Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bruce Hall-mighty

I was quite impressed to see that the front page of today's Dallas Morning News had a front-page feature on Bruce Hall, my old dorm at UNT. From the description in the article, it appears that little has changed since I lived there:
In every hallway, at every turn: the sound of trumpets, saxophones and violins. In the lobby and out in the courtyard: guitars, flutes and the thunder of drums. Even in the parking lot, music seeps from the building, a constant soundtrack.

All across the dorm, students sit in their rooms listening to obscure jazz. In most dorms, music is mere background sound.

In these rooms, it's the focus. These students sit quiet and still, their eyes closed. They study every note.

So goes life at Bruce Hall, the oldest and one of the most eclectic living spaces at the University of North Texas.

Most of the 492 residents are students at the prestigious College of Music.

The rest are artistic types in for the ride.
Bruce is a unique place. It almost had to be the musicians' dorm, seeing as how it's located right across the street from the Music Building (this made it possible to accidentally sleep until 7:55 in the morning and still make it to an 8:00 class on time--been there, done that.) Having the most liberal practice hours on campus also helps (when I lived there, one could practice in the room from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.), and an entire room full of Wenger practice modules in the basement can be checked out 24/7. Live jams in the lobby took place on a regular basis, and sometimes, the people in there would ultimately appear on CD's that you'd buy a few years later. It was, and is, a great place for a musician to live.

It was also a weird place, as might well be expected with so many creative types in a single location. One of my old band directors used to say that Bruce "pretty much hovered about four feet off the ground at all times." Virtually any mode of dress or expression was accepted (I'll never forget the girl with Statue of Liberty hair). On my first night, I walked in after marching band practice to see a group of upperclassmen playing the children's game "Duck, Duck, Goose" in the lobby. It was a great environment to get used to college without being judged by one's peers.

I didn't immediately warm to the place, mind you. The first thing I said to myself as I walked through the lobby on move-in day was, "What a (expletive deleted) slum." The lack of air-conditioning at the time, the dust (stirred up by utility construction) that came in through the window and all but choked the life out of my little box fan, and my pot-smoking hippie first roommate made for a rough start, but I grew to love the place so much that I stayed for my first three years of school.

The DMN article also does a good job of capturing the vibe of the College of Music itself, especially in terms of its effect upon newly-arrived students:
Every musician here was among the best back home. A "big fish," they say.

Many are prodigies who've read music since they could read words. They come to Bruce from all over the world.

For the first time in their lives, they are surrounded by musicians of their own caliber – with similar experiences, tastes and habits.

The dorm provides an environment in which kindred musical spirits find one another. The world of competitive music can be stressful and lonely. But here musicians find acceptance and support.

Alumni from Bruce play in metropolitan symphonies and bands across the country, including one well-known UNT jazz major, Norah Jones.

The environment is simultaneously tense and laid back.

While some students jam in the lobby, others are alone in their rooms, practicing until their fingers go numb.
Yup, it sounds like not much has changed at all.

Since I have a job that allows me to nurture prospective music majors, some of them ultimately end up at UNT and living in Bruce, which means that I've had the chance to see the place every now and then. Save for the A/C units, the swipe-card entries and (thankfully) the renovation of the community bathrooms (yes, it's now possible to flush the toilet while someone is in the shower without taking all their cold water away), the building is much the same as when I lived there. (A few years ago, I even had the chance to be a Bruceling again for a night. I went to a concert in downtown Ft. Worth with a former-student-turned-friend who lived on my old wing; we got back so late that my friend insisted that I crash on his floor rather than try to drive home. It was quite a blast from the past, especially the part about having to move my car from the front parking lot in the morning before the free-parking hours ended.)

Read the whole thing, especially if you're a fellow former Bruceling; it'll bring back lots of memories. And check out the video here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The guys who brag the most about how much music they know are just insecure about their playing. Sometimes people here can get a little pretentious when they are nervous inside. The best players don't need to brag."--Sam Reid, saxophonist and music ed/jazz studies major at UNT (hmm, sounds familiar), in the DMN article.

VIDEO OF THE DAY: Lest anyone doubt the power of music, check out this inspiring video about Patrick Henry Hughes--blind and crippled since birth, he's overcome many obstacles to become a talented pianist and trumpeter, and--with the help of his dad--has even earned a position in the University of Louisville marching band.

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