Addition of performing arts wing important landmark in history of department

If current PHS students were to walk through the school as it was ten years ago, they would find that much has changed. Not only would they find different clubs, teachers, and classes, but they would also see that the current performing arts wing—the orchestra room, band/choir hall, and PAC—was completely missing. Although the performing arts program has existed for a long time, it was only recently that the department upgraded its facilities. The new wing was finalized during the 2006–2007 school year, and dozens of rooms—classrooms, rehearsal rooms, practice rooms—were added the school along with a full-time performing arts center: the PAC.

The plans for the addition, finished in 2005, were made to cater to the growing student population. “The school was growing, [and] the band program was … growing. It is [even] larger now than when I was there,” said Dr. Joe Downey, former PHS band director and current John Witherspoon band director.

photo: Caroline Smith

photo: Caroline Smith

Prior to the construction, the instrumental music departments all used room 152, the current cinema room, which caused some problems between the different departments. “The band and orchestra programs shared one room,” said Robert Loughran, the orchestra director at PHS. “We were tripping over each other all day long.”

The addition might have also been necessary because the music room was near classrooms, which may have disturbed students and teachers. “Studio Band has this reputation … of being loud. If they played like we play now, they would have disturbed every classroom down that hallway,” said Joe Bongiovi, the current director of Studio Band.

As all departments now have their own rooms, they have enough space for the growing student population and all the equipment needed to be successful. “The new [band] room naturally accommodates a larger ensemble,” Downey said.

Although the extension may seem large, it was actually supposed to be bigger, taking up all of the parking lot outside the PAC. “[It] was sized down from the original plans. We were not presented with a choice when they sized everything down,” Downey said. The downsizing disappointed the music program directors, who were expecting more space for themselves and the students. “Our instrument equipment room would have been much bigger, we could have had more practice rooms, and [the plans] also included an office for the band director,” he said. “The new PAC was supposed to be a 1,500-seater; it is only 800 seats now. That would have made [it] a regional center for performing arts. We could have had bigger venues in there … [and] have not only our high school but really professional stuff in there.”

photo: Caroline Smith

photo: Caroline Smith

The construction of the new wing included soundproof practice rooms, which have proven to be a valuable tool to students as they provide a convenient space for students to meet and rehearse together. “The practice rooms [allow] sections [to] go into sectionals, which are very important. We can have a nice quiet space with good acoustics to work out the kinks [in our music],” said Caleb Eckstein ’16, a trombonist in Studio Band.

The practice rooms are also readily available and are there to encourage students to practice if they are around after school. “[The practice rooms] are very accessible. Everything you need is there, and [students] are always welcome to practice in them,” said Molly Quan ’15, a piano player in PHS Orchestra.

“We are very fortunate to have [these facilities], to be able to perform, play, and hold events in [them]. It makes the band program stronger overall,” said Jacob Polly ’17, a Studio Band pianist.

Before the PAC, the music departments used the current Learning Commons as a theater. Although it contained all the necessary aspects of a performance center—a stage, seating, and a tech booth—it sometimes failed to suffice as a theater. For example, the pit orchestra had no real pit to play in. “We did all these musicals like we do now with a large orchestra, and we just sat the orchestra in front of the stage and it was like pretending to be a pit,” Loughran said. “[Now] it is an official pit … We go in there and take up the space the way it should be.”

Despite the many benefits of having a new and higher-tech auditorium, there were some positive aspects of the old theater. “I thought the old room was cozier … I [also] liked the design of our old [auditorium] and I did not think that this addition really fit in with the design and the type of architecture in the era of the old PHS,” said Downey.

Besides a few nuances where the old theater may have had an upper hand, the newer facilities have proven better and have encouraged students to live up to the space they are using. “It is a really great facility that helps inspire people and helps them want to work really hard to make the shows really great,” said Blaine Rinehart ’16, a member of the PHS Choir and Musical Theatre. “It really shows in the plays and productions we have at the school.”

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