Ignition

In about a week the powerful engine that is the Princeton University academic year will start purring, as it always has. But for all who work in the performing arts at Princeton, this one is different. September 2017 will be forever a watershed moment, with the opening of the dazzling and intricate network of spaces for creating that is the Peter Lewis complex, housing the Programs in Theater and Dance of the Lewis Center for the Arts, and the Music Department’s Program in Musical Performance.

“Excited” is a pale word to describe the mind state of the new tenants. We saw the sail on the horizon years ago, and have watched day after day as the ship drew nearer, revealing each new sail with excruciating slowness. Occasional trips to the top floor of the adjacent garage to view the site were arranged. To my amateur eye for a long time honestly it looked like random digging. Until one day it didn’t.

I think it was Fall 2005 when many of the arts faculty were summoned to a meeting in Nassau Hall with President Shirley Tilghman, at which she shared her vision that Princeton should achieve the same status in the arts as it had in just about every other field imaginable. We were all both stunned and elated. Shirley’s will and determination were powerful that day.

A task force was formed, a report was made, discussions of potential locations were followed by needs lists, Peter Lewis’ amazing gift came, we saw the first ground plans, the traffic circle was installed, the Wawa moved, new Dinky station….. it was all like a gigantic and slow upbeat (to switch metaphors). The downbeat comes in a few days, as of this writing. That’s actually a flawed metaphor: any good conductor knows that the downbeat and the tempo that follows must be exactly the same speed as the upbeat. In this case, the upbeat was adagissimo, taking years, whereas the tempo after the sforzandissimo downbeat will be molto presto. We will barely be able to catch our breaths, students and faculty alike.

When one walks through the buildings right now, before occupancy, there’s a sense of great spaciousness—the space is so beautiful and grand that it feels almost royal, as if the Hapsburgs had built it. Soon the people for whom it was built— not aristocracy but students—will fill it, and it won’t seem quite as spacious. I know that the music building is already scheduled near capacity, and I suspect my colleagues in Theater and Dance might make similar observations. The growth in student numbers and depth of talent has not abated, and it seems like the curve is still headed up. Maybe it’s time to think about adding floors?

2017-2018 coincidentally is a watershed for me too. I arrived on these shores from New England Conservatory in the Fall of 1977, and, although it doesn’t feel like it, the math doesn’t lie—I’m now starting year 40 at Princeton. I hope to write more in future entries that will speak to the changes that have happened to/for music performance at Princeton in forty years. Some have happened glacially, and sometimes there have been sudden bursts forward. In the overall perspective, the last 10-12 years, since the meeting with Shirley, have to be placed in the burst category. In future entries I’ll pull up some tales from the 70s and 80s that might raise an amused (even disbelieving) eyebrow or two. It has been a far greater ride than I, when I was young, ever imagined I would have. I am so lucky.

For now, I’m happy to subsume my little party into the big one. See you in the palace!

MP