non-musician. The damage was, after all, pretty minimal in the end. But it’s the violation that is the shock. Consider a few points.
1. The music building is more a home than many musicians’ dorms or apartments. We often spend more hours a day in the music building than we do anywhere else between classes and practicing and attending concerts.
2. The music building at IC has always been open to anyone. Many music buildings I have visited over the years require key cards to get in, have extremely limited hours, or extremely limited space. The practice rooms are invariably in the basement, but IC’s rooms have windows to the outside (a real treat) and more grand pianos available to students than any other school I have ever visited. It’s this openness and the sense of home that seems most violated.
3. And then there’s the instruments themselves. Pianists and percussionist do not have the luxury of portable instruments. Even in the best of circumstances, the sheer cost of a grand piano or a marimba means that most of these students can only hope of owning one someday, after years and years of saving pennies. They cannot afford their own instruments, and that is why there are so many available in music schools, and why the pianists and percussionists spend so much time in the music building.
4. Lastly, I have to mention the personal relationship that a musician feels with his or her instrument. Each instrument has a personality, little things that it likes or doesn’t like, things it does effortlessly and things you need to coax it to do. Each instrument has its own voice. A music student often spends more hours a day with their instrument than any person in their lives. Consider that. A student was quoted as saying that he considers this act like a murder. He’s not far wrong in sentiment if not in actual fact.
I can’t help but think of the steps that IC will have to take to protect its students and its instruments, and another little part of me is sad. Hindsight is 20/20 and I have only been able to accurately value what Ithaca has given me in relation to the kinds of experiences I have had since. Ithaca is a truly unique place and offers an incredibly thorough and diverse musical education. I cannot picture how it will change with locks on its doors.