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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Mandel concerts imprudent to passing students

Published: November 21, 2014
Section: Opinions

Mandel Atrium is a beautiful space. The natural light, comfortable chairs and blazing fireplace during the winter are conducive to studying and essay writing, allowing me to blend an academic experience with aesthetic appeal. What the atrium is not perfect for, however, are midday concerts during the school week.

This past Wednesday, Nov. 19, I walked into Mandel an hour before my class in order to finish a paper. I planned to sit in the serene atrium and let the words flow from my fingertips. However, I was stopped in my tracks because a jazz concert was in progress in the atrium above me. Signs were plastered around the ground level of the building imploring me to be silent and respect the performers, and an usher stood near the entrance to underscore the warning. I was relegated to attempting to write my essay and to drown out the noise—great music, but a major hindrance to my academic pursuits.

The culprit was the Wednesday Concert Series. On various Wednesday afternoons throughout the year, music ensembles perform in the Mandel Atrium. This is a Brandeis-established program, sponsored by the Music Department and the Mandel Center for the Humanities. I certainly understand why the series is held in the atrium, as it provides a beautiful backdrop in a refreshing space, but the school must prioritize academics.

I appreciate jazz and culture, but at noon on a Wednesday, our academic buildings should be devoted to academic endeavors. We have Slosberg Music Center for a reason. It has a soundproofed concert hall, and while the hall is stuffy in comparison to the modern, glass-plated Mandel Atrium, it serves its purpose.

Mandel is even worse for midweek, daytime concerts because the atrium is open so that the sound travels into surrounding classrooms in Olin-Sang and Mandel. Peace is not possible and learning is disturbed during the concerts. Furthermore, professors and office workers in the vicinity are disturbed. Classes, faculty and staff cannot—and should not be asked to—relocate, but we should ask this of the Wednesday Concert Series. I love that Brandeis is committed to the arts, but the school needs to remember that it is first and foremost a school, and while community concerts are wonderful investments, they must be performed in the appropriate place. It is distracting to sit in class and try to focus while music fills the atrium and penetrates lectures. Worse is when you have to take a test in what amounts to nothing near silence.

The Slosberg ushers who stand at the bottom of the Mandel stairs and near the atrium’s entrance shushing students simply trying to walk to class are the most frustrating. The ushers reprimand students as they make their way to and from class. But few students really take the chastisement into consideration, and on Wednesday, I heard some students make more noise just to spite this nuisance of an usher. From the ushers’ perspective, I’m sure that they are incredibly frustrated with this assignment because, as students, they know that reducing their peers’ volume to mere whispers and shuffles is an impossible task, especially at such a large scale.

This is our space, and while students should not be making a ruckus, we are entitled to talk at full voice.

On a fundamental level, this is an irrational system. At any given afternoon in the last 10 minutes of the half hour, hundreds of students stream in and out of Mandel’s ground floor, up the steps leading to the atrium, into the atrium and through Olin-Sang. They’re going to make noise. Even if every student were to tip-toe and make as little noise as possible, they would still interrupt the concert. This is disrespectful to the musicians who deserve to have their work performed undisturbed and without the distraction of boisterous passersby.

Mandel Atrium is a haven, and when it is monopolized by weekday productions, it strays from Brandeis’ mission of education and dedication to students.