Broken steam pipe endangers $100k of student instruments

Over the weekend of October 30, a steam pipe in West Hall 325 sprung a leak, causing the humidity in the the room to rise to the point where water was condensing on the walls and puddling on the floor. The problem was discovered on Monday, November 2 by Rensselaer Orchestra French horn player Patrick Celentano ’18. “I have music theory on Mondays [before the orchestra rehearses], so I usually bring my French horn with me to West and drop off in the storage room… I opened the door and was immediately hit with a wall of humidity and heat. There were little pools of water on the floor from condensation and any paper that was left in there—music, or otherwise—was wrinkled from saturation,” says Celentano. He informed Professor Nicholas DeMaison, director of the orchestra, of the problem, who, in turn, informed the Arts Department administration. According to Burgess, a violin manufacturer, when wooden instruments are stored in locations with improper humidity, they “swell and contract…When [they] get smaller, parts of the instrument, like the top, are under tension, the perfect condition for the formation of cracks and failure of the joints and seams.” Burgess recommended a relative humidity of between 40 percent and 60 percent for storage of wooden instruments. When asked if climate control problems were persistent in the orchestra’s rehearsal and instrument storage areas, Celentano responded “Yes. West Hall has a good number of problems, but those rooms are particularly bad.” In this instance, Celentano only had a mute damaged.

Other students, however, have not been as lucky. Nathan Kiel ’18, cellist in the orchestra, had his cello split due to the lack of climate control in the instrument storage areas this past winter. “Due to the extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity in that room, the seam between the face of the cello and the sides split and widened. I had to have that gap filled, which has compromised the structural integrity of my instrument, a handmade cello from 1928,” says Kiel, who also characterized the climate control problems in West Hall as recurring.

Professor DeMaison was asked his opinions of the instrument storage and rehearsal spaces. When asked about the constant fluctuations in humidity and temperature, he said “I would say it is absolutely problematic for instruments, there’s no question.” Professor DeMaison added that, in the event of another catastrophic event, it’s not a question of the possibility, but rather the extent, of instrument damage. When asked for an approximate value of instruments kept in these spaces, DeMaison performed a survey of the orchestra, and estimated the value at approximately $120,000, over 75 percent of which is in student-owned instruments.

As a response to this latest in a series of ongoing problems, orchestra students have banded together in an attempt to remedy the situation. On Tuesday, November 10, Celentano approached the Senate on behalf of orchestra members, in an attempt to facilitate communication with the administration and solve the climate control problems as well as other problems facing the program, such as a lack of a budget for sheet music. The Senate passed a motion to charge the project of rectifying the situation to the Student Life Committee.

S. John Trombley ’17