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Feb. 15, 2021

An accomplishment of note

MSU’s 40-year musical dream comes true

With an outpouring of generous gifts and enthusiasm bolstered by the naming gift from James K. Billman, Jr., MD, the College of Music at Michigan State University is pleased to announce the completion of fundraising for the recently opened Billman Music Pavilion.

Consisting of 37,000 square feet of new space with 8,500 square feet of renovated space, 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 is a dream come true,” said Dean James Forger. “Various plans for expansion of music facilities at MSU go back decades, but with leadership from Jim Billman and support from the university, the stage was set to make it happen this time. I am incredibly grateful for Dr. Billman and for so many donors who made this state-of-the-art building possible, allowing us to give our students and faculty what they deserve — a safe, spacious environment with superb acoustics.”

The Billman Music Pavilion increases space for the study, practice and performance of music at MSU by more than 40%. Enhanced functions include those for practicing, chamber music, large rehearsals, opera, performance spaces, collaborative networking, advanced streaming and recording capability and exploration and performance through ambisonics. In addition to Dr. Billman, five more donors made gifts of a million dollars or more and are recognized as such by naming significant spaces in their honor.

“Of course Dr. Billman’s naming gift set the tone, and it was then that we knew we could actually bring this new building to life,” said Rebecca Surian, College of Music senior director of development, whose team spearheaded the fundraising effort. “The enthusiasm became palpable at that point, and donors like Dee and Byron CookCraig and Lisa MurraySelma Hollander, Ruth Charles and Ed and Wanda Eichler made incredible gifts that truly made the difference.”

Surian explained that while these major donors led the way to the successful completion of this student-focused campaign, it took a community effort to exceed the $17.5 million goal. The beautiful Billman Music Pavilion Major Donor Wall recognizes 54 donor households that made five, six and seven-figure gifts, with hundreds more who contributed below the $10,000 recognition threshold.

Highlights include Marcie Schalon’s gift for a new percussion rehearsal hall, Roy and Lou Anna Simon’s gift to name the courtyard, funding from Merritt and Candy Lutz for percussion faculty space and Barbara Sawyer-Koch’s gift, in memory of her husband Don, to name a jazz combo practice room. In addition, 75% of Music faculty, staff and retirees joined together to fund the study mezzanine.

“A lot has been written about the new building and who gave what, but not much has been said about why we all contributed,” Dr. Billman said. “Music, like all subjects, will have its tough love moments, but when I observe the music students and their professors at work, they form a supportive community who help each other push through difficulties and polish the skills necessary to succeed. The new and remodeled facilities improve MSU’s competitive position for recruiting top music students and faculty who will continue to empower students to develop their voices and unfurl their musical gifts. I thank all of the named and anonymous givers to this project, whose effects will be felt for 100 years. Some have given for love of music, some for love of alma mater and some to strengthen a great music program, but all of the donors that I have met gave with joy. At MSU, we have again proven the wisdom of Helen Keller, ‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’”


The project was a labor of love for Dee Cook and Barbara Sawyer-Koch who became friends when they served for several years together on the MSU Board of Trustees. They recall previous attempts to bring a project like this to life and, in fact, Dee and her husband, Byron, previously made generous gifts to the college that resulted in the modernization of Cook Recital Hall.

“We have loved our experience with Dean Forger, Rebecca and all of our friends on the National Leadership Council of the College of Music,” Dee Cook said. “We are especially pleased that the new building is sited on West Circle Drive on historic Adams Field as a spectacular addition to our longtime college home. We look forward to the pleasure of seeing it used and enjoyed by students, faculty and the MSU music community.”

Construction on the Billman Music Pavilion began in June 2018. The Christman Company served as construction manager, Bora Architects worked with faculty to ensure needs were met and the exterior fit within the classic north campus style, and acousticians from Kirkegaard Associates brought their advanced artistic and scientific understanding of acoustics to bear for the sound quality, health and safety of all.

By September 2019 the transformation of Music Building Room 120 was nearing completion, now known as Hollander Hall. New spaces include Murray Hall for the principal use of jazz, Eichler Hall with advanced technology for band rehearsals, a large rehearsal hall for orchestra and other purposes, and 40 much-needed sound-isolating practice rooms.

Craig Murray is an MSU alumnus, residing in Los Angeles, who has built a successful career in movie and entertainment advertising. He is a charter member of the College of Music National Leadership Council, and gifts from Craig and his wife Lisa have not only supported the construction of Murray Hall but also resulted in the Murray Family Terrace of the new facility.

“The Billman Music Pavilion’s journey from impossible dream to shining accomplishment represents the epitome of ‘Spartans Will,’” Murray said. “Against significant odds, the small — and relatively young — MSU College of Music inspired a passionate coalition of MSU alumni, donors and music lovers from across the nation to muster the resources necessary to build such an exceptional, world-class facility. It’s an achievement that should make all Spartans very proud.”

COVID-19 prevented the college from celebrating the opening of the pavilion this past spring, but there is still a plan in the works to welcome the community to the facility when it is safe to do so. For now, the few faculty and students who have been able to use the facility are impressed and grateful.

“I have heard nothing but rave reviews from those fortunate individuals who have had a chance to use the Billman Music Pavilion this fall,” Forger said. “The additional space has allowed us even greater flexibility in spacing and scheduling activities properly to plan for maximum safety of our musicians. It will be a thrill to open the entire space for everyone once it is safe again, and we have our many generous donors to thank for that. I am extremely appreciative of all of them. They have transformed the College of Music at MSU.”

This story was originally featured on the College of Music website.

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