Butler School of Music should better support UT a cappella groups

Jennifer Beck

Just as an evening stroll through Jester West Residence Hall will lead you through a plethora of dance group practices, a nighttime walk through the buildings along the South Mall will fill your ears with music from any one of the many a cappella groups that exist on campus.

Although the centrality of the Six Pack is beneficial for these groups — made up of students living on and off campus — the use of this location for practice is mostly out of necessity rather than choice. 

With sound treatment and access to instruments, the Butler School of Music boasts impressive rehearsal spaces, but for many a cappella groups, reserving space is an uphill battle. Further, the costs of participating in collegiate a cappella competitions and a lack of relationships with esteemed music faculty are obstacles that hold these groups back.

The Butler School of Music should work with registered a cappella groups on campus to ensure access to the rehearsal spaces they need. In addition, the school can demonstrate its support for musical activity on campus by providing faculty advisers or teacher assistants to occasionally mentor students in a cappella groups.

With special acoustical treatment, pianos in-house and large ground space, rehearsal rooms in the Butler School of Music are in high demand.

“I think it would be really cool to practice (at The Butler School of Music) more because we can learn choreography and music with a larger space similar to what we would perform on,” said vocal performance sophomore Sam Shipps, social chair for the a cappella group One Note Stand.

Although there are no explicit rules against a cappella groups rehearsing in Butler facilities, the groups still face some obstacles when trying to reserve rehearsal space.

“There is a program called ArtsVision that music majors use to request rooms,” Shipps said. “Only music majors have access to ArtsVision.” 

This creates a problem for groups who do not have any music majors. However, even having a music major in the group does not guarantee space, as facility space is limited and priority is given to students participating in programs through Butler.

“In general, our first responsibility is music majors and people who are registered with programs in the school of music,” said Russell Podgorsek, building manager for the Butler School of Music. “We try to do what we can, but we have over 600 performances per year, and we have about 600 music students, so there’s activity all the time,” Podgorsek said.

Although the school of music’s ability to accommodate all parties looking to reserve rehearsal space is limited, a cappella groups should have access to the reservation software, and their relationships with the University should be improved.

The Butler School of Music should extend some of its resources, such as rehearsal space and faculty mentors, to a cappella groups. To make rehearsal space more accessible, the Butler school should make it possible for all members — music major or otherwise — of University-registered a cappella groups to reserve rehearsal space.

Further, the faculty at Butler can help cultivate skill development in the UT community by fostering a stronger relationship with a cappella groups. Professors and TAs in the school of music can share their expertise with students in a cappella groups to help them hone their craft and prepare for competitions.

“I know many of the groups could benefit from the vast knowledge the choral department (has),” Shipps said. “The choral department is capable of helping our a cappella groups become even better so (they) can compete with the other schools.”

UT has a responsibility to accommodate and provide resources for the University’s many a cappella groups in the same way it does for students in the Butler School of Music. With support from the music school, more a cappella groups will be able to strengthen their skills and participate at a competitive level.

Beck is a radio-television-film freshman from Park Ridge, Illinois.