The new Appel Rehearsal Hall is music to Hunter students’ ears.
Some of Hunter’s budding jazz and classical maestros joined the school’s music faculty, donors, and iconic band leader Wynton Marsalis to celebrate the unveiling of the North Building rehearsal space on Sept. 29 that will help train members of one of the most diverse student bodies in the country become the next great musicians and music teachers.
“Hunter College is the public school for the arts in New York City,” said Hunter President Jennifer Raab. “And we now have a rehearsal space that is commensurate with the quality of students who come here. It’s just another example of our commitment to the success of our students.”
One of those students, senior Jacob Han, wowed the crowd with both his saxophone solo after the ribbon-cutting, and his moving words about the rough road he had taken to get there, which included a detour through a cutthroat conservatory program that burned him out — and kept him from playing music for three years.
But when he came to Hunter, things changed.
“At Hunter, I found my path to be a jazz musician,” Han said. “To even be in this position was never a possibility before. The faculty here are so supportive and attentive to their students. There’s nothing I could have asked for other than what I received from Hunter.”
Han added that he was looking forward to playing more with his fellow students this year now that the rehearsal room’s renovation is complete.
“It’s a place where people like to jam,” Han said.
The refurbished space features a thick, sound-dampening blue curtain that envelops the room, new oversized windows to let in much-needed light, a new floor, and a sound system featuring four microphones and speakers hanging from the ceiling.
The dream studio would not have been possible without the generosity of Helen and Bob Appel, who contributed $1.2 million to help cover the costs of the three-year overhaul.
“Helen and Bob breathe the Hunter motto ‘the care of the future is mine,’” Raab said. “We’re so thankful to them for all they do for the college.”
And they do a lot. Helen is a trustee on the Hunter College Foundation and has been teaching a popular history class at Hunter College’s School of Continuing Education for more than a decade, while Bob, the chairman emeritus at Jazz at Lincoln Center, serves on the College’s Music Advisory Board.
The dynamic duo said they couldn’t be happier to provide a gift ensuring beautiful music will continue to be made at Hunter.
“The magic word is music,” Helen Appel said. “Many of our longstanding friends come from the world of music, and it means so much to be able to join in here.”
One of those friends is Marsalis — the legendary trumpeter who helped form Hunter’s jazz education program. The composer and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center took in the new rehearsal space for a few hours while a half dozen of Hunter’s most talented student and faculty instrumentalists played some standards.
He then took to the microphone and espoused just how vital a good rehearsal space is to the artistic process.
“We spend so much time in these rooms, and terrible practice rooms can make us hate each other,” Marsalis said. “This new room fosters a certain friendliness. That can only make things better.”
Marsalis recognized Hunter jazz program director Ryan Keberle, a trombonist and composer who has performed with Marsalis at the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, accompanied Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake, and toured regularly with his quartet Catharsis and trio Reverso.
Keberle was the afternoon’s opening act, and was followed by junior Karen Xie, a pianist who won Hunter’s 2022 Concerto Competition and will perform with the Hunter Symphony Orchestra.
After his sax solo, Han got to meet his musical hero — Marsalis — who told him they should jam together the next time they see each other.
“It was inspiring to meet one of my idols,” Han said. “He blurs the boundaries between classical and jazz and that’s what I aspire to do. It makes my dream a little less far away.”
President Raab marveled at the room’s transformation.
“To turn an antiquated space with no light, substandard acoustics and technology, no life, and no spirit into a beautiful space is a gift that keeps giving,” she said.