There are children doing tai chi before sunrise at the new Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) building. The 14 kids are getting in the zone before picking up their mallets and drumsticks for percussion ensemble practice.
Elsewhere, eight youngsters want to play harp. A standard-sized harp is about as tall as they are. They’re passionate about harp music, though, so they’ll practice on miniature harps, all of them fun colored in pinks and blues.
Down the hall in a piano lab —the only one of its kind in Madison — students play along with the instructor, pouring out who they are in sharps and flats, etudes and concertos.
These children, of around 500, are all excited about being in the long-awaited new music center on the 1100 block of East Washington Avenue. The $33 million building will have its official ribbon cutting in April, but music is already being heard inside.
Pleasant Rowland, creator of the American Girl dolls, recently remarked, “The new building right in the heart of Madison will change the horizon for WYSO and the community.” She continued, “Young musicians will dream bigger and work harder. They will connect with others who love music and together create a culture of excellence for everyone.”
An architectural composition
40,085. That’s the square footage of the new space, designed to look like a cello leaning on its side. It has large rehearsal halls, capable of holding 100-piece orchestras with balconies for birds-eye observation. It has studio spaces for all manner of instrumentalists. It has practice rooms for tuba players, bassoonists, violinists, and flautists.
There’s more to the building, much more. There’s a library and instrument repair shop, meeting spaces and reception areas, an outdoor patio, and a grand entryway with art by Andrée Valley, whose work has been in the Venice Architecture Biennale.
As Bridget Fraser, WYSO’s executive director, says, “We are creating a permanent home for generations of young musicians and a spectacular facility that can be used for the entire community.”
It’s been a long time coming. For the last two years, WYSO has been operating without programming space. They’ve held rehearsals and performances across the city - in schools and churches, community centers, and parking lots. Students, eager to be part of WYSO, were put on waiting lists.
No longer. The new building allows WYSO to expand programming opportunities and removes barriers to creating a more inclusive community.
The building is not just for those little tai chi practitioners, nor harpists. It’s for everyone. The organization is hoping the facility will be used by organizations that would have otherwise not had a space.
Susan Gardels is WYSO’s development director. She played violin growing up. “This can hold chamber orchestras, dance recitals, music therapy classes, piano lessons, all at the same time,” she says. “This building can’t just be for us. It’s for everyone.”
That includes, of course, children. The new space is warm and inviting. There are warm walls of yellows and oranges. There are cozy chairs. There are fun designs in the bathrooms. Immense windows look out over the neighborhood.
“This is a place where they’ll find their craft,” Gardels says.
That might be in the clarinet room, the cello studio, or in the percussion space over a large vibraphone, music about the emanate from the heart of a young spirited child.