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A New Home for Music

by Mark Sullivan

Lining the staircase in black tie and evening dress, the young men and women of the Tufts Chamber Singers took a collective deep breath and swung into a melody from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "State Fair," their voices serenading hundreds of guests assembled in the lobby of the new Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center.

"It's a grand night for singing," the song proclaimed, and indeed it was.

The occasion was a reception and performance by Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell on Feb. 9 for donors and supporters of the Granoff Music Center, part of a weekend festival marking the building's grand opening. "It's absolutely beautiful, much more so than any of us ever anticipated," Ruth Remis, whose family gave the orchestra seating, said of the new music center. "I hope it will be great for generations to come."

Stephen Distler, A74, and his wife, Dr. Roxanne E. Kendall, J75, made the naming gift toward the music center's 300-seat performance hall, remarked for its acoustics. "You walk in here and even the silence has a resonance to it," said Kendall. "You can whisper and hear it anywhere." Distler said: "It compares to the new performance hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center as far as the wonder of it."

Perhaps no one was as proud of the new music center as its namesake, who said the finished product was everything he had hoped - and more. "It's just a perfect building," said Trustee Marty Granoff, A91P. "There is nothing that can be improved upon in this building."

Tufts' new Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center opened with great fanfare - literally. The inaugural public concert on Feb. 10 featured no less than five fanfares composed by Tufts music department faculty and alumni. Indeed, a whole cascade of music -- from a cappella to big band jazz, from Javanese gamelan to gospel, from West African drumming to Boston Symphony string-quartet - accompanied the grand opening weekend Feb. 8-11.

The Saturday night concert hosted by the Music Department drew a full house. Before their turn on stage, members of Kiniwe, the Tufts African Music Ensemble, sipped wine and nibbled on hors d'oeuvres, their African folk dress standing out among the evening wear. "If we were in Ghana, we would be tricked out," said Jennifer Crawford, A07.

Concert guest Rev. Miniard Culpepper, pastor of Dorchester's Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, and brother of Music Department Administrator Lucille Jones, had nothing but praise for the music center: "This is what you can quote: Job well done," he said. The Rev. Culpepper did acknowledge being a bit taken aback by the name of the Beelzebubs Box Office until its derivation was explained. "It's eye-catching," he said, with a laugh.

Upstairs in his new office, Joel LaRue Smith, the Music Department's jazz director, practiced on his piano while waiting for his Afro-Cuban jazz trio to take the stage. The Tufts Big Band Ensemble he directs had played earlier that afternoon. "It's a new day," Smith said of the music center. "I'm grateful to be part of it."