The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music names its new performance and rehearsal hall after wealthy alumni donors George and Pamela Hamel. | December 8, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

“Here we go again,” wrote a friend and colleague, referring to the issue of privately funded naming rights of public buildings and the current nationwide penchant for favoring names identified with big money over names identified with history or public service.

He was referring to the long planned new performance and rehearsal space at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (Below top is a sign, below middle is an exterior view and below bottom is an interior of a small recital hall, the last two in architectural renderings). It will be built on the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street, next to the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art.

UW new music hall sign

uw hamel performance center exterior

Hamel Music Hall interior Holzman Moss Bottino Architects and Strang Architectsl

And the friend was comparing it to my own post, and reader reactions, about renaming the Wisconsin Union Theater as Shannon Hall (below) to honor the wealthy patrons who helped so much with the restoration and renovation of that cultural landmark.

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

Plans for the new music hall, with construction to begin in 2015, had already been unveiled. Here is a link to that Sept. 29 announcement and the many reader comments:

Now we learn about the major donors. They are George and Pamela Hamel (below), who live in the San Francisco area where he heads a venture capital firm — what else? They come from several generations of UW-Madison alumni and they generously gave $15 million as a lead gift.

Pamela and George Hamel

All well and good, and a big, hearty thank you from all of us, and especially from music fans, is in order.

But you still have to wonder.

After all, the other major UW-Madison music halls — Mills Hall, Morphy Hall, the Raymond Dvorak lobby – are named after men who served the UW-Madison School of Music.

But of course back then the state was willing to pay for public education and not privatize it out to the wealthy.

And isn’t it nice that we have Overture Hall and the Overture Center instead of Jerry Frautschi Hall and the Jerry Frautschi Arts Center. Frautschi (below) and his wife, fellow philanthropist Pleasant Rowland serve as outstanding role models, and sure know how to show good taste in a civic-minded way. They put the emphasis on help, not ego.

Please, could the other members of the very wealthy class show some sensitivity and taste? And could UW officials and state legislators please do the same? What about a nice big bronze plaque honoring the donors with the names going to the educators and public workers? Would that suffice?

Maybe the faculty, alumni and students could vote on what to name such new buildings. That would be refreshing at a time of the Wealth Gap and Income Inequality.

And The Ear has a question: Are there incentives and major business advantages and tax breaks to giving such a big donation to a non-profit music education institution?

Anyway, here is a link to the official news release about the new hall and its name. It also has details about what performance spaces and other features the hall will contain:

And at bottom is a YouTube video about the new music hall.

What do you think of the rights issue?

Who would you name the new music hall after?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Robert Fountain bowled me over as a high school kid when I saw him conduct the Oberlin College Choir in its senior recital in 1960. What luck, then, that I got to sing with him at UW in the 1980s with the Choral Union. Mozart (Requiem, Coronation, and C-Minor Masses), Bach (B-Minor Mass), Haydn (Lord Nelson Mass), and Verdi (Requiem) — the last in the Stock Pavilion!

    The Fountain Performance Hall is a brilliant suggestion and also a more euphonious name.

    It might also be appropriate to name it after former Chancellor John Wylie, who championed the idea and led the modern-day reshaping of the campus. (I believe he welds music stands of his own design.) I know he viciously attacked Jake for unmasking the stealth renaming of the Elvehjem, so maybe he would learn something valuable by being honored for his service, not his cash.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — December 9, 2014 @ 6:15 am

  2. While I understand the wish for an ideal world in which generous donors would give without expectation of recognition, I am extremely grateful to the Hamels,who deserve nothing but gratitude. The state of Wisconsin has essentially has failed in its support of the UW (15%) of Madison’s budget. So if the UW hopes to retain its stature as a great university, we need the Hamels, Morgridges, Chazens, Graingers and more. efpizer

    Comment by evan f pizer — December 8, 2014 @ 9:12 pm

  3. Your comments are well taken and especially your concern for the income gap which is almost a taboo subject in America these days. Ask the late VP candidate John Edwards about that; he really got pilloried for raising that issue and a lot of it has been on a personal level. But let’s face it: this new hall likely would never have been built had these private donors not stepped forward with $15 million for it. What is sad, is not only that the state’s politicians are unwilling to fund not only art and also education in general but also that the public keeps reelecting these dolts. The whole system is out of whack. Maybe you will get your wish and the donors in this case might get little more than a brass sign and their name on the building; I can live with that. And agreed, it is an even worse situation when money given changes a name (Chasen anyone) from someone who really did serve the university well (Elveheim) to that of the donor.

    Comment by fflambeau — December 8, 2014 @ 8:20 pm

  4. I would like to see it named after Robert Fountain or Marvin Rabin, both of whom left living legacies in the form of musicians. Perhaps we should feel some compassion for people willing to spend millions in exchange for their name on a building — which will inevitably, at some point, be re-named in honor of the next wealthy donor in need of some prestige. Sic transit gloria.

    Comment by Susan Fiore — December 8, 2014 @ 6:32 pm

  5. totally agree w/ ann boyer.

    Comment by Gretta Gribble — December 8, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  6. I would like the see the new music hall named after the talented and beloved UW-Madison choral director, Robert Fountain.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — December 8, 2014 @ 7:58 am

    • Hi Ann,
      That is a GREAT and most appropriate suggestion.
      Robert Fountain was a gifted and generous education and music whose memory lives on.
      Too bad the Hamels didn’t give the money in the name of a Robert Fountain Music Hall.
      Thank you,

      Comment by welltemperedear — December 8, 2014 @ 8:20 am

  7. Jacob, I just read your blog about the $15 million donation leading to naming the new UW-Madison music building after the generous donor. Your feelings/comments about this reminded me that when a new music building was erected @ UW-Eau Claire, my alma-mater, the concert venue was named Gantner Hall after my major advisor, Bob Ganter, cellist & Dept. Chair in 1959 when I enrolled. This instance was totally appropriate because Mr. G was the primary resource for making UW-EC’s music school viable, eventually at least regionally renown. Having said all that, it wouldn’t bother me in the least if UW-Madison’s new music hall were named after the donors. I’m eager to see this building take shape.

    Larry Retzack

    Comment by buppanasu — December 8, 2014 @ 12:38 am

    • Hi Larry,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      I like the story of how the music building at UW-Eau Claire was named after an educator there.
      I think we can all agree that we are happy to see the UW-Madison School of Music get a new performance and rehearsal space.
      What I am lamenting, and other seem to also lament, is the national trend toward the rich buying naming rights — in part because the public sector is not supporting higher education to the same level is used to.
      I also find it less reprehensible when a new building is named for donors than when an building is RENAMED to honor donors.
      Big money just gets its own way too often these days.
      I would like to see history and public service matter more.
      Be well,

      Comment by welltemperedear — December 8, 2014 @ 7:55 am

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