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Students argue to access practice spaces, facilities, instruments over winter break

The University of Ottawa’s Pérez Hall reopened its doors during the winter break after students voiced concerns of being unable to access practice spaces, facilities, and instruments.

Along with a group of U of O students, the Undergraduate Music Students’ Association (ADEMSA) submitted an online petition after students were informed a week prior about the building’s planned closure. Closing on Dec. 20, the petition was signed and shared by classical concert pianist and U of O alumna, Angela Hewitt.

With 493 signatures, the petition called for a compromise from the U of O to meet the needs of its music students, stating that the two-week building closure was, “an unacceptable amount of time given our near complete reliance on this space for practice studios and access to instruments.”

Citing safety considerations on Dec. 13, the Faculty of Arts announced that Pérez would close Dec. 23 to Jan. 3. “Protection Services only operates with minimal staff and Physical Resources reduces the heat to the buildings,” stated an email from the School of Music.

In addition to the petition, students sent individual emails to the dean of the School of Music voicing concerns from inaccessibility to instruments, room acoustics, and noise-restricted apartments—all of which, students said, could negatively impact year-round performances and auditions.

“If you do badly on an audition, and you’re going for your masters, you pretty much put a permanent stain on your reputation,” said ADEMSA vice-president finance and second-year music student, Magnus Charette.

Especially for the pianists who don’t have access to other instruments, it’s basically like a death sentence to your undergraduate (or masters) career.

—ADEMSA vice-president finance and second-year music student, Magnus Charette.

 

Upon receiving student complaints, the Faculty of Arts announced that Pérez Hall would open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 22 to Jan. 2, with the exception of Dec. 25-26 and Jan. 1. On Dec. 19 the faculty stated, “We recognize that in order to achieve excellence in their discipline, students from the School of Music benefit from practising regularly.”

Students accessed the building with reprogrammed access cards; while additional security services monitored the building.

“I see this as a positive,” said Sylvie Lamoureux, Faculty of Arts vice-dean governance and external relations. “We were made aware of a need, and we worked with the students and the faculty to find a solution.”

Lamoureux added that decision-making focused on student safety—especially because many of Perez’s pianos are located in the basement, which has less heating. Over previous breaks, thefts have also taken place at buildings on campus.

Despite the compromise, some students said the five-hour practice period over the holidays was still inadequate once breaks and schedules were taken into consideration.

Samuel Cianbroni, a student from Brazil in the visiting researcher program, said “I play piano so I can’t practise in my home, because I don’t have (a piano) here in Canada.” Cianbroni practises between three and four hours on a typical a day.

“I know a lot of music students across the country and in North America have their practice pianos, they have their other practice instruments and make use of other practice spaces during the holidays,” said Lamoureux. “Yes there are international students, but it’s not a given that they actually stay on campus.”

For future break periods, Lamoureux said that the faculty will need to gather data to determine student needs, resources, and costs. Currently there is no plan for whether Pérez Hall will reopen for the 2019–20 holiday period.

Faculty of Arts students who have concerns regarding their program or university experience are advised by the faculty to contact their student association and the vice-dean student affairs at 613-562-5800 ext 5335 or Vice-Doyenne.Etudiants.Arts.Vice-Dean.Students@uOttawa.ca.