The biggest difference Ryan Dresen ’20 noticed when Cowles Music Center opened in 2016 was that he could hear fully. “You actually get the idea of what you sound like in a big hall,” he says. “I think that’s something not a lot of people have access to.” That new experience of amplified sound foreshadowed Dresen’s winning audition – during his senior year – that led to his first job as assistant horn player with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra.
Cowles Music Center helps students see and hear themselves in new and powerful ways, both as individual musicians and as members of a community. That community has always been there, but as Dresen reflects, “Just by the way the new building is laid out, it is so easy to connect with other students and study together and form bonds, and to get to know each other in a way that feels natural.”
Dresen came to Whitworth from a small town in Montana where he largely taught himself how to play the French horn, with a few lessons from professionals. At Whitworth, he found a mentor in his horn teacher and a supportive community where he could thrive in his musicianship. “I was in an environment where it was just so easy to grow and focus on my craft,” he says.
It is fitting that Cowles Music Center is the result of a vast community coming together. In addition to lead gifts made by The Harriet Cheney Cowles Foundation and Whitworth Trustee Walt Oliver ’67 and his wife, Kay, nearly 300 donors contributed to the facility’s construction. These gifts expanded the original music building by 21,000 square feet and added, for the first time, a dedicated choir room as well as new rehearsal spaces for the wind symphony and symphony orchestra, a recording studio and a piano studio. The upper floor provides new practice rooms, offices and meeting spaces, including The Lantern, an intimate gathering space for chamber rehearsals, worship and study. The original music building’s offices, classrooms, recital hall and rehearsal spaces were renovated and updated.
For prospective students visiting the center, the most compelling part of the tour is the walk upstairs, says Professor and Music Department Chair Ben Brody ’98. On the right, visitors can gaze down upon rehearsals in process in the instrumental and choir rooms; on the left, an ever-changing kaleidoscope of sounds and resonating textures can be heard as students rehearse in practice rooms. Continuing the walk, visitors see students studying or conversing in the lounge area. Just beyond that, they take in a panoramic view of The Lantern at the west end of the building.
But what is felt daily in Cowles Music Center is the community: the conversations among students, staff and faculty as they flow along the first floor’s “Main Street” between classes and rehearsals; the advising and teaching in faculty offices and studios; and the creation of beauty and meaning that comes from making music together in spaces that allow musicians to truly hear their sound.
Cowles Music Center is a place where students, like Dresen, learn how to listen, collaborate, focus and create, and how to bring their gifts and passions to light.