Interior shot of Voxman Music Building at the University of Iowa.

When the new Voxman Music Building opens downtown in Fall 2016, it will be both the culmination of a project eight years in the making and the beginning of a new chapter in the rich arts and cultural history of The University of Iowa. For students, faculty, and Iowa City community members alike, the new building brings the School of Music to center stage.

“The new building is the manifestation of our core values– excellence, innovation, and connection,” says Professor David Gier, Director of the School of Music.

The 2008 Iowa River flood inundated much of the Iowa campus and was especially cruel to the west side arts campus. School of Music departments and classrooms scattered to 17 different locations across Iowa City. The upheaval demanded improvisation and collaboration, and Gier says the School of Music may have been uniquely qualified to meet these challenges.

“Collaboration is at the heart of the curriculum – large ensembles and orchestras require it,” says Gier, noting not a single class or rehearsal was missed that summer.

With faculty members scattered, Gier says they had to quickly learn how to be better stewards of time and adapt to temporary spaces that did not, at first, seem ideal to music education.

“The whole building is designed to be a living, breathing learning space.”

For example, Gier found himself teaching a student in a church Sunday school room. The room was not intended for music instruction and the acoustics were not ideal. But as he focused on the student and the lesson, those potential distractions fell away and Gier realized what really mattered was teacher, student, and learning.

“Learning was happening despite the surroundings,” he says.

For Clinical Professor Mary Adamek, those temporary surroundings included a downtown coffee house and her car, which she used as storage space for books, instruments, and any other materials. In a pinch, it also served as a private place for confidential meetings.

Even the loss of a hard drive containing a trove of her course material didn’t dampen Adamek’s resilient spirit.

“The good news is that I have all new materials for my classes,” says Adamek

Professor Benjamin Coelho also discovered a surprise benefit to being relocated to the physical center of campus when he taught his first post-flood bassoon lesson in the Iowa City Congregational Church.

“I felt part of the community rather than just belonging to the music school community alone,” Coelho says. “It was as if our school had more significant meaning as part of the Iowa City and UI community.”

In planning the new building, the School has collaborated with architects and contractors to include many structural features that will enhance the student learning experience In fact, the brother of one of the architects is a bassist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and helped his architect brother better understand the demands of hauling around a large instrument as well as the intense daily practice demands of serious music students.

In the new Voxman, the Rita Benton Music Library is located in the  heart of the building with an extensive collection of musical scores and other resources available for students to easily check-out on their way to a class or rehearsal.

Performance spaces and classrooms of various sizes provide multiple learning and performance opportunities, and social spaces encourage students, faculty members, and professional musicians to interact. On the first floor, a grand staircase highlights a glass façade where Gier can imagine seniors holding their capstone recitals.

“The whole building is designed to be a living, breathing learning space,” he says.

Adamek, Gier, and Coelho have high praise for the School of Music staff.

“They are the ones that have made our teaching and research possible,” says Coelho.

“It has been a long eight years,” says Adamek, who has had four temporary offices, not including her car and the coffee house. “I cannot wait to move into the new building and be reunited with all of my music colleagues.”

“We worked very hard and improvised, we lost some and won some,” says Gier, “We poured the experience of surviving into making the new beginning.”