When Karem Simon began working in the music department at the University of Prince Edward Island in 1991, he knew right away that his students needed a better performance space. Now, after more than 30 years as a faculty member, his dream of a new and improved venue is coming true.
Set for completion in fall 2023, the venue – part of a $3 million campaign to support performing arts at UPEI – will be housed in a new residence building and seat more than 400 people. Along with state-of-the-art standards for all types of live performances, the venue will include rehearsal spaces, dressing rooms and even a climate-controlled room for a concert piano. “It’ll be visually, acoustically and aesthetically very pleasing,” says Dr. Simon.
Performances usually take place in the Dr. Steel Recital Hall in the Steel Building on campus. Dr. Simon says that although the recital hall is a cherished historic space, it wasn’t equipped for things like big ensemble performances, such as for the school’s wind symphony. While the hall is undergoing renovation as part of the university’s campaign to support performing arts, Dr. Simon is excited to see his students showcase their skills in an improved setting.
Although it will be part of a residence hall, the design team’s acoustician has ensured there won’t be any sound bleed, with the use of features like rounded walls and special ceiling panelling.
“It’s certainly going to inspire all of us, faculty and students alike,” says Dr. Simon. “I often compare this to someone in minor hockey; learning to play at a local rink, and then you get to go to a municipal centre that’s much larger, and you step out on the ice and feel so good about having a space that you can use for your skill.”
Implications for the new venue go beyond students enrolled at UPEI. Dr. Simon, who is involved in the wider Charlottetown music community, is excited about the opportunity to welcome elementary and high school students to showcase their end of year performances at the venue, rather than in their school gymnasium. “I’ve had a variety of school music teachers mention to me that they’re very excited to have their music program present in this facility. … And if these students have a positive experience on our campus, that will certainly help recruiting.”
The construction of the new venue coincides with what Dr. Simon hopes will be a continued expansion of arts programming at UPEI, including in sound engineering, dance and arts administration.