With New Building, Aggie Musicians Look To The Future
Walking into Texas A&M University’s new Music Activities Center, students are met with floor-to-ceiling images of the “Aggie War Hymn” and “The Spirit of Aggieland” stretched across a wall in the building’s glassed entry.
Next to the black-and-white images of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, a visual reminder of tradition, the windows look out onto another new addition, a 100-yard artificial turf drill field complete with an observation tower. The state-of-the-art facility, which has been 25 years in the making, contains plenty of nods to the past while signaling a new era for the university’s musical groups.
Col. Jay Brewer, senior associate director of the Aggie Band, describes the John D. White ’70 – Robert L. Walker ’58 Music Activities Center as a dream made reality.
Visible from Brewer’s new office is the 50-year-old E.V. Adams Band Hall, where he sat during his first rehearsal as a student in 1977. Before the Adams Band Hall opened, rehearsals were held on the top floor of the band dormitory. It’s all part of the band’s rich history, Brewer said, but the new facility will better be able to serve the needs of all instrumental and choral students on campus for the first time in at least a decade.
“The kids in the band, one in particular, called this the new generation of Aggie Band,” Brewer said.
It’s a major transition for Texas A&M’s choral groups, too, which have moved out of the Memorial Student Center. Built at a cost of $40 million, the facility for the first time will house all students involved in Texas A&M’s bands, orchestras and choral groups. Altogether, an estimated 1,300 students will use the Music Activities Center each semester, and 42 rehearsals per week are scheduled for this fall.
The 70,000-square-foot facility at George Bush Drive and Coke Street gives the groups the opportunity to collaborate more closely, said Timothy Rhea, director of bands and music activities, and “having all of these students under the one roof is so important to us in so many ways, musically, socially and academically.”
Rhea said the Music Activities Center is also designed with the future in mind, with enough room to ensure anyone on campus with musical interests can be accommodated 50 years from now. There’s also space for current students to stretch out across the 32 individual practice rooms and four rehearsal halls. Additionally, the building features a suite of administrative offices and a student lounge.
The E.V. Adams Band Hall lacked storage and had poor acoustics, Rhea said, not to mention it couldn’t safely hold the roughly 400 members of the Aggie Band at once. He said the new facility will bring rehearsals to a more professional level, and the university’s investment in the project speaks to the importance of those experiences to students.
Texas A&M and the Division of Student Affairs each contributed $10 million to the project. Rhea said John D. White and Robert L. Walker, the building’s namesakes, were instrumental in securing the $10 million cornerstone gift from the Ed Rachal Foundation.
“This has always been and will continue to be about the students, about Aggies, to give them an experience here out of the classroom that can help develop them into better citizens, for them to continue to improve their musicianship, and even more important than that, to be a part of something greater than themselves.”
“Things that we’ve never had the opportunity to do before, for the very first time we’re going to be able to do,” said David Kipp, director of choral activities. “It’s just absolutely amazing to have a facility like this where we can do some great things.”
Like the Aggie Band, the choral students will now be able to rehearse in one room together, Kipp said, and instead of squeezing into offices for rehearsals, the groups will be able to break out into three ensemble rooms. Not only does the more prominent location for the choirs lend itself to the ability to recruit more students, it also moves music activities at Texas A&M toward the future as a training ground for world-class students, he said.
Kayleigh Thomas, a junior who serves as vice president of the Women’s Chorus, said she’s excited to collaborate with the bands and orchestras and make music with peers she previously didn’t have the opportunity to work with. The choral and instrumental groups moved into the building earlier this summer – Rhea said the students were so overwhelmed when they first walked in, “it took us a while to get the students focused on actually moving instead of looking around at the building.”
The Aggie Band is also settling into practices on the new Dunlap Drill Field. Brewer has joked that the improvement from the former Haney Drill Field – with bandsmen and women not having to dodge ruts, fire ants and mud – that he’s not sure if the band will still be any good.
“This has always been and will continue to be about the students, about Aggies, to give them an experience here out of the classroom that can help develop them into better citizens, for them to continue to improve their musicianship, and even more important than that, to be a part of something greater than themselves,” Brewer said.
For Ross Beazley, who plays alto saxophone and is the sergeant major of the combined band, the Music Activities Center is the start of a new era. Instead of blinking through sweat during rehearsals outdoors, the 356 members of the Aggie Band can both split up by section into smaller rooms or practice indoors for the first time as a whole in the Elizabeth A. and Paul H. Motheral ’52 Rehearsal Hall.
Beazley said marching through holes and puddles is also a thing of the past, with the Dunlap Drill Field setting the band up for straight lines and perfect drills during halftime. While “our hearts are still over there,” he said of leaving behind the Haney Drill Field, students are “ready to put a stake in the ground and say, ‘This is the direction we’re heading.’”
“This new drill field is the future of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band,” Beazley said. “I think this whole band is going to get behind that mentality. Although that is our history, this is our future.”
Media contact: Caitlin Clark, 979-458-8412, firstname.lastname@example.org.