Howard Gourwitz: On music, marching bands, friendship and a Versace tie

Howard Gourwitz reminisces with Kevin Sedatole during a reception at Cowles House.

As a high school student Howard Gourwitz was so impressed by performances of the University of Michigan’s marching band, he resolved to do whatever it took to get into the U of M, if only to play tenor saxophone in the band. He couldn’t have imagined that this decision would also put him on a path toward a significant leadership role for music at Michigan State University.

Gourwitz did attend U of M and played in the marching band. Through an accelerated graduation program, his band career was cut short by one year; a detail he never forgot. As he approached age 50 and was serving as the band’s alumni president, he went to Kevin Sedatole, then director of the U of M marching band, to ask for an audition in order to complete his fourth year in the band.

“He was the only person to ever audition wearing a three-piece suit and a Versace tie, but he passed and became a role model for the entire band, as well as a friend to me,” recalls Sedatole, who was named director of bands at MSU in 2006.

The friendship between the two prompted Gourwitz, a successful attorney, to take an active role in the life of the MSU College of Music. His involvement includes contributing to concert sponsorships and establishing a commissioning process to secure pieces uniquely composed for college performances. He also was a charter member of the MSU College of Music National Leadership Council. Recently, he pledged and documented current and planned gifts to the college, totaling more than $750,000. 

“Howard has provided extraordinary gifts of leadership and counsel, time, resources, and friendship in support of faculty and students in the College of Music,” says Jim Forger, dean of the College of Music. “He is a truly remarkable individual.”

A significant part of Gourwitz’s gift, $500,000, will be received over a 10-year period from a testamentary Charitable Lead Annuity Trust at $50,000 per year evenly split between the Wind Symphony and the Spartan Marching Band.

“I know firsthand that the power of music can make a tremendous difference in a young person’s life,” Gourwitz says. “I am happy to support the MSU College of Music in their world-class performances.”

The remainder of his total gift commitment is a $250,000 bequest through his personal trust. It will be divided among funding priorities near and dear to him including endowed
scholarships in jazz trumpet and saxophone, the Community Music School in Detroit, the College of Music and Saxophone Studio, as well as the John T. Madden Leadership Scholarship in the Spartan Marching Band.

“He’s one of the most generous and gracious people I know,” says Sedatole of Gourwitz. “He is an absolute friend to me and the college. We are grateful to have him in the family.”

And the Versace tie? It hangs in Sedatole’s office.