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Last time a major GOP campaign event happened in Tuscaloosa, almost four decades ago, the Frank N. Moody Music Building was still years from opening.
When then-President Ronald Reagan was running for re-election, his swing of Southern stops included Tuscaloosa on Oct. 15, 1984. He spoke at Memorial Coliseum (later re-named Coleman Coliseum).
Even should previous debate no-show Donald Trump make it, no standing presidents will appear in Tuscaloosa on Dec. 6 for the 7-9 p.m. GOP debate in the University of Alabama's music building, roughly across Paul W. Bryant Drive from the coliseum.
Details including ticketing are still being hammered out, but given the building's respective configurations, the in-house debate audience won't reach Reagan's numbers. The coliseum, which holds about 15,000, was packed with supporters. Even should the GOP utilize the concert hall, as expected, seating there tops out about 1,000.
Gloria Narramore Moody, with the support of husband Frank Moody, drove creation of the UA School of Music's 135,000 square-foot facilities. Frank Moody was heir to the First National Bank his great-grandfather founded in 1871. After selling the firm to AmSouth, the Moodys continued to perform civic and charitable acts. As a musician and educator, Gloria Moody led the charge to fund new facilities for the School of Music, which had previously shared buildings with other departments elsewhere around campus, including Rowand-Johnson.
“He did it for a good night’s sleep,” Gloria Moody told the Over the Mountain Journal, in an interview for an October 2016 feature. “I wanted a new music building, and I wasn’t going to let him rest until I got it.”
Construction began in 1986; the school took full occupancy in fall 1988. Back then, the School of Music had about 150 students, whereas now it includes about 450; faculty has also trebled in size since then. Various areas have been renovated, with new paint and carpeting, and some expansions.
The building contains offices, research labs, a media center, teaching studios, jazz rehearsal and pipe organ rooms, studios for electronic and computer music, 52 practice spaces for everything from solo to ensemble, and a recently renovated home for the 400-member Million Dollar Band.
Following a lightning-strike fire in April 2020, 24,000 square feet of rehearsal, storage and other space was added; UA also rebuilt a fire- and water-damaged roof. The Million Dollar Band also works on a full-sized outdoor football field adjacent to the Moody, for full-scale marching-performing drills.
The opera department has its own facility in Bryant-Jordan Hall, converted from a former chapel on the old Bryce Hospital grounds, a five-minute walk away.
Performance and public spaces within the Moody complex include the intimate Recital Hall, with room for 140, and the aesthetically and acoustically renowned Concert Hall. It actually opened before the rest of the building, with a December 1987 concert by legendary opera singer Marilyn Horne backed by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
Curtains can be raised or lowered along side walls to alter acoustics, and a bank of Plexiglas clouds above the stage affect sound distribution, all motor-driven and controlled backstage. Featuring two balconies, the hall seats roughly 1,000. Most chairs are fixed, although there are some removable seats along side balconies. The lip of the stage can be altered to create an orchestra pit, for ballet and opera performances.
Architects from Woollen, Molzan and Partners of Indianapolis, Indiana, with Fitts and White from Tuscaloosa, joined Kirkegaard Associates of Chicago for acoustic design. Roger Morgan Studio (now Sachs Morgan Studio) of New York City consulted to build the Moody Concert Hall in proportions matching the great hall of Vienna’s Musikverein, considered one of the world's finest.
Some of that ease and functionality may be virtually invisible to viewers tuning in to the debate, which will be broadcast live in Eastern and Central time zones on broadcast network The CW, and on NewsNation's cable presence; live-streamed on www.NewsNationnow.com and Rumble. Audio can be heard on SiriusXM Triumph channel 111.
But what won't escape the camera, unless organizers choose to go to lengths to obscure it, is the hall's gleaming centerpiece: a massive Holtkamp organ looming above the stage, seated on the first balcony level. Its 86 ranks of silvered pipes ― amounting to about 5,000 in all — soar toward the arch above. The Holtkamp features 65 1/2 independent stops, pressurized-air valves which operate electrically, while the keys work via standard mechanical manipulation.
The are four more organs throughout the Moody, including a smaller but also impressive Schlicker in the Recital Hall, and three more practice organs.
The Moody Concert Hall plays host to the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra, UA's Huxford Symphony Orchestra and other artists and groups, either touring or performing on a more sporadic basis.
Among the legends who've performed on its stage: violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Emanuel Ax, flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, bass-baritone singer William Warfield, the poet Maya Angelou, soul singer Al Green, John Legend, Roberta Flack, Kansas, and actor-activists including James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte and others, who spoke at Realizing the Dream celebrations of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
The School of Music includes professors and students — undergrad and graduate ― of strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, keyboards, and composition. It also teaches music theory and history; music therapy, as tools for healthcare needs; music administration, where students combine art with business; and music education, for those planning to become the next generation of professors, band leaders, choir directors and teachers.
Reach Mark Hughes Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Tuscaloosa site of GOP presidential debate has rich musical history