Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Crowley Hall

My dad took this photo of me during my last couple weeks as a student at Notre Dame. (I graduated a semester early, in December. South Bend, Indiana is a chilly town, but not chilly enough to wear a scarf in May!) I'm standing in front of the Crowley Hall of Music, which, though not the prettiest building on campus, was and is by far my favorite.

In my three and a half years in college I spent more hours in this building than in any other on campus, aside from my dorm. Quite often, I would start my day in Crowley in the early morning and I would end my day there in the afternoon. I didn't often practice at night--my fingers have never worked very well in the evening--so evenings were my time to write papers and do reading and complete the schoolwork part of my two majors. But during the day, most of my work happened in the old, cramped, beloved rooms of Crowley Hall.

First, I typically had at least one or two classes a day in one of the classrooms on the first floor. I learned about Monteverdi and early opera and the Italian Medici family; I learned about Schumann's Year of Song--in 1840, the same year he married his wife Clara, these art songs practically poured from his pen. I learned about Verdi's operas that were inspired by Shakespeare's plays, and I learned about the fury that Stravinsky's Rite of Spring evoked in its first audience (they were terrified and upset by the pagan dancing and the clashing harmonies). I learned about Beethoven's heart-breaking letter to his brothers, written when he realized he was going deaf, and his lament, "How could I admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection..."

These classes were fantastic, and I enjoyed almost every single one. But the most important work happened not on the first floor but on the second floor, where I spent hours and hours (and hours) in the practice rooms preparing for lessons and performances and recitals and competitions. The practice rooms were not at all fancy--nothing like my graduate school's hallway full of practice rooms that you swiped into with a key card, each one with a new Steinway waiting inside. Crowley had only three practice rooms with grand pianos in them and the rest had barely playable uprights. Of course, we often wished that ND would invest in some better instruments for us, but all of us loved those rooms nonetheless. I learned and memorized and polished thousands of notes on those pianos, and I knew each one's little quirks and flaws. They weren't perfect, but I did grow to be fond of them--all of us did. And in a way, practicing on sub-par pianos made performing on the lovely concert grand pianos in the performing arts center even more of a treat.

Every week, I had an hour-long lesson with my private piano teacher. Of all of the components of my music degree--classes, performances, practicing, exams--these lessons were the heart and soul. When I was deciding where to go to college, I set up a lesson with each of the piano instructors at the schools I applied to. Choosing a teacher to study with for my four years of college was one of my top priorities. After falling in love with Notre Dame during the campus tour, I prayed that I would also love the teacher I was meeting that afternoon. I did--and in my years studying with him I learned and grew as a musician as a result of our weekly lessons in ways I never imagined.

Crowley Hall holds so many personal, warm memories too. I remember the first time I played for my best guy "friend," who is now my husband. I remember giving a few beginner's lessons to my friend Joe, who wanted to learn something about playing the piano. I remember practicing four-hand music with my fellow piano major, Liz, and laughing until our faces hurt. I remember feeling panicked a few weeks before my senior recital, running into my voice major friend Angela who let me vent a little, and her saying "Kate, you'll be fine. You always play well." It was simple, but it was the reassurance I needed.

When I graduated I couldn't bring myself to turn in my Crowley keys, which opened the main building and each of the practice rooms. I think I gave up 25 dollars worth of key deposits in choosing to keep them but I don't mind. Those keys, for me, unlocked knowledge, growth, excellence, beauty, and passion--maybe it was sentimental, but turning them in just didn't seem right.

Here I am visiting the student center, which is right next door to Crowley. 
I could never stay away from the Starbucks inside--my coffee breaks kept me going!


  1. Oh, for a Steinway.... :)
    Loved reading this Kate!

  2. This was fun to read and it brought back memories of my undergrad music experience too. I agree with you that practicing on old uprights made performing on Steinways in the concert hall that much more dreamy!

    1. So fun that it brought back memories for you! :)

  3. Those are some interesting looking stones on the steps.. I wonder if they serve some kind of purpose?

  4. Oh Kate, this was so beautiful! I loved reading about all about your memories...you are SUCH a talented writer girl! I love that you kept the keys too. Hope you have them somewhere in a cute little shadow box by your piano ;-). Oh, and P.S. (because I'm too lazy to leave a separate comment) Yes, I do love steel cut oats, and we cook them overnight in our small crockpot so that they're hot and ready for us as soon as we roll out of bed in the morning! Win, win!

  5. Great memories!! Thank you for sharing a part of your life that was so important to you!!


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