Concert series spurs negative feedback

Almost every day at noon, music drifts across Northrop Mall as students relax under the sun.
But all is not so peaceful. The music is rekindling a debate at the heart of college life: Which comes first, classes or co-curriculars?
The 35-year-old Summer at Northrop series presents free outdoor concerts to summer session students and staff members. Service fees of about $3.50 per student fund the series.
But some professors are worried that the music might be disturbing classes during the noon hour.
One math professor has complained several times, saying the music interrupts his research.
June Nobbe, director of the Campus Involvement Center, said she has received other complaints from professors. The discontent has spurred the formation of a University task force to review the University’s amplified sound policy. Currently, concerts, speakers and all other events requiring amplifiers are only allowed on Northrop Mall during the noon hour and class breaks.
“This keeps coming up as an issue,” said Nobbe, who will serve as chairwoman of the task force. “We are a college campus and we want to support programming, but we want to do that in a way that doesn’t interfere with classes.”
English professor Toni McNaron, one of those who voiced concerns about the noise levels, will serve on the committee along with Nobbe and five others. McNaron was not available for comment regarding her concerns.
Despite the complaints, the series remains popular. Jack Johnson, director of the University’s summer session, estimates at least 200 people attend the noon concerts on Northrop plaza; numbers vary depending on weather and the band.
The task force has met once to discuss options available to them, but could not come to a consensus.
Nobbe will present a draft to the task force today, she said. The committee will meet again next week to hammer out details. Their final proposal will be forwarded to McKinley Boston, vice president of the Department of Student Development and Athletics, for approval.
Reducing the maximum-allowed decibel levels and moving the concert series to another venue have been proposed as possible solutions.
Students and staff members listening to Becky Schlegel and True Blue, a bluegrass band playing in the Summer at Northrop series on Thursday, said they’d miss the concerts if they were discontinued, but wouldn’t oppose changes to make the series more academically friendly.
“I like being outdoors with the sunshine and the music,” said Kathleen Harder, a University research associate. “But it’s too loud,” she continued as feedback from the sound system created a high-pitched squeal. “It doesn’t need to be this loud.”
Another possibility for revising the series, according to some task force members, would be changing its venue.
Kristin Lundberg and Eric Eischens, who work for University Services and often attend the summer series, suggested the concerts could be held by the river or by Coffman Union if the academic interference is too great.
But alternative locations also present problems.
“It’s like the airport. There’s a certain amount of noise. The question is whose backyard it’s in,” said Dale Schatzlein, director of concerts and lectures for the University College. “And where on the University campus aren’t there classrooms?”
If such a location even exists, it creates, rather than solves problems, Schatzlein said. “If people aren’t near where the concert is, they won’t come.”
Many students and staff members, like Harder, first encounter the concerts by chance and get hooked.
“It’s a perfect setting,” Harder said.
Nobbe agreed. “There are not a lot of good alternatives for programming space,” she said.
However, the policy is unlikely to change, Nobbe said.
“Over the years there have been so few complaints, I think it’s not really a problem,” Johnson said. “We have very few traditions left on this campus. I think this is one people look forward to.”