As Dave and Lillian Quackenbush open the door to their lakeside home, the view unfolds in layers. First, the entryway, with its carved antique chest; next, the home’s center of attention, the music room, with its grand piano; then, beyond the music room’s back wall of glass doors and windows; finally, an outdoor covered porch, lower-level pool, lawn and the lake. It’s a sublime sequence, and from the Quackenbushes’ music room, appreciative visitors can enjoy it all.
Because these accomplished musicians love music and performing so much, they built their home with the idea of creating a music room that would showcase their large conservatory and allow them to host chamber-type musical events and various group rehearsals.
“The music room is very friendly to entertaining because it’s part of an open-floor plan,” says Dave, a well-known Columbia tenor. “It has 15-foot ceilings and hardwood floors, which make for good resonance. We had special lighting added for performing purposes, and the piano is on special rollers so we can move it anywhere in the room.”
What can a family desiring a music room do if they are already in a home and conditions in the proposed space are not musically ideal? Dave says, “In most houses, spaces are not large; you’ll be able to hear. What you want to do is improve the quality of the sound. To accomplish that, you can eliminate most of the soft surfaces, like large carpets and upholstered furniture. If you just get rid of the carpet, that will usually do the job.”
Dave’s advice holds true, whatever a family’s instrument may be.
Lillian, an equally prominent Columbia soprano and director of the Shandon Presbyterian Chancel Choir and Sandlapper Singers, adds that she and Dave planned several angles into the room to avert the problem of unwanted echoes. She also points out that their music room has a great deal of flexibility. For example, the family often enjoys coffee and conversation in the comfortable chairs that usually reside in the center of the room, but they move this furniture out when they host concerts in order to set up rows of chairs for the audience.
For those debating whether to create a dedicated music room or simply a music space within a multifunctional room in their home, Lillian offers these considerations: “If you need a private practice area, a music space within a room used for other purposes may not be practical because others in the room may not want to hear you practicing. Sometimes, you can make it work if you can shut the room off from the rest of the house by closing a door. Then, arrange practice time alone. Also, a music room with an open-floor plan like ours can be a problem unless everyone in the home likes hearing music from all over the house. We happen to like it that way.”
From a decorative standpoint, Dave and Lillian use their music room to display family treasures, antique finds and purchases from trips abroad, especially modern art. Directly behind the piano bench, for instance, Dave’s father’s circa-1750 violin is mounted on the wall, along with several prints of violins, a small photo of his dad and a framed bit of calligraphy on the subject of music. Across the room, a century-old wooden cabinet once used by a music store for holding its inventory of sheet music now performs the same duty for the Quackenbushes.
In another part of town, John and Voncille Williams have three music rooms — yes, three. Both being pianists, each feels the need for a practice piano, and John is repairing a 19th-century Erard grand in the third room. Adding to the Quackenbushes’ insightful recommendations, the Williamses offer further tips on how to create an effective music room.
“As a pianist,” says John, “I think of it from a keyboard standpoint. Get as good a piano as you can and have room for it so the music can breathe. Sometimes the piano is just stuck in a corner somewhere, and it’s never going to be satisfying that way. Put it where people can get some perspective on it.”
Retired from USC as a professor of music, John also advises thinking carefully about whether or not to combine a computer or TV nook with practice space in the proposed music room. If one person wants to concentrate on emails and someone else wants to practice trumpet, conflict may ensue. Ordinarily, however, a family will get more mileage out of a multifunctional music room than from one totally devoted to music.
Voncille proves that musical salvage can lend itself to original decorative touches, as seen in the Williamses’ front music room. There, four antique piano legs support a glass coffee table.
“They came from a nineteenth-century square piano that had been sitting for years in the basement of a church in South Dakota. They sat in our basement for years until we thought of using them for this table,” says Voncille.
While not musicians themselves, Tom and Susie Causby of Irmo produced a serious pianist, their 17-year-old daughter, Naomi, co-winner of the 2010 Southeastern Piano Festival at USC. The Causbys called on Robert Schaeffer of Rice Music House to help them create a music room suitable to Naomi’s needs.
Tom recalls, “Robert told us that because of the windows surrounding the piano, we should install a dehumidifier. That’s a protection against increased humidity when it rains. He also recommended that we install a shield over the air vent just behind the piano so a constant stream of cold or hot air wouldn’t be shooting at it. These things help keep the wood of the instrument from expanding and contracting and thus help the piano produce a consistent sound. Our best advice: consult with experts who can counsel you about what you need in your music room and how to care for it.”
In David and Gina Lee’s household, the musical focus is on their two daughters, Elizabeth, age 6, and Chloe, age 3, who take piano lessons at Rice Music House. Like the Causbys, David and Gina looked to Robert Schaffer for guidance in creating a music room for their youngsters. A Boston baby grand anchors the appealing result, with photographs of Elizabeth and Chloe over the fireplace and a flower painting on the wall next to the piano harmoniously tied together by a local interior designer.
Gina articulates the reasoning of many people who set aside space in their homes for a music room: “The most important thing is that we haven’t created a music room believing our girls will necessarily devote their whole lives to music; we just think music adds to their wholeness as people.”