DECATUR — When taking in the full spectrum of Millikin University’s performing arts programs, there are a lot of venues to consider.
From the 1,903 seats of the Kirkland Fine Arts Center to the intimate confines of tiny Kaeuper Hall in the Perkinson Music Center, the college has access to stages that are acoustically perfect for almost any style of performance. For School of Music director Steve Widenhofer, the yearly challenge is to hash out which acts will go where, in collaboration with a dozen or more other departments, bands, combos and arts groups. It’s not a logistical task for the faint of heart.
“With some of the acts, we are fortunate enough to know where they will be, like we know that Albert Taylor Theatre is always going to house the main stage opera production,” Widenhofer said. “A lot of the other stuff is discussed in one big meeting with a bunch of people present, like myself, Sean Morrissey for the theater department, Randy Reyman for the jazz program, Brian Justison for percussion, Terry Stone for opera, as well as Michael Luxner and Gary Shaw, Jan Traughber and others from Kirkland. It gets pretty complicated, because there are only so many weekends in the school year, but it’s usually pretty amiable once we get it all figured out.”
The continuous evolution of these venues means new challenges but also new opportunities for Millikin performing arts programs on a yearly basis.
By no means is the arts landscape a static one. In just the last year, a whole new venue in Westminster Presbyterian Church has added itself into the “official” Millikin roster of music venues through the extensive redesigns done to its stage and audience seating. It’s now become the de facto venue for several Millikin music groups, including Widenhofer’s vocal jazz program.
“The most important thing with vocal jazz is probably that you want to be close to your audience,” he said. “Westminster has become a really good place for that. The sound is pretty solid. It’s a very live room, and there’s plenty of space for our stuff. You want somewhere intimate, without going too far in that direction.”
Randy Reyman, director of jazz activities, has similar views on which venues are appropriate for his jazz bands and combos, saying that they’ve found their niche in the midsize stages that are not too big and not too small.
“We actually used to perform a lot at Kirkland, but a smallish crowd there ends up looking like there’s nobody at all in the seats, and it doesn’t feel right,” he said. “We looked into performances at Albert Taylor Theatre, but it’s usually in use by the drama department. So for us to now be able to have some of our stuff in Westminster is really great.”
The jazz program also has a noted history with local Millikin bar and grill Lock Stock and Barrel, which also just added a new stage and performance area in the past year. Reyman estimated that Millikin jazz performances have been held at the bar for “at least 25 years or so, ever since I can first remember.”
“Our jazz has been closely associated with LSB for quite awhile now, and it’s really become our home away from home, even though it’s right next to the university,” he said. “I think size and sound of the place is important. If we were in a small space like Kaeuper Hall, the sound would reverberate all over and be much too loud.”
In a sense, it all comes back to sound. For this reason, many solo acts and quieter student recitals, along with small combos, take advantage of the small but ornate Kaeuper Hall space in the Perkinson Music Center. Georgia Hornbacker, concert master for the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra, organizes weekly Thursday student recitals in this venue, which are open to the public, featuring some of the best displays of Millikin’s music education in action.
“It’s a very flattering and resonant space for small groups,” said Hornbacker, who typically performs several recitals of her own in the hall in the course of each school year. “It’s the best place on campus for solo performance. Usually, at the first recital of each year, we’ll do a sort of faculty sampler, where students can see all of their teachers and faculty in action.”
Of all the Millikin performance spaces, it is probably that small stage in Kaeuper Hall that is most unknown to the public outside of Millikin. To get there, visitors must enter the Perkinson Music Center on campus and seek out the second-floor entrance. Hornbacker and company say they would be happy to see more visitors attend recitals at Kaeuper throughout the year, and the near future will provide a bevy of good opportunities to visit it for the first time.
“After the faculty recital, our first three weeks of Thursday evening recitals focus on students who performed the most outstanding juried recitals at the end of the last semester,” she said. “You can see very different things each week; some of them are heavy with vocalists, and some weeks, it’s mostly instrumentalists. There are recitals for any instrument in the orchestra and some that aren’t, such as saxophone.”
Between Millikin’s many venues for music, drama and the arts, there are a huge number of opportunities for entertainment. Locals can appreciate university groups at obvious venues on campus, such as Kirkland Fine Arts Center, but also in their own community, at the bar or church. As the number of stages grows, so does the connection between the university’s performing arts programs and its community.