February 2, 2007

When the Best Things in Life are Free

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One of the best – and probably most underrated – parts about being a student in Ithaca is having access to the surprisingly large number of live music venues. Ithaca has always had a few reliable clubs downtown; in the recent months, music spots have been popping up all around the city, and all deserve our patronage. But sometimes, some of the best concerts can be right under our nose, and in this case, free.

Between three and six or seven nights a week, during the academic semester, Cornell’s Music Department hosts an array of shows that are all free to students. A quick look at the online calendar, which can be found at http://www.arts.cornell.edu/music/concerts.html
shows a diversity of performances that meet the needs of any music listener. You won’t find the raucous crowd you’d experience at a punk show, and the performers are probably much tamer than hip-hop MC’s, but none of these would exist today without, for example, Mozart’s Serenade in C Minor or Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat Major, which is being performed next Monday at 8 in Barnes Hall. The schedule is usually a good place to find top vocal performances, like Sunday afternoon’s matinee, which features soprano Judith Kellock and harpist Sonja Inglefield.

Other than the professional musicians the Music Department brings in, concerts on campus are often the best, and only, venues to hear the many student ensembles. In the classical vocabulary, there’s an orchestra, wind, and string groups, a steady stream of jazz performances, from big band to trios, in addition to more surprising acts like world percussion or klezmer. With such a huge campus, Cornell is lucky enough to count among its population strong musicians from all major who want to play for other students, and their programs and range are one of the integral pieces in Cornell’s renowned reputation.

Almost as notable as the music are the venues the department has available on campus. I myself discovered two of the most beautiful spots right on central campus, made all the more ethereal by the experience of seeing music there. Wednesday afternoons at 12:30 are perfect for sitting in idyllic Sage Chapel and letting your mind wander with the help of the chapel’s organ. The stained glass panels that adorns are stunningly colorful and calming, and the place in general exudes a feeling of goodwill and peacefulness. Right next door is Barnes Hall – its third level features a medium-sized performance space, beautifully-lit. Musicians sometimes have trouble with the strange acoustics of the vaulted ceilings and sharply-angled rooves, but the sound still fills the entire spot with a crispy acoustic resonance.

If you’ve got the money, maybe one of the best investments you can make for your musical side is in the Cornell Concert Series. Now held mostly in the beautifully-renovated Bailey Hall, the coming semester’s schedule offers the opportunity to see world-class acts like The Bad Plus and the Kremerata Baltica right on campus. The entire schedule, and details for individual shows, can be found at http://www.cornellconcertseries.com/.

The next time you’re regretting your choice to go to school in upstate New York instead of New York City, where it’s hard to walk a block without tripping over a club, keep in mind the range of music performed most days on campus. It’s almost all free for students, and the concerts are almost always memorable ones.