Hedy Tung, Contributing Photographer

Woolsey Hall’s 2,560 seats have remained largely vacant this semester as the pandemic put the majority of live performances and rehearsals on pause.

Several music organizations at Yale and in New Haven have traditionally used Woolsey Hall for concerts and rehearsals. In the past few years, the construction of the Schwarzman Center limited rehearsal time at Woolsey Hall due to high noise levels. This semester, safety concerns further limited the use of Woolsey for some groups. But at the start of the School of Music’s performance block, Yale’s Environmental Health and Safety department and the University Safety Committee approved use of the space for curricular activities. 

“[Environmental Health and Safety] did aerosol testing in the space and determined that with masks and social distancing it was safe for limited use,” said Michael Yaffe, associate dean of the Yale School of Music.

The use of Woolsey Hall is restricted to the curricular activities of the School of Music and the Institute for Sacred Music. Groups using Woolsey this semester include the Yale Philharmonia and the choral conducting program at the School of Music, and students are also using the hall for organ practice. While using the space, these groups must comply with health and safety precautions, which include wearing a mask and practicing social distancing. 

The hall can only be used by musicians whose instruments allow them to wear a mask, such as string instruments. The stage is set up to facilitate social distancing and limit the number of players. Yaffe noted that groups maintain at least an hour gap between uses for air circulation purposes. Additionally, groups adhere to strict rules for entry and exit and no audience members are permitted inside the hall.

This semester, the Yale Philharmonia planned four concerts, which are recorded and will be livestreamed on a later date. Yaffe explained that the School of Music needed a recording space for the Yale Philharmonia as part of the curriculum. He said Woolsey was the only “workable space” since it currently contains the necessary recording technology.

The Yale Philharmonia follows extensive safety protocol for rehearsals, including checking in with staff upon entry and keeping talking to a minimum. After each rehearsal, students disinfect their stands and equipment.

Typically, undergraduate music groups such as the Yale Concert Band, the Yale Symphony Orchestra and the Yale Glee Club utilize Woolsey Hall during the academic year. But this year, they have not been allowed to use the space because they are not curricular activities. Undergraduate groups must adapt to virtual platforms to continue programming.

Professor and director of University Bands Thomas Duffy explained that the band plays six concerts in Woolsey Hall over the course of a regular year, but this year all performances must take place virtually. Yale Symphony Orchestra director William Boughton said that the orchestra uses Woolsey for dress rehearsals and concerts usually.

New Haven Symphony Orchestra also conducts its rehearsals and concerts in the space.

Elaine Carroll, chief executive officer of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, said that while the group hopes to return to its “traditional concert home,” they are pursuing alternative and even unconventional venue options. In October, they held outdoor concerts at the Canal Dock Boathouse on Long Wharf. 

“Safety is our top priority.” Carroll added. “We have been long-time partners with Yale and Woolsey Hall and have been working with their teams to look at the long-term outlook for getting back in the concert hall.”

Woolsey Hall is located at 500 College Street. 

Marisol Carty | marisol.carty@yale.edu

Ilana Zaks | ilana.zaks@yale.edu

Marisol Carty was Arts Editor from 2021-2022 and previously covered Music. She double majors in Economics and Philosophy.