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Like a missing puzzle piece restored, Northern Arizona University’s new School of Music facility fits snugly between the Performing and Fine Arts building and Ardrey Auditorium, creating new spaces and passageways for performers and audience members alike, including the 255-seat, state-of-the-art Kitt Recital Hall.

The $15 million, 26,863-square-foot facility will open next weekend with a series of performances after approximately 19 months of construction.

On Friday, Jan. 18, pianist Jeffrey Swann, the President’s Distinguished Artist in Residence, will perform at 6 p.m. The NAU Faculty Chamber Players will take the stage Saturday at 7:30 p.m., followed by a student showcase Sunday at 3 p.m. All events are ticketed. Public seats for Swann’s opening day performance are available for purchase today through NAU’s Central Ticket Office. The event can also be live streamed through the NAU website.

Local philanthropists Mike and Karen Kitt, the lead donors for the recital hall, are looking forward to seeing the finished space in use during opening weekend.

“When we started this project, we said we want this to be a facility that both engages artists and audiences,” Mike Kitt said. “It’s definitely an aesthetic triumph.”

The goal of the three performances is to present holiday weekend travelers with a wide array of NAU talent – and to test out the new space, said Todd Sullivan, director of the NAU School of Music.

For the past century, Ashurst Hall – inside the Old Main building – has been used for recitals, even though it lacks many aspects of a room designed for music performances, Sullivan said.

In contrast, the new space does not just account for sound, it fully integrates its movement and manipulation into the structure itself. The room is an assortment of various reflective and absorptive materials from wooden sawtooth panels to overhead “sound clouds” and curtains in order to improve the quality and experience of sound throughout the space.

“The configuration of the wood is designed to send the sound all around the room, creating a giant matrix of sound waves,” he said. “This hall will move sound in complex and rich ways.”

To maintain the experience even in the event an audience member must leave the hall, sets of double doors at the north and south entrances seal out external light and sound. Ceiling speakers occupy the restrooms as well as the atrium, where a monitor will also display video of the ongoing performance.

Sullivan said one remarkable component of the space was completely coincidental. From the audience’s perspective, the recital hall seating is tiered traditionally; however, when you flip the perspective and stand center stage, the depth disappears, creating an intimacy not experienced by performers in any of the university’s other venues. He noted that the view is almost like looking at a giant family portrait.

“It is going to change the way our students go about their communication in music-making experience because they have to get their heads up, and they have to connect with an audience right in front of them. That alone, I think, we could put in the category of game changer,” he said.

Overall, the project required a constant commitment to acoustics from every individual involved, including architects and construction team members.

David Heckard, assistant superintendent at Flagstaff’s CORE Construction, said every feature in the facility is unique and advanced. Though CORE has either created or renovated a majority of the buildings on campus, as an NAU alumnus, Heckard said he was excited to work on such a distinguished project.

“It’s definitely been an opportunity to learn a new style of construction [and] to implement more advanced systems in construction,” he said.

Rehearsal spaces, too, boast designs intended to manipulate the sound created in each room and keep it there through double insulated walls and shock absorbers surrounded by concrete in the floors. With rehearsal spaces adjacent to and even on top of each other, sound containment was essential. Additionally, all mechanical systems were placed outside and a silent airflow system was installed to remove unwanted sounds from entering the facility.

Due to such details, Auditoria Event Coordinator Brett Kitch says everyone wants to be in the space, especially the recital hall itself. Although as many as a dozen recitals can be held in a single weekend, this semester is already fully booked, he said.

The addition of the recital hall is not just valued as a performance space, though, but also as an integral component of a larger community arts complex.

Auditoria Operations Manager Calvin Legassie said the three contiguous performance spaces – Ardrey Auditorium, Kitt Recital Hall and Clifford E. White Theatre – are the foundation for a complete performing arts center. Together, the three can seat approximately 1,800 audience members.

“Having all those in a row makes this a really great hub for art, both presenting what NAU has to offer, what the community has to offer and to welcome traveling groups,” Legassie said.

Following its debut weekend, the Kitt Recital Hall will be available for all types of community performances; however, its educational potential for students remains the primary focus.

“The largest user group of this space will be students,” Sullivan said. “Students are developing musicians and the Kitt Recital Hall is very conducive to learning and healthy music production.”

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Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 

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