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  • Emily Cusack

Upton Conservatory is ‘Home’ for many

To quote Margaret Callahan, junior and band member, “The Upton Conservatory is like a home for the people involved in Olivet’s music programs. We spend a lot of time there.”

In 1888 the conservatory was literally a home.

While the music program had been up and running with a legal charter since 1874, according to the Olivet College Archive timeline, there had been no permanent building for the program outside the occasional rehearsal in Colonial Hall.

Olivet College’s first conservatory was a house purchased by the college that resided where the Congregational Church now stands. It was a rather small house, as the archive records reported that the upper floor of the living room was removed for adequate choir rehearsal space. The smaller rooms of the house were delegated as the piano and vocal instruction rooms.

The music program grew so quickly that the little house could not keep up with the needs of the college. According to the Feb. 20, 1893 Echo article, the program had grown to the point that the “eight or ten pianos [used for lessons] ha[d] been placed in as many different and widely scattered houses.”

By Feb. 1893, the Olivet College Echo announced that the music department was to have a new home. Then-college president, the Rev. William G. Sperry, offered up the luxurious president’s house (Morrison Hall), to the music department. Sperry explained to the Echo that the house is “far too large for any officer of Olivet, and not happily planned to meet the needs and wants of a family… [but] seems to be remarkably well adapted to the needs of our musicians.”

The moving of the conservatory also allowed the old conservatory, next to the library, to be torn down to make way for the Congregational Church. The cornerstone for the church was placed in 1893, according to archive records.

The rooms of the house were put to use as rehearsal spaces, a musical performance hall for vocal and instrumental concerts and the main offices of the music program professors. Seventeen pianos were available to students for practice, along with a multitude of orchestra instruments. According to the Feb. 20, 1893 article, many people on campus agreed that Morrison Hall was the right place for the music program. This left President Sperry without a house, but he was able to relocate easily.

The music program resided in Morrison Hall for 79 years. By 1971, Morrison Hall had fallen into a state of disrepair, and had been condemned. The Olivet Optic reported on June 20, 1973, that Morrison Hall was in the process of being demolished. According to the article, the corner where Morrison Hall had stood was not to remain empty for long. The college was hoping to confirm construction plans and to begin building only 10 days after the demolition of Morrison Hall.

The new conservatory was donated by Frederick S. Upton in honor of his wife, Margaret Upton, an avid music lover. According to the Olivet College Bulletin ground was broke for the Margaret Upton Conservatory of Music Oct. 21, 1972, Homecoming weekend, and the cornerstone was placed May 11, 1973.

Then, $1,250,000 later, and 100 years after the music program received its charter, the Margaret Upton Conservatory was dedicated and opened officially to student use Oct. 4, 1974.

Today, the Conservatory houses not only the music program, with a band and a choral rehearsal space, but classrooms, practice room and a music learning lab and piano lab, as well as offices for Humanities professors and others.

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