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Perfect pitch:
The new shape and trajectory of music at Skidmore
by Susan Rosenberg


Zankel Music Center planning— a long-developing Skidmore project of equal parts creativity
and committee work—has traced an almost symphonic arc: determination of its need and priority (adagio), wish lists and architects’ proposals (moderato), pause to allow other urgent construction (largo), and resurgence of momentum with a dramatic donation (presto con brio!).

Now the “Creative Thought Bold Promise” campaign aims to cue the finale, a grand crescendo of excavators, cranes, and cement mixers. The Arthur Zankel Music Center—named for the trustee (and parent of Kenneth ’82 and James ’92) whose $42 million bequest to Skidmore included $15 million toward its construction—will be twice as big as the Filene Music Building. When Filene was built in 1968, Skidmore had a music faculty of about five; today, it’s more like forty, and nearly sixty course offerings range from classical to non-Western, jazz, and electronic. According to Tom Denny, music professor and department chair, the Zankel’s much-needed rehearsal and practice space will leave the concert hall available for performances, and larger classrooms will allow “active learning in music-theory courses, where you want students to come up and scribble on a big blackboard.” Size also matters in the media room that houses computers with musical-notation software and other resources. “It’s a very popular place for our students to gather, hang out, and study,” says Denny. But Filene’s is now too small; the Zankel’s will be much more commodious.
(see the floorplans)

As for performance space,
Denny says Filene Recital Hall’s capacity of 235 means “we sometimes push the limits of the fire marshall’s regulations, and still we may turn away more people than we can let in.” The Zankel’s 600-seat concert hall “will allow our big events to
reach the audience they’re intended for.” Professor Tony Holland, conductor of Skidmore’s orchestra, is eager to work on a bigger stage where “string players can move their bows back and forth without poking the musician next to them, and the conductor can stand in front rather than being enveloped into the wind section.” And behind that large stage will be a huge three-story window looking onto South Park. (Or the glass can be curtained, or partly hidden behind an optional accoustic shell.)

Designed by the Ewing Cole architectural firm, the Zankel is “the most ambitious building project ever undertaken on campus,” according to President Philip Glotzbach. As Denny sees it, “It represents a tribute to the philanthropic vision of Helen Filene Ladd. She said she wanted to ‘breathe life’ into her building—and she did! So much life that we need larger quarters.” Glotzbach says the Zankel will also be “a shining light for Skidmore and the entire region.” It will be sited to serve as a gateway at the campus entrance, welcoming visitors to events that complement the offerings of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and other cultural outlets in the area.

Here’s a video about the Zankel Center and music at Skidmore.

Arthur Zankel’s
brother Martin says he “profoundly believed in
the transformative power of the arts,” and son Jimmy ’92 predicts the building’s impact will be “beyond huge. Not only will the Skidmore community experience music collectively in a first-class facility that we can call our own, but also people outside the college will flock to campus to partake in whatever magic is occurring on any given day. Skidmore’s reputation will grow exponentially.”

The building will be a concrete tribute, but, as Jimmy notes, already his father’s legacy as a benefactor and trustee “is everywhere: in scholarships, professorships, curriculum development, unparalleled endowment growth, and, most importantly, the success of my brother and me.” At Skidmore, he recalls, “I finally fulfilled my academic potential. Along the way, I met smart, fun, creative people who challenged me to broaden my mind and become a better person.” He concludes, “It’s simple—Skidmore got my brother and me excited about applying ourselves, so my dad got excited and applied himself to Skidmore.”

Fundraising to complete the Zankel Center’s needs—$30 million for construction and $12 million for its operating endowment—is now on the campaign’s front burner. A challenge grant from the Fred L. Emerson Foundation offers a $500,000 reward if the college can raise $2 million for the project by this November. Skidmore campaign officers hope to bring in enough donations for a Zankel groundbreaking very soon. When that happens, a glorious fanfare will ring out far and wide.