Chris Thile and Michael Daves, 2011. Free concert in the lobby. During a biennial, weekend-long guitar/guitar-ish festival, Ellnora.
The Krannert Center is overwhelming, and also kind of guilt inducing. For those not in the know, the Krannert Center is a huge performing arts venue in the center of campus. Five stages, numerous and cavernous rehearsal spaces, odd wafts of bacon-smell, an acceptable lunch cafe, curious nooks and/or crannies, one hidden gym area for the director (top of the stairs that lead to the Tryon balcony, go past the ropes), and one very interesting, very large public space as a lobby. There is always something happening at the Krannert Center. I have missed 99.9% of those happenings. I feel pseudo-guilty about some of those things. “The Chicago symphony came to your town and you didn’t go?!” Nope, missed it most years. “You didn’t go to every single wind ensemble concert?!” Nope. No qualification on that one. Just… nope. Months would go by without going to single concert or event. There would always be next time, next year, next concert cycle. But now we’re leaving. I thought I’d feel more regret about how little I took advantage of this incredible resource. But instead I’m really grateful for the experiences I did get to have in that place, musical and otherwise. I’ll run through a couple of regular occurrences that shaped my relationship with Krannert, and a few highlights. A bit jumbled, but hopefully captures the essence of the thing. I also can’t avoid talking about the design and construction of the place, its pretty remarkable.
Mark Ribot and David Hidalgo. Free concert on Stage 5, Ellnora 2015.
Study/Food/Conversation. Most of my time in Krannert has been spent in the lobby. Studying alone as the life of the building buzzed around me, meeting friends for lunch and conversation, interviewing research participants, chance encounters with colleagues and friends from the community. Just normal life events, but made richer by occurring in that place. The lobby is really a central gathering place for the university and community. Oh, and its huge. I can actually tell you quite a bit about the lobby (and the rest of the building. Dr. E used to give the tours as part of her grad assistantship). The floors are made of solid teak wood, and represent the entire allotment of teak wood that was allowed to be imported to the United States in the years the building was built. If you wanted teak wood in the sixties you were out of luck. It all came to Urbana. The design of the floor is meant to represent the fields of Illinois as seen from above. The metal pattern in the ceiling is meant to represent corrugated cardboard. Mr. Krannert made his fat stacks off of a cardboard patent that revolutionized the shipping industry. Most striking to me is the size of the space. Ellnora Krannert wanted the lobby big enough that all four theaters, at full capacity, could empty at the same time and all the patrons would be able to occupy the space comfortably. This wasn’t just so that the rich folk could rub elbows in their tuxes, it was meant to be a communal space in the richest sense of the word. My time in that space has taught me more of the value of the arts in community, how music is never just about the sounds we make. Its making time for shared experience, shared lives.
ISYM (Illinois Summer Youth Music). For the past 5 summers I have worked a a band assistant for ISYM, a pretty substantial 3-week program on campus. Rehearsals take place on level 2 of Krannert, down below the lobby. Working with tons of interesting and talented kids, several (mostly interesting) and talented directors, sharing teaching responsibility with lots of old and new friends. Its been a blast. The band concerts are always on the stage of the Great Hall, a cavernous and beautiful room of incredible acoustics and pedigree. Walls of butternut oak, symmetrical to the point that the board on one wall was next to the board directly across on the opposite wall when they were in the tree together.
Black Chorus. I only got to sing with the Black Chorus for one semester, but it was a really incredible experience. It was pretty early in my time at Illinois, and was one of the first times that I felt what it was like to be in the minority in a space, to know that I was an outsider both racially and culturally. I have never been in a warmer, more genuine musical environment. Especially striking was how welcome they were to truly share their faith. Now I am certain there were persons who did not affiliate with Christianity, and the message was seldom spoken aside from the text of the music itself. But I like to imagine that I could tell by the expressions on the faces around me exactly who this message resonated with most strongly. Every Monday and Wednesday evening I entered into the choral rehearsal room, but I was really walking into church. I looked around for a video from that semester, but none seem to be available. I wish I had found more time to sing with the group, but I am incredibly grateful for that semester. The Mom’s day concert is the only time I’ve ever seen the Great Hall packed to capacity.
There are plenty of other single events that I’ll take with me from Krannert as well.
Dr. E and I on a date night to see the CSO playing some Brahms
The first show I saw there was Kronos Quartet. It was during Dr. E’s master’s studies, early in our marriage. I went alone, as she had other things going on that night. I expected to find it interesting, but it ended up being a surprisingly moving and visceral experience. That same weekend included hearing Dr. E play Vaughn Williams’ 1st symphony with the University orchestra. Other highlights included Lady MacBeth—a Kabuki style interpretation of the play, Andy Mckee during a free lunch-time concert, Punch Brothers, Chicago Symphony (the one time we made it to hear them), Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Patrick Watson, tUnE-yArDs, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Don Flemmons, so many others. As I sit here trying to recall favorite moments I keep coming to glimpses and memories of the hall, without enough context to really name the group or piece. I remember a fascinating piece with portable organ, several snippets of operas, and many other bits of experience that must not have made a huge impression on me, but I remember as enjoyable nonetheless.
Other random recollections: Student teaching seminars, always held in the Krannert Room. Ellnora and Pygmalion festivals with their multimedia and interactive exhibits. Family arts events, with crafts for kids and local artisans. Uncorked events with local musicians from all genres and backgrounds (jazz, cajun dance, experimental rock, gospel, they ran the gamut). Dr. E’s recording sessions in the various halls as she prepared audition materials. Stories I would hear from Dr. E about her time working in patron services, stories of building-wide dance breaks during work, of performance artists taking over spaces, of the various cast of characters that make the building come alive.
One other particular memory is worth noting. A class in Aesthetics in Education, a performance of a Ugandan dance troupe. After the concert we were tasked with interviewing a 4th grade student about their experience. It was my first ever research interview. My participant insisted that we sit below the stairwell of the Tryon theater (a very strange, low space) to complete our interview. I don’t recall his answers, but I can still remember his energy and joy at being interviewed and being someplace other than school. I ended up seeing that kid several years later as he played euphonium in a local middle school band. He’ll enter high school next year, but I don’t think he’ll keep with his instrument. This moment kind of encapsulated my time here, a coming together of university and community, my first foray into qualitative research of a sort, trying to find ways to infuse education with musical experiences and musical thoughts, wrestling with ideas of cultural representation and the problematic nature of arts spaces in general. I still struggle with the idea of fancy white folks suiting up to sit real quiet while listening to other fancy folks playing music of a bunch of other dead fancy European white men inside a giant, hermetically sealed vault/mausoleum. But at least this place made strong efforts to involve the community in innovative ways, and opened most of the space up to uses beyond the presentational performance. Krannert really challenged me to think differently about arts spaces, and provided a place for community. Its something I’ll take with me, something I’ll keep unpacking.
Goodbye Krannert Center.