My View from South Hill
Monday, December 21, 2009
One week ago, early Sunday morning, students in our School of Music went into the James Whalen Center for Music to practice for their final performances of the semester. What they found was horrifying: during the previous night vandals had disassembled parts of sixty practice pianos, leaving them unusable. Some of the vandalism was done with the kind of care and finesse that suggests a misguided prank. The vandals caused significant damage to other pianos, however, with hinges broken off and wood surfaces torn apart. Some of the pianos were tipped over. Students soon dubbed the incident “Pianogate.”
We have not yet identified the vandals and there will be no closure on this incident until we do. Our Office of Public Safety is pursuing every lead to identify the person(s) responsible, with the assistance of the New York State police. I cannot offer further information on the progress of an active investigation, but leads are currently being followed up. I encourage anyone with information about the incident, however slight, to contact the Ithaca College Office of Public Safety. They have set up a line for anonymous tips: 607-274-1060.
Discovery of the damage on Sunday morning was a serious blow to the College, but what followed that discovery is a great story about the kind of community we enjoy here, as well as the kind of community that exists within the wider academy.
The first response on the part of Music School staff was not to wring their hands but instead to summon a “can do” attitude. Don McKechnie, Michelle Strange and Erik Kibelsbeck went to work immediately to get the less-damaged pianos back into operation as soon as possible. Though students were substantially inconvenienced throughout the day on Sunday – an especially important practice day at this time of year – by Sunday evening we were back to almost-normal operation. Our piano technicians continue to work on the more heavily damaged instruments. They have truly stepped up under adversity.
In his message to IC describing the damage and the steps being taken to repair the situation, our Dean of Music Greg Woodward noted the “feeling of frustration and violation felt by the students, faculty, and staff of the School.” But anger and shock quickly gave way to an affirmation of solidarity and commitment. Students organized a candlelight vigil, complete with music of course, to affirm their commitment to each other, to the School, and to the pianos themselves. There is video of the vigil that includes a wonderful acapella rendition of Don’t Stop Believin’ on Youtube, at:
As often happens, adversity brought out the generous spirit of our friends, both in and out of the academy. Students and alumni chipped in money to help defray the cost of repairs. Several music-related foundations and companies made miraculously speedy allocations from their reserves. Leaders at several other colleges and universities called to ask if they could help, perhaps by lending us some of their pianos. Though our speedy repairs meant that no loaners were required, the solidarity and generosity of spirit behind those offers was most gratifying.
From the perspective of one week later, it is clear that the vandalism has permanently changed us in some respects and has affirmed our long-standing values in others. Security in the James Whalen Center for Music will be tightened, a step always taken with a bit of regret given the atmosphere we seek of maintaining open access and 24/7 commitment to one’s profession.
On the other hand, both our campus community and the wider community of lovers of music was strengthened by this act, which seemed designed to silence our students. Just as Watergate affirmed the American commitment to democracy and equality before the law, so did Pianogate reaffirm our commitment to pursuit of excellence in music. The sound of students practicing on the fleet of pianos in the Whalen Center was never sweeter than it has been over the last seven days.
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