Cook hall set for re-opening
by Jeff Green
One of the most venerable performance facilities in St. John’s has gotten a new $450,000 lease on life and will be officially re-dedicated during a gala concert on Sept. 11.
The D. F. Cook Recital Hall, located in Memorial’s School of Music, has been one of the most popular venues for everyone from budding musicians to mainstream artists since it swung open its doors in 1985.
After constant “24-7 activity,” though the hall was getting tired looking and needed a face lift.
“The tunable acoustics the giant sail-like banners along the sides of the auditorium were no longer operational. The stage floor was so creaky it could drown out a classical guitar recital and the lighting system had developed a few very persistent poltergeists,” explained Dr. Tom Gordon, director of the School of Music. “What hadn’t worn out from use was already close to the end of its life and it was clear that fairly drastic measures were needed to renew the hall to maintain the vital service it renders to the music community of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Armed with funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage, through its Cultural Spaces Program, the university, and Friends of the School, extensive renovations were completed over the past year-and-a-half. The stage floor was reconstructed, the acoustic baffle system was re-engineered, a new lighting and sound system was installed and a new acoustic shell was commissioned.
If that weren’t enough, this past summer new seats, carpet and wall finishes were added, bringing an end to “two decades of that seventies orange,” Dr. Gordon said with a laugh.
In all there have been drastic changes to the hall which have given the facility a whole new feel. Dr. Gordon said the reaction from those who’ve used the hall this past summer for everything from the Magnetic North Theatre Festival to the St. John’s Jazz Festival and the Tuckamore Festival has been phenomenal.
“The hall is performing much more efficiently and flexibly from an acoustic point of view a fact borne out through our busy summer of festival performances,” said Dr. Gordon. “We can tune it to any decibel range from classical guitar to super-amplified experimental music. A less obvious feature is the fact that the hall’s suitability for recording has been restored. With the inescapably noisy old stage floor, recording had become a nightmare and many a take had to be binned because the floor itself was providing an unwanted duet with the performer.”
The newly refurbished hall will be taken through its paces during a special concert on Sept. 11 from the School of Music which will include a new arrangement of Newfoundland folksongs by D. F. Cook himself sung by the university’s award-winning chamber choir.
A new wall of honour will also be unveiled showcasing the original 247 plaques which were initially affixed to the backs of the old seats. “Because there was still a bit of life left in the old seats, the university was very pleased to be able to “recycle” them within the provincial cultural community 180 of them are now housed in the theatre of The Beaches Heritage Centre in Eastport,” added Dr. Gordon.
A limited number of tickets for the Sept. 11 concert will be available to the public after Sept. 6 through the school’s website ticket reservation service and on the phone. See www.mun.ca/music.