News Column

Performance hall for Sparky's Schroeder

August 21, 2014

By Dan Taylor, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Aug. 21--Most performance halls are named for famous musicians or wealthy sponsors. But the brand-new, $9.5 millionSchroeder Hall in Rohnert Park is named for a cartoon character.

"People ask if there's a Mr. Schroeder," said Laurence Furukawa-Schlereth, co-executive director of Sonoma State University'sGreen Music Center, where Schroeder Hall makes its debut this weekend near the larger, now-famous Weill Hall.

Throughout its coming season, the 240-seat, 3.420-square-foot Schroeder Hall will offer choral and instrumental concerts, lectures, films and more.

But Mr. Schroeder won't be there. That's because he's the small blonde boy in the "Peanuts" comic strip who played Beethoven on a toy piano, ignoring bossy Lucy as she talked of marriage.

The late cartoonist Charles "Sparky" Schulz based Schroeder on a combination of childhood friends, remembered a toy piano played by one of his own children, and took care to use authentic notes in his sheet-music captions when Schroeder played.

"Sparky loved classical music," said Schulz's widow, philanthropist and Green Music Center donor Jean Schulz, who suggested the name for the new hall.

"I said, 'What you would think about calling it Schroeder Hall?' Hoping it wouldn't sound silly."

The entire Sonoma State University campus embraced the idea, university officials said.

"I think the name is unique," said SSU President Ruben Arminana. "The cartoons appear all over the world and Schroeder is known worldwide, no matter where you travel."

The intimate hall, attached to the university's music department building, will feature 10 free concerts this weekend, including pianist David Benoit's "Tribute to Charlie Brown."

While Schroeder Hall will be used for classes, lectures, rehearsals, and student and faculty recitals, ambitious plans for public performances on weekends go far beyond that.

Green Music Center co-executive director Zarin Mehta plans a "Sundays at Schroeder" concert series starting in September, with guest artists including singer Storm Large of Pink Martini, bagpiper Cristina Pato, jazz vocalist Mary Stallings and organist Charles Rus.

One of Schroeder Hall's most impressive features is its 1,248-pipe organ, to be played Sunday night by James David Christie of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

The organ was built in 1972 by John Brombaugh, an engineer and acoustician credited with bringing back Baroque-style organs. Originally created for a church in Toledo, Ohio, which later closed, the organ was discovered and reserved by the Green Music Center team, and kept at a church in Rochester, New York, until Schroeder Hall was completed.

The instrument in Schroeder Hall, formally known as Brombaugh Opus 9, is one of just 66 organs built by the master, which are now scattered across 23 states. Schroeder Hall is designed to make a perfect home for the pipe organ, with a loft poised above the stage. But the hall also is meant for multiple uses.

"For example, our student body wants to use Schroeder Hall for a film series. We need to learn how to use the hall, and find out what will work there," Mehta said.

Nearby Weill Hall, open since 2012, is already widely known and praised for its acoustics, big-name shows and orchestral concerts. Schroeder Hall will offer a more intimate space for both local and visiting artists.

"I hope the community takes this little hall and puts its arms around it," Mehta said.

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or


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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)

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