These hallowed halls

KU celebrating 50 years of performances, learning in building that houses music, theater

Kansas University's Murphy Hall, shown in this aerial view, turns 50 this year. Murphy Hall has been home to the school's music and theater programs over the years.

Anniversary events

Among the events scheduled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Murphy Hall:

¢ “The Music Man,” 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Nov. 15-17. Also, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available by calling 864-3982 or by visiting

¢ Symposium, “Musical Theatre in 1957,” 8:30 a.m.-late afternoon Friday and Saturday.

¢ Rededication ceremony, 5 p.m. Saturday, Murphy Hall courtyard.

For a list of anniversary celebration events happening in April, visit

These halls have seen some big-name stars.

Actors Paul Rudd, Mandy Patinkin, Scott Bakula and Don Johnson. Filmmaker Neil LaBute. Opera diva Joyce Castle.

Kansas University’s Murphy Hall turns 50 this year. Just as notable, though, are the careers that were launched after students spent time in the building.

“Obviously, we’re concentrating on the people,” says Larry Mallett, chairman of the department of music and dance. “The building is bricks and mortar, but the people are the history.”

Hundreds of alumni are expected back in town this weekend for an anniversary celebration. Events include a symposium on music theater, banquet, rededication ceremony and production of “The Music Man.”

More anniversary events are scheduled for April.

Prior to 1919, the university’s music department was located downtown. That year, it moved to “temporary” quarters in Strong Hall, where it would stay until the late 1950s.

But not everything was at Strong. Other rehearsals, classes and performances were held across campus, including Hoch Auditorium and old Fraser Hall.

“Music was all over campus,” says Jim Ralston, a former KU professor who was a student in the late ’50s.

There was some push for a new arts building in 1947, but in a classic sports vs. arts clash, the Legislature opted to build Allen Fieldhouse instead.

Finally, through the work of Chancellor Franklin Murphy, funds were approved for the new building in 1953. It later would be named for the chancellor.

“We were so overcome by our new facility, with practice rooms and classrooms,” says John Pozdro, who was on the music faculty from 1950 to 1992. “We were integrated as a department. Of course, we were so excited.”

Specifically, Pozdro says, faculty members were excited to have rehearsal space for large ensembles, practice rooms and music storage areas. They also were excited to be in the same building for once.

A major addition to the building came in 2001, when a new wing was dedicated. It includes a new music library, band rehearsal room and faculty studios, among other amenities.

Despite its 50 years, Mallett says the building is holding up well.

“They don’t make buildings like this anymore,” he says. “There are granite floors, brick walls inside. They did a fantastic job. It’s absolutely solid. It’s all the more phenomenal that a building like that is still serving its purpose.”

Though the building hasn’t changed much, the activities inside it have. Bob Foster, a music professor since 1971, says there are more ensembles than there were in 1957 – for instance, three bands instead of one. Also, the music department has its own administrative staff and department head, instead of having those combined with the School of Fine Arts.

The addition of music therapy and music education offices also have changed the makeup of what goes on inside Murphy Hall.

From a theater standpoint, upgrades through the years have kept the Crafton-Preyer Theatre functioning, says John Staniunas, director of University Theatre.

“It has its little kinks,” he says, “and cosmetically, I think it still looks very, very good. I think they made some very wise decisions when they built the space originally, and they’ve made some nice adjustments as the years have gone on.”

This weekend’s gathering, Staniunas says, will help keep alumni aware of the future needs.

“It does need to be upgraded,” Staniunas says, “and that’s one reason why we’re celebrating the building, to say, ‘Hey, this building is going to last another 50 years, and you have an opportunity to help do that.'”