MIT Establishes New Music Facility to Enhance Musical Environment

MIT has more than 1,500 students enrolling in music classes annually. Over 500 student musicians are involved in 30 on-campus ensembles. In spring 2025, MIT will inaugurate a new music building, which is a three-volume facility adjacent to Kresge Auditorium, covering 35,000 square feet. The building will include rehearsal and performance spaces, a professional recording studio, classrooms, and laboratories for the music technology program.

Keeril Makan holds the Michael (1949) and Sonja Koerner Music Composition Professorship and is the section head of the MIT Music and Theater Arts Section (MTA). Recently, Makan was named associate dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. As a renowned composer, Makan has played a vital role in the development and realization of the MIT Music Building (Building W18). In this interview, he discusses how music supports MIT’s mission and the opportunities provided by the new facilities.

Q: The MIT Music Building is finally taking shape after years of planning. How will this new facility impact the MIT experience?

A: There is a substantial demand on campus for musical engagement and live performances. Some students arrive at MIT with a pre-existing interest in studying and performing music, while others discover their passion while on campus. With a vibrant music community, encompassing various types of ensembles, including Western Classical, orchestra, wind ensemble, as well as jazz and music from different cultures, such as Balinese Gamelan and Rambax (a Senegalese drumming group), MIT aims to support and cultivate this diversity of musical traditions in its new building. The design ensures equal respect and support for all these traditions, accommodating them concurrently.

MIT recognizes the strong interest in music among its students and the community, and is committed to providing the necessary facilities to nurture and develop that interest. Crucial to this endeavor are appropriate acoustics. Just as laboratory spaces at MIT maintain stringent environmental controls, ensuring uncontaminated results for scientific research, acoustically controlled rehearsal spaces are vital for musicians to hear and perform music without interference from external sources. The performance hall is designed to offer audiences the same auditory experience as the performers, promoting an intimate connection between them.

Q: Will the new music building attract a different type of student to MIT?

A: The primary objective is to maintain MIT’s competitiveness in attracting students who will thrive within its environment. Modern facilities across various fields, including STEM, have become an expectation for both undergraduate and graduate students. The provision of comprehensive support in music is essential to remain competitive. However, the focus is not solely on attracting highly gifted students. MIT’s mission involves tackling complex global challenges, necessitating technical expertise, wisdom, emotion, and compassion. The new music building contributes to the cultivation of individuals best suited to address those challenges.

Q: In what ways can music and other arts complement and support students’ work in science and technology?

A: Music-making is a physical activity that engages the body and connects it with the emotions and experiences felt. It effectively grounds individuals in the present moment. By having a centrally located building dedicated to music on the MIT campus, MIT emphasizes the significance of this centering in its mission.

Whether it’s the students rehearsing and performing, composing music specifically for the facility, or developing hardware and software for music production, the problem-solving involved shares similarities with STEM activities. Both domains require creativity, evaluating and integrating multiple parameters, and finding solutions to various challenges. Engaging in music or music technology fosters a desire for discovery and creativity, which are transferrable skills applicable to scientific research, mathematics, and engineering. MIT recognizes that music and the arts are fundamental in preparing students to confront pressing global issues, such as the climate crisis and the impact of AI, by fostering humanity and cultivating the minds and hearts of future problem solvers. The new building now provides the necessary support for this essential education.

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