We commend Duke University’s efforts toward promoting arts on campus. Music, dance and theater positively impact University culture. But more important than putting on weekly concerts and productions for students to observe is ensuring that students can participate directly in the arts themselves. The accessibility of music practice rooms on campus restricts the ability of students to improve and disenchants casual musicians. When one considers that Duke offers classes that require students to practice regularly, the problem becomes increasingly pertinent.
Several things currently impede musicians from practicing their instruments at Duke. First, there are not enough music rooms on Duke’s campus to accommodate the number of musicians. There are five practice rooms on West Campus and 20 practice rooms—located in the Biddle Music Building—on East Campus. There are no practice rooms on Central Campus. Often the practice rooms—especially on West—are full, and the first-come, first-served policy means students can never be certain of availability. Pianos in common areas are not suited to practice because such spaces primarily act as social hubs.
Second, to practice on West Campus, students need a key to access the practice rooms. Students who take for-credit music lessons may be able to obtain a key for regular use but otherwise, keys are issued on a one-day basis from Housing, Dining and Residence Life. We understand HDRL’s decision to give preference to students who are taking a music course at Duke, but this should not be a necessary compromise to make—the need to go to HDRL each day one wants to play one’s instrument is particularly discouraging for students who simply play an instrument as a hobby.
Third, the practice times are currently 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on West Campus, further limiting availability. Considering that many students are occupied during the day due to classes and at night because of extracurricular involvement, the absence of overnight and early morning hours is problematic.
Duke should consider the following improvements to music rooms. The priority should be the addition of practice rooms to Central Campus. A bus ride to East or West Campus might not seem like a major convenience—but when one considers that the most suitable practice times probably coincide with infrequent bus schedules and that students never have any guarantee of room availability, a set of rooms on Central Campus is urgently needed. The merits of the key system should be reevaluated—students should be able to swipe in with their DukeCard as they do other buildings. It seems likely that the limited hours of availability of the practice rooms on West are due to noise concerns in residential areas. If this is the case, rooms should be soundproofed so that they can be available at all hours. 24/7 practice rooms would give students far more flexibility for fitting practice into their schedules and such a change would significantly decrease overcrowding.
If we want to revitalize arts at Duke, prioritizing the improvement of our practice facilities is one of the most basic ways we can facilitate student involvement in music. Practicing one’s instrument should be as effortless as possible.