Sam Lieberstein is a musician, yet he rarely gets to play his instruments.
As a second-year ethnomusicology student, like most other students who take classes in the department, Lieberstein doesn’t own the instruments ““ the yangqin and the sitar ““ he is trying to master. And because of the current restrictions by the department, he can’t practice nearly as much as he’d like.
A musician without an instrument is about as productive as a writer without a pen. Dismayingly, that’s how incapacitated many students taking ethnomusicology classes are, as they can rarely practice outside of class, a consequence of thefts that took place in 2009.
Before the thefts, students were given codes so they could enter digitally locked practice rooms whenever the music building was open (including on weekends).
Restrictions were implemented two years ago, when instruments from Russia, Chile, West Africa and India disappeared, and the thief was never found.
Unfortunately, it is the very rarity of the instruments that makes them so valuable to both thieves and students. Very few students actually own the instruments they play in class, even though practicing regularly is necessary for a good grade.
“Why is it that a music major can practice whenever they want and an ethno major can’t?” Lieberstein said. “It’s just not fair.”
The problem isn’t necessarily student access to the rooms ““ in fact, one of the instruments that was stolen was a large harp from a hallway, not a practice room.
Moreover, deterrents that should have been implemented a long time ago have now been installed and should be effective at making thieves think twice before stealing another instrument.
Besides banning practice codes, security cameras have been installed, and there is more vigilant Community Service Officer patrol. Codes to the practice rooms are also linked to individual names, which means administrators can trace whoever opened a practice room door last.
Andy Pettit, a graduate student and teaching assistant for the Music of India ensemble, said he doesn’t think the ban on codes is necessary.
“If everyone has an individual code and the cameras are recording everything, then you should be able to find who has been in the room at all times,” he said.
The ban has had a widespread impact as well ““ ensembles in the ethnomusicology department are particularly unique because they are open to both majors and non-majors without audition, making them attractive to even the most inexperienced students. Some ensembles, which require enrollment for participation, have more than 100 students.
In an attempt to give students at least some outside practice time, there is also now a student monitoring the practice rooms in the afternoons on Tuesdays through Thursdays and on Monday evenings, said Donna Armstrong, assistant to the ethnomusicology chair.
But these practice times aren’t nearly convenient enough for students who have class during the day. Moreover, some classes actually meet during those times, which would make practicing in the same room impossible.
At the very least, the department needs to include more evening and weekend practice times and scrap the afternoon times altogether. They should also consider giving practice codes to those getting upper division credit and those who have shown sustained participation in a particular ensemble. And those who actually have ethnomusicology as their major should be given practice codes without hesitation.
The department might even consider a deposit system in which students pay a small amount of money in exchange for a practice code. As long as their name isn’t linked to stolen items (and, of course, as long as they aren’t caught on camera), they would receive the full amount back at the end of the quarter. This would almost certainly prevent students from sharing their codes with others.
Unfortunately, the lack of practice space has also become a good excuse for students to take their ensemble less seriously, which hurts the quality of the department as a whole. This alone should be reason enough for the department to reconsider the ban ““ robbing students from musically experiencing world cultures is something we cannot give the thieves the luxury of claiming.