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Oct. 6, 2021

A new era begins

MSU College of Music celebrates ribbon cutting of new and finely-tuned facilities

The MSU College of Music officially realized a dream come true by cutting the ribbon on the Billman Music Pavilion — a state-of-the-art facility, purpose-built for music study, practice and performance. On Friday, Oct. 1, the college celebrated the expansion and improvement of college facilities and included a music-filled open house.

Crews completed much of the pavilion construction in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic caused delays in the celebration. The pavilion first opened to students and faculty in the fall of 2020 under COVID-19 safety protocols. This fall was the first opportunity to celebrate with students, faculty, donors and members of the MSU and surrounding community.

“With the opening of the spectacular Billman Pavilion including renovated spaces in the Music Building, the College of Music students and faculty enter a new era which greatly enhances learning and collaboration as well as health and wellness,” said James Forger, dean of the College of Music. “The advanced recording, video and technical capabilities open new curricular possibilities and ways to effectively communicate our considerable strengths far and wide. We are poised to rocket forward.”

More than 600 people attended the ribbon cutting ceremony in front of the College of Music facilities at 333 W. Circle Drive on MSU’s campus. With opening music provided by the Spartan Jazz Quintet and the MSU Wind Symphony, the ceremonial part of the day included remarks from Forger, faculty and student representatives, Trustee Melanie Foster, President Samuel Stanley Jr., M.D., and the named benefactor of the pavilion, James K. Billman Jr.

After years of planning, the college led a successful fundraising campaign. Billman, numerous more major donors and many in the greater community — including over 80% of College of Music faculty and staff, understood the need and made generous gifts to support the construction of the student-focused facility. The $41.5 million project set a goal of $17.5 million privately raised dollars with the remainder provided by the university. The total raised from private donors topped $17.8 million.

The Billman Music Pavilion consists of 37,000-square feet of new space with 8,500-square feet of renovated space. One of the most significant benefits of the Billman Music Pavilion is the 40% increase in overall facilities. Enhanced or new spaces include those for individual and group practice, chamber music, large ensembles, opera, jazz, student networking and gathering, streaming and recording, scholarly research and presentation, and live audience performance. In addition, the facility has 45 new practice rooms and multi-functional spaces that include four new rehearsal halls, two new performance spaces and two large classrooms. 

The College of Music began incremental facility improvements with the renovations of Cook Recital Hall in 2013 and Fairchild Theatre in the MSU Auditorium in 2014. Each included dramatic acoustic and design updates. The same design and build teams from those projects joined forces with faculty-led committees to create a plan for the Billman Music Pavilion, and renovations started in June 2018.

The enhanced facilities ensure a 21st-century learning environment for all music students while celebrating the history of the original 1939 building constructed through the Works Progress Administration. The physical transformation helps the college grow leading-edge programs, attract and retain talent, and strengthen the college’s position on national and world stages. The college boasts prominent programs in instrumental and vocal performance, jazz, conducting, music education, composition, music history, music theory and studies in entrepreneurship and career readiness.

The state-of-the-art facility attaches to the facade of the current Music Building and integrates with the classic exterior style of MSU’s north campus. The Lansing-based Christman Company served as construction manager. Bora Architects from Portland, Oregon, collaborated with faculty to ensure the design conformed to teaching and performance needs. TMP Architecture of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, added their expertise. Acousticians Kirkegaard Associates of Chicago brought advanced artistic and scientific understanding to deliver sound-sensitive construction based on floor thickness, shape and height of rooms, and materials and systems between walls.

The overall result is a quiet, protected environment for interactive classwork, practicing, rehearsing, recording and performing that aids students in preparing and building successful careers. Flexible, “right-sized,” and artistically and scientifically advanced, the new and renovated spaces are poised to meet the needs of nearly 70 full-time faculty, 600 full-time students working on music degrees and about 2,000 additional students participating in ensembles and classes.

“I have said and still believe that while our music students and faculty do great things using what they have, they deserve a better place to rehearse, to teach and to study,” said Billman, a 1968 Natural Science and Honors College graduate of MSU and member of the College of Music National Leadership Council. “It is beyond words how happy I am to see this facility open and available for everyone. It is a beautiful space.”

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