The sounds of music are emerging from a space originally used as a gymnasium on the campus of Freed-Hardeman University. New life has been breathed into the 90-year old Draughon Center.
The two-level 9,700 square foot building has been renovated to serve as the home of the music department. The public had a chance to see the transformation at an open house last spring. Guests toured the building and enjoyed refreshments and live music in the rehearsal hall.
The space has been configured into classrooms, offices, practice rooms and rehearsal hall. The music department moved in during the 2017-18 semester break.
The first floor houses faculty studios, three classrooms and six piano practice rooms. The second floor has become rehearsal space for the University Chorale. Some exposed brick walls as well as the original wood floors remain. The aim was to make the space as “live” as possible.
The building was constructed in 1930. The first floor was originally the college dining hall and the second floor was the gymnasium. It has since housed the counseling center, the audio-visual portion of the library, faculty offices, the education department and the history/political science department. Twice, when new library facilities were being constructed, the library used the space.
Dr. Gary McKnight, director of the University Chorale, said, “From a musician’s perspective, the rehearsal space is quite good.” Although he wouldn’t go so far as to say the sound is better than Old Chapel Hall, which, he thought, might “border on heresy,” he did say, “It rivals Chapel Hall.” McKnight is pleased both with the sound and the aesthetics.
Dr. Richard England, music professor, lauded the upgraded facilities for digital music and recording. “The rooms are better arranged for using computers and microphones for vocal recording and mixing,” he said.
President and student director of Chorale, Jacob Dowdy, is excited about both the rehearsal space and the digital music lab. “Digital music is one of our newest majors and all music majors are required to take some courses in that area,” he said, “so having a space built specifically for recording and mixing purposes is really exciting for us.”
Although Dowdy had only sung in Chapel Hall for a little over a year, he still found leaving it to be bittersweet. “The nostalgia of knowing that decades of past choral members had sung where I was singing was incredible,” he said, “but I was probably one of the most excited people when it came to the move. The new rehearsal hall is just beautiful, and the acoustics are great! The windows really open up the space and give it an airy feel. It’s definitely a unique, contemporary space.”
The music education major was so excited about the move that he physically helped to accomplish it. “I take a lot of pride in the whole building, so I tried to do whatever I could when it came to the transition. I went through days before and put sticky notes on everything that needed to be moved. Some days I asked a few Chorale guys to come help and we moved instruments,” he said. “Some days after class I still roam around and just find things I can do to make it look better, because I want it to be the best it can be.”
The move has already resulted in new and increased interest in the music department, according to England. And, that’s great news for Dowdy. “With the transition the school as a whole is going through right now,” he said, “this is our prime opportunity to showcase just how incredible FHU’s music department is.”