Music bears credit

Dean pushes for improvement in arts

On Monday, Dean Mary Simoni of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences met with the Student Senate to discuss a new initiative that she and the Rensselaer Music Association have brought forth.

Simoni started by sharing a little of her own history, explaining that prior to accepting the position of dean at RPI last October, she was an associate dean at the University of Michigan, where she joined the faculty as the director of the Center for Performing Arts and Technology in 1994. Among other degrees, she holds a doctorate in Music Theory from Michigan State University, a school which does over 400 shows per year. When asked why she joined the RPI faculty, she responded that, among other reasons, she was “enamored by EMPAC; wooed by the facility,” and that she is “interested in music technology.” At the meeting, she acknowledged that a lot of the facilities of HASS are substandard and that is something she will be working on.

Simoni then expressed concern that the RMA is funding programs that the Institute should be responsible for. On the topic of credit-bearing ensembles, she explained, “All the equipment is funded by the RMA. All the sheet music is paid for by the RMA. Student fees are paying for faculty salaries.” She told the Student Senate that the fact that Student Activity Fee money was being used to fund credit-bearing classes that should be the responsibility of the Institute came as a surprise to many faculty involved, including herself and Provost Prabhat Hajela. The RMA has been responsible for funding these ensembles for several years; the Arts department’s fiscal constraints forced them to be cut, and the RMA stepped up to prevent these opportunities from being lost to RPI students.

Hajela recently commissioned a task force co-chaired by President of the RMA Julia Alsarraf ’13 that began meeting this semester. The committee started meeting on February 3, and has had two meetings so far. The meetings have concentrated on making a recommendation to the provost about the future of credit-bearing music ensembles at RPI, including the Contemporary Jazz Ensemble, Repertory Jazz Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra, Percussion Ensemble, and Concert Choir. All of these groups offer the option for students to receive credit, but are not currently funded by Rensselaer. The task force has concentrated on the responsibility and funding of faculty, equipment, sheet music, and facilities over to the School of HASS.

When asked, Gregory Pitner ’12, the vice president of RMA and manager of both Jazz Ensembles, said, “these changes are long overdue and for the best.” Simoni described the likely recommendation as an “amicable divorce,” to split co-curricular activity from curricular activity. She stressed, however, that the soonest any change to the ensemble programs would be visible to most people would be Fall 2013. The Arts department would be working over the next year to make the change possible, but Simoni said she is enthusiastic about the changes and she is confident that they will not reduce access to the performing arts. When asked how the changes would affect the future of the RMA, Pitner summed it up: “The RMA isn’t going away and it will continue to offer performing arts opportunities for all interested students; that’s not going to change any time soon.”

If you are interested in seeing Simoni perform, she will be at a show in EMPAC on April 13. She will play a piano, control electronic music with accelerometers on her wrists, and control a clarinet with an iPad.