The Isabel Strikes Chord

Kris Houston 05/02/2015

On the banks of the Saint-Lawrence, square in the middle of the no-mans-land between Queen’s Main and West Campuses, the building every Queen’s music and drama student has been waiting for since 2012 finally opened its doors for use by students in September of 2014 to great excitement and even greater expectations. Now, half a year later, the question begging to be asked is simple: was it worth the wait? The answer, from music students and faculty alike, is unanimously ‘absolutely!’

Since the founding of the Queen’s School of Music in 1969 performance venues of suitable size to house the largest (and, incidentally, the most traditional and well established) of the Queen’s musical ensembles (namely the Wind, Jazz, and Choral Ensembles as well as the Symphony Orchestra) have been difficult to find. Until the opening of the new performance hall housed in the Isabel-Bader Centre, performances of this size have been relocated to Grant Hall. While the centuries-old building is certainly a nice venue for public gatherings and presentations, its booming acoustic environment has long been the bane of music directors; an over-zealous percussionist has in it the ability to create a pea-soup of sound with anything but (and often including) the very crispest of techniques. In the Isabel-Bader, by contrast, one can hear a pin drop onstage from the very back of the balcony – the reverb can only be described as perfect. These things alone are worthy of praise, but the Isabel-Bader goes further. The performance hall is fully equipped with the latest in recording and audio-visual equipment and the acoustic space itself is fully tunable. This allows for a stunning versatility – few halls can boast suitability for rock, classical, and everything in between. The Isabel-Bader can.

Since its grand opening by the Kingston Symphony Orchestra the Isabel-Bader Centre has played host to an array of different performers, ensembles, and styles. Faculty members and guest performers alike have graced the stage – from School of Music pianist Michel Szczesniak to guest virtuoso recorder player Vincent Lauzer, as well as a host of Queen’s music students, all of which are excited to perform in the new space.

“While waiting for our performance we were ushered backstage where we could watch the other Queen’s ensembles playing and hear them through the speakers in the back. It sounds silly, but the thing we kept whispering to each other was ‘oh my gosh, it feels like a professional performance’. For music students there’s nothing more exciting than that feeling of professionalism – the feeling that you’ve really made it. Every aspect of the Isabel really gives the impression that this is a stage where music is meant to be made.” (Shirley Liu, ConEd ‘15)

The performance hall, while perhaps the highlight of the new centre, is far from its only shining quality. A few feet away from the hall is the new rehearsal space designed specifically for use by large musical ensembles. The rehearsal room, complete with the same tunability as the main hall as well as brand new stands, chairs, and a stunning floor-to-ceiling view of Wolfe Island, has become something of a new home for most music students.

“It hardly seems fair to compare [the new rehearsal space with the old one]. Room 120 (the old rehearsal space for most of the major ensembles) was very crowded. To be honest, we only rehearsed in there because we had nowhere else to go. Acoustics aside, the new space is stunning just to walk into. It would be easy to be distracted by the view if it wasn’t for the fact I can hear our ensemble in a way that was never possible in the old space.” (Melanie Methé, ConEd ’15)

While there remains key issues to be sorted out (such as performance majors being forced to pay for use of the venue for program mandatory recitals), the new Centre for the Performing Arts is a brilliant example of quality. With concert season rapidly approaching, all of the major ensembles are preparing their very best, with year-end concerts running from March 24th to April 1st. Though the future of the schools of music and drama are clearly on a path of change, the Isabel-Bader Centre for the Performing Arts is certain to remain a point of pride for generations to come.


Kris Houston is a member of the Music class of 2014