The music has left the building. The King’s College Orchestra (KCO), a two-year old society, transitioned into the Halifax Music Co-op (HMC), a public organization in Halifax, and moved off campus.
This April, the orchestra was asked to start paying for rehearsal space in Prince Hall after two years of using it for free. With three rehearsals a week, the group couldn’t afford the $200-a-pop price tag. The change came as a surprise, says Faye Bontje, orchestra co-founder and director.
“I went in to talk with Celine Beland [director of Sodexo at King’s] about using Prince Hall for the summer, when she told me something had come up,” said Bontje in an interview.
A string of thefts in Prince Hall forced the school to look closely at who was using rental space at King’s, said Bontje, as the thefts had reached further than an occasional coffee mug or bagel.
“At no time was the KCO ever accused of the thefts, nor was it ever suggested that the thefts had anything to do with the KCO using Prince Hall,” she said. “The thefts caused a heightened awareness of access to space at King’s.”
Prince Hall belongs to Sodexo, as its contract allows for full rental control of Prince Hall during the school year and summer.
“Celine fought hard for us, but was unable to convince the administration to allow us to remain for free,” said Bontje.
How the KCO avoided this $200 fee for two years is a whole other matter. The original rental fee was much higher. A few years ago, Sodexo director Beland says she created a lower rental fee for King’s students and societies, the $200 fee the KCO was asked to pay.
The KCO never did pay this lower fee while at King’s because it was never asked to, said Bontje. The school turned a blind eye to the weekly practices in Prince Hall, she said.
“We weren’t hiding the orchestra from the school, or fooling anyone when we were using the space,” said Bontje. “During his time here, William Barker and most of the admin knew we were using the space on Monday nights.”
Bontje said she looked elsewhere on campus for rehearsal space, but nothing was available.
“Nowhere else worked in terms of housing an orchestra,” says Bontje. “The basketball gym was too booked, same with the Pit and the dance studio. There just was not enough room for us at King’s, except in Prince Hall.”
The space issue was only part of the KCO’s conflict at King’s. Both Nick Stark, the president of the King’s Students’ Union, and Bontje have said they agree the relationship between union and the KCO was healthy, but that it was at times strained. In a two-year period, the KCO made what Stark calls unprecedented funding requests as a new society. The KCO asked for more money than the KSU was able to give. The KSU gave it $3000 immediately following the group’s ratification in 2010. A year later, the KCO requested $5000 to pay for instrument rentals, private lesson teaching fees and food for receptions. That time, it was given $3500 and only after a lengthy debate between councilors.
Stark said that sort of request was “above and beyond” what the KSU normally gives to a society, especially one as new as the KCO.
“We decided to give them that amount for the time being and then wait until the end of the year to give additional funds.”
Bontje said working with the KSU could be frustrating at times.
“I feel like the KSU didn’t understand what an orchestra was sometimes,” she said. “There was a need for expensive percussion rentals, and they didn’t understand that that sort of rental wasn’t for just one person, but an entire orchestra. It would be like if a hockey team couldn’t rent a net because only one person on the team would be using it. The percussion rentals would have been for the entire orchestra.”
The majority of the KCO’s revenue came from ticket sales, with just under 80 per cent. KSU funding filled the rest of the gap.
Leaving campus and registering as the not-for-profit HMC has brought in more money, said Bontje. It now can register for grants otherwise unavailable as a King‚Äôs society.
The HMC has been busy this summer and already performing. A new series called, “Music Everywhere,‚” will see chamber music popping up in unexpected venues around the city.
“King’s students are still more than welcome in our ensembles and many members from the King’s community are visible helping out at our concerts or attending our events. We’re proud to be from King’s and I hope King’s can continue to be proud of us.”
DISCLOSURE: Ben Harrison was a percussionist in the King’s College Orchestra.