Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Tuning Up a Music School


Michele DeVinney

Whatzup Features Writer

Published August 30, 2018

Heads Up! This article is 4 years old.

When talks began at the former IPFW to separate campuses and change to Purdue Fort Wayne, there was understandable concern among the communities both on campus and off about what this would mean for Fort Wayne’s largest university.

But in the case of one area of campus, the results have not only spelled a huge growth academically, but have also meant a higher profile in the Midwest and beyond.

The music department in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, including multiple and varied degree programs, is now the Purdue School of Music. It is led by its director Greg Jones, who served as chair of the Department of Music for the last three years.

With new degree programs added to the offerings and an exciting community partnership to tout, the school promises to bring many students and musicians to the area in the coming years.

“When this process first started, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Jones said. “It was the lack of knowing what would happen that was the hardest. We were guaranteed that the department would continue, but Purdue doesn’t have a tradition in music degrees. They have a tradition of performance ensembles but not degree programs.”

Jones credits former IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein for having the foresight to see a future for Fort Wayne’s music program, housed in the relatively new Rhinehart Music Center, to become a key element to reimagining the new Purdue Fort Wayne.

“She saw the advantage to being the only Purdue to be granting music degrees and thought that developing a School of Music at Purdue Fort Wayne could lead to a signature program in the Purdue system,” Jones said. “And (Purdue President) Mitch Daniels has been very supportive in that, too.”

While retaining the many programs that existed when the music program fell under the renowned Indiana University music offerings, Jones had already begun the process of adding new degrees to the music department, even before these changes were set to take place. With two new degree programs already starting this fall, music students who wish to pursue a degree will have options beyond a classical approach to music.

In the past, those who played in a rock band for years were required to change direction in order to fit into the program. That will no longer be the case as degrees in Popular Music, with concentrations in Recording and Techology and in Songwriting and Performance, will broaden the scope and offerings for incoming students. Courses for the programs will take place at the Rhinehart Music Center as well as a new extension of the campus.

“The Sweetwater Music Center is on the Sweetwater campus, but it’s our facility,” Jones said. “It’s an 8,000-square-foot building with a recording studio, and students receive badges and have access to the Sweetwater campus just like the Sweetwater employees do. Students in these programs will learn about the entirety of the recording industry, including videos, marketing, copyright, legal issues, and entrepreneurialship in music.

Sweetwater’s involvement was announced earlier this year as the plans for a Purdue School of Music began to unfold. Jones said that Chuck Surack, CEO of Sweetwater, and his wife, Lisa, have been generous toward the growing music programs at both Purdue Fort Wayne and the University of Saint Francis. But as Jones points out, Surack hopes to benefit from the schools, as well.

“Chuck Surack is a hometown guy, and he wants to invest in Fort Wayne,” Jones said. “But he also knows he needs people to work for Sweetwater, and it’s been hard to keep up with the demand. He sends buses out to places as far away as Nashville to bring in possible recruits, but it’s been difficult to keep up with his needs as Sweetwater continues to grow. So as we graduate students from these programs, his hope is to keep them here in Fort Wayne in jobs at Sweetwater. He wants us to help to create lifelong employees.”

While plans for these changes began before this year, approval came just this past spring. This provided little to no time for Purdue to begin promoting the new School of Music in general or these new programs specifically. In spite of that, Jones said the new Purdue degree programs are off to a healthy start.

“Even without promotion, we have 30 new students in the program, and we hope that now that we can begin promoting it, we can attract students from not only Indiana, but from all over. What we have to offer is very different from what you can get at Ball State or even the Jacobs School in Bloomington. We can start bringing in students from the entire central part of the United States and maybe beyond that.”

While there was apprehension — and some discomfort continues on the campus as changes continue to evolve — Jones now sees a lot of upside to the change from IPFW to Purdue Fort Wayne. And he says current enrollments suggest that the change has not hurt student interest.

“People know the Purdue name, and it’s immediately recognizable, whereas not everyone quite understood IPFW or how it worked,” Jones said. “Or they’d confuse us with IUPUI. The name Purdue is immediately familiar, and I think it really helps in creating an identity. Enrollment this year seems to back that up because not only is enrollment up, but the residence halls are currently at 103 percent, so the overflow is at the Holiday Inn until space opens up.”

There’s plenty of excitement at the Rhinehart Music Center as the fall semester heats up. The facility not only houses the School of Music, but also a variety of community partners including Voice of Unity, the Fort Wayne Children’s Choir, Shakespearemachine, and Mikautadze Dance Theater, among others.

Other additions to the upcoming academic year will be February’s day-long Jazz Festival, which will run similarly to the already established Wind Festival.

Jones says the performance venue in Rhinehart is second to none in the area, and he hopes as programming continues to grow, more people in the community will be able to experience it firsthand. And he hopes many of those are students who choose to come to Fort Wayne to pursue music in the only Purdue campus which offers it.

“As more students learn about these programs, I think you’ll start seeing more and more interest in coming to Fort Wayne to pursue their education,” Jones said. “And you’ll start seeing students transferring from West Lafayette to Fort Wayne instead of the other way around.”

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