MacPhail's new Center for Music

MacPhail's new building
MacPhail Center for Music resided for years in a decaying building with irregular heat, no air-conditioning, and peeling plaster. Now the music teachers are moving in to a new, state-of-the-art facility with not only larger, cleaner classrooms, but several performance spaces.
Image courtesy of MacPhail Center for Music

The new MacPhail Center for Music stands on Second street in downtown Minneapolis, just a block from the Mississippi River.

It's not that far from the old MacPhail building, but Center Executive Vice-president Paul Babcock says the two buildings are worlds apart.

Paul Babcock
MacPhail Executive Vice President Paul Babcock enjoys the view from his new classroom where he'll teach percussion, and rehearse his student band "Rimshots!" Until now the band has rehearsed in a windowless basement. The new classroom is also outfitted with stage lighting and a sound board, so it can be used for intimate performances, and for making recordings.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

"You can't compare the two," says Babcock. "1128 LaSalle has been a wonderful building for us for 85 years, but it wasn't designed with today's technology in mind. We're a creative group of people that made it work really well, but now it's like we're moving from one century to another."

The MacPhail Center was founded 100 years ago by the first concert master of the Minneapolis Symphony to share his passion for music.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

The new MacPhail proudly displays its modernity. The walls sit at odd angles, some covered in bright galvanized steel. One section of the building is clad in core ten steel rusted to a deep chocolate brown - a tribute to the neighborhoods historic flour mills.

The front doors open into a large atrium with a sloping stairway on the right that also serves as stadium seating for impromptu concerts.

Architect James Dayton
Architect James Dayton designed the new MacPhail Center. The Twin Cities has seen numerous expansions and new homes for cultural institutions open over the past three years: the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Guthrie Theater, the Children's Theatre Company, and the Minneapolis Library. But the MacPhail Center for Music is the first of the group to be designed by a Minnesota architect.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

Architect James Dayton says the goal was to put music front and center.

"We always said through the design process that we wanted the UPS guy to come in here and experience music from the minute he came through the front door," says Dayton.

The MacPhail Center is also designed with students and parents in mind, offering numerous nooks and comfy chairs for hanging out, working on homework, or waiting for a child to finish her guitar lesson.

The centerpiece of the building is performance hall that can be reconfigured for recitals, concerts, classes and other events. It's something the old MacPhail lacked, and provides the school with the opportunity to not only show off its own musicians, but invite in others.

Performance Hall
The most significant improvement in MacPhail's new home is the addition of a recital hall, with high quality acoustics and a flexible stage. The Minnesota Orchestra will perform it's spring chamber music concerts in MacPhail's new hall, and MacPhail staff expect it to become a popular venue for professional as well as student recitals.
Image courtesy of James Dayton Design, LLC

Already the Minnesota Orchestra has sold out a series of chamber music performances, which will be performed at MacPhail.

Piano teachers Melissa Falb and Sue Ruby are very happy. They're in Falb's new office, which holds not only her desk and book cases full of music, but two baby grand pianos as well, with room to spare.

Falb says her beautiful workspace makes her more excited about teaching. She feels she's going to be a better teacher in the months and years to come.

"The first day I was here, when I came in with all of my stuff," says Falb, "I just wanted to sit and play all day."

Happy music teachers
Piano teachers Melissa Falb and Sue Ruby say they believe they will teach better and their students will learn more easily in their new home.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

Up until now Falb and Ruby have taught in cramped classrooms with poor lighting, erratic heating in winter and no air conditioning in the summer.

Ruby says her old office featured peeling plaster. The walls were so thin she could hear the sound of flushing from the bathrooms next door.

She says her new office makes all the difference in the world.

"It's huge, it's beautiful, I can fit my two pianos in there and I can't hear anything when I'm in my room! Just my piano - it's tremendous," enthuses Ruby. "It's fantastic - I'm excited to go to work! I'm here on my vacation - I don't even need to be here!"

Both teachers agree the new building is going to provide a better learning environment for students.

MacPhail President David O'Fallon says that's the whole point. He says the school wanted to create an atmosphere where people felt welcome, comfortable while simultaneously inspired and energized.

The first thing visitors see upon entering the MacPhail Center for Music is a large stairway which also serves as an open seating area for kids to do homework, or for a class to watch a music performance.
MPR Photo/Marianne Combs

O'Fallon says critics of recent new buildings such as the Guthrie and the Minneapolis Library have argued the architect's were concerned too much with their own vision and not enough with the needs of the client.

He says no one will be able to make that accusation of Minnesota architect James Dayton and his design for the MacPhail.

"I think what Jim gave us here is the very heart and mission of MacPhail - transform lives and enrich the community through music - through his design," says O'Fallon. "It's just here. It's in every corner. And Jim did that; he got this place."

O'Fallon says he believes MacPhail's new home is unique in the nation for offering such a high quality facility for music education to the general public.

In the coming week the music school will offer events for aspiring musicians of all ages, and will host performances by the likes of Nachito Herrera, Ruth MacKenzie, Christopher O'Riley and the band White Lite Riot.