Published: Aug. 27, 2014

The business of music

College of Music students are thriving as not only musicians but also as budding entrepreneurs thanks to the new Withrow Career Building Endowment in the College of Music, created by long time donors and supporters Jack and Dottie Withrow.

Students aiming for a life in music may take the traditional route of becoming full time educators or symphony or opera performers; but it is increasingly common for musicians to take an entrepreneurial path: carving out a niche or two, creating a professional brand and marketing it, explains David Rayl, director of Choral Programs and associate dean for Graduate Studies and Research in Music.

As members of the National Leadership Council for the college, the Withrows were well aware of the vision within the college’s leadership to prepare students for applying their life’s work anywhere in the world.

The generosity of John (Jack) (’54, engineering; ’71, MBA, business) and Dortha (Dottie) (’55, education, with dual certification in speech therapy) Withrow previously helped commission a symphony in 2000, established the Withrow Endowed Fund for Excellence in Teaching in the College of Music, funded outreach and engagement efforts in Lansing and Detroit, and provided critical funding for chamber music and jazz performances. They targeted their latest gift, funded in part through the IRA rollover provision, to help music students pick up important skills in promotion, finance and business planning.

“I think being able to help students understand what is required to be not only a premier musician but also a top notch business person, will make a real difference for young people, for the growth of the arts and for our country,” says Jack.

Dottie adds: “We are blessed to support the collaborative efforts of the College of Music. We feel it is very important for students to receive a well-rounded education and one that will open up unique opportunities for success in whatever they choose to do.”

Senior Travis Sinclair, who is majoring in jazz studies in the College of Music and finance in the Broad College of Business, couldn’t agree more. Travis actually came to MSU in part because of the Withrows. They had heard him perform at their church in Bloomfield Hills and encouraged him to consider the College of Music at MSU. Travis, now a jazz saxophonist, started playing the piano at age four.

“Music is an art, but it is also a business,” says Travis. “You need to know how to market yourself and how to handle business relationships. Music will always be part of my life and very important to me. But you can have more than one love.”

Even in its first year, the Withrows’ endowment is already having an impact on business-related initiatives in the college.

The Dali Quartet from Chicago will offer performances and workshops to provide an insider’s view of how they built and structured their organization creatively and financially. Jacob Cameron (’98, music) will visit campus to share how he runs his successful summer camps for aspiring young musicians. Additionally, the Withrow endowment is helping to underwrite a Broad College of Business course specifically for musicians as well as the Running Start multidisciplinary program that encourages students to visualize life as a working musician.

“In order to remain competitive it’s essential that we offer programming like this,” says Rayl. “We are so appreciative to the Withrows for valuing all that we do in the college—our performances, our teaching, and our efforts to develop these all important career building skills in our students.”

For more information on making a gift to the College of Music, contact Rebecca Surian, director of development, at or by calling 517-353-9872.


Jack and Dottie Withrow and students from the College of Music.

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