As tap season begins for Yale’s famed a cappella groups, singing group members will have to do a bit more searching this year — not only for prospective members, but also for new practice rooms.

While gearing up for a new season of jams and tours this summer, singing groups received a surprise e-mail from the music department saying that they would no longer be able to practice in rooms managed by the Music Department in William L. Harkness Hall. These rooms, which contain pianos, had been especially useful for a cappella groups.

Now these designated spaces in WLH will only be used for academic purposes, such as music classes, department-sponsored groups, lecture series, and special events, Music Department officials wrote in the e-mail.

The Music Department made this decision in consultation with the Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg.

“This e-mail really came as a surprise to us,” said Jon Markowitz ’02, co-chair of the singing group council and member of a cappella group Out of the Blue. “We were a little dismayed to see it because just last spring, we were talking to Dean Trachtenberg about increasing practice spaces for a cappella groups. Instead, the opposite happened.”

But recent increases in the number of both music majors — from about 40 students a few years ago to 90 this year — and department-sponsored music groups was the primary reason behind this abrupt change, Music Department chair Patrick McCreless said.

“Basically, we need space for groups that are supported by the department and for our own students who are receiving credits for their studies,” McCreless said. “With the increase in music majors, there’s been a lot of pressure for practice spaces, so we had to do it.”

McCreless said a second reason the department enacted the new policy was that some singing groups had left rooms in improper conditions at times.

“It was really irritating to have to moves tables and chairs back to their original spots when part of the deal was to replace everything,” he said.

Trachtenberg said room abuse and the department’s need for space were legitimate reasons to implement the new policy.

“The music school needs their space,” she said. “But you know some of the singing groups outstay their welcome. Some of the groups haven’t used the space respectfully.”

In previous years, undergraduate a cappella and drama groups were given the opportunity to sign up for time slots in the piano-equipped rooms in WLH, but were always given last priority behind School of Music students and the Music Department.

“Even in the best of times, groups wouldn’t be able to get the slots they wanted, but we were still able to sign up,” Markowitz said. “Now, you can’t even sign up, and that leaves 200 singing group members with no resources allotted to them.”

In the meantime, a cappella groups have been searching for practice spaces in Hendrie Hall and the residential colleges.

“It would’ve been nice if they had told us a little bit beforehand so we could look for more spaces,” David Lieberman ’03, business manager for the Baker’s Dozen, said. “But there hasn’t really been a tremendous crisis yet. Nobody’s been kicked out of rooms yet, and we just bring in keyboards.”

Although the problem in WLH has not been too severe, McCreless said it points to a deeper issue — the lack of music practice spaces at Yale in general, not only for groups, but also for individuals.

Happily, the practice space crunch is likely to be alleviated within the next year or two, when Sprague Hall’s renovations are finished. Slated for completion by the fall of 2002, Sprague Hall will house a large number of new, state-of-the-art practice rooms.

“Music has a very strong presence on campus,” McCreless said. “And we’re starting to realize the need for practice spaces on campus.”