An In-depth Look at the Music Pavilion

The “Art & Science” of transforming MSU’s College of Music facilities.

Digital elevation rendering from the south showing the Pavilion expansion to the left side of the Music Building.

Propelled by donor support, the Michigan State University College of Music facilities will soon be transformed with new and renovated space that will be finely tuned with the art and science of sound.

The highly anticipated improvements supported in large part by donor gifts will expand practice, classroom, rehearsal and technology spaces to enhance and reflect the quality of music produced in the College of Music. The enhanced facilities will ensure a 21st century learning environment for all music students while celebrating the history of the original 1939 building. The remarkable physical transformation will help the College grow leading-edge programs, attract and retain talent, and further strengthen the College's position on national and world stages.

A team of leading architects and acoustical professionals has been at work planning these state-of-the-art facilities, blending their expertise in music facility design with insights from College faculty. That input, says Dean James Forger, is critical when considering the unique needs of music facilities.

“The architects have taken great steps, great strides and great care to make certain that the new construction reflects and honors this site in a historic part of campus and its traditional architectural features of brick, granite and slate,” says James Forger, dean of the College of Music.

VIDEO: The art and science of tranforming MSU’s College of Music facilities.

Aerial conceptual rendering reveals the 35,000-square foot planned expansion.
Conceptual rendering of the vocal arts rehearsal and student recital hall.
Digital elevation rendering of the Music Pavilion expansion as viewed from Adams field.
Site plan views: Left; original Music Building, right; Music Building expansion.

Blueprint for success

The blueprint for the Music Building renovation and new pavilion are the work of the same expert team that transformed Cook Recital Hall in 2012 and Fairchild Theatre in 2013. Principal architects, acousticians and acoustic engineers from Bora Architects and Kirkegaard Associates will follow a tested approach of seeking input from College faculty to maximize the outcomes of each and every space.

“Faculty input is everything in a project like this,” says Stephen Weeks, principal architect from Bora Architects. “Getting spaces that will work for their teaching and interaction with students is the foundation of the College of Music. We absolutely design the space from the basis of their needs and input.”

Weeks and his architects will work closely with acousticians from Kirkegaard in planning and delivering sound-sensitive construction. Three key areas include sound isolation between spaces, custom designed acoustic features for rehearsal spaces and other intended uses, and noise control from HVAC systems. Basic considerations include wall and floor thickness, shape and height of rooms, and materials and systems between the walls.

“We know what needs to happen acoustically in terms of material differences to reflect or absorb sound,” says Anthony Shou, principal acoustic consultant with Kirkegaard. “We're the guys behind the scenes to make sure our work integrates with the architectural design. If we've done our job well, you don’t actually see it, you just know it's a great experience spatially and acoustically when engaging with sound in the room.”

Architects select palettes of materials to create coherent and aesthetically pleasing designs, while acousticians provide the knowledge of how those materials can work. Music buildings present different challenges and expenses over those of academic or laboratory spaces simply because everything is “built in” to prevent noise bleed or the transfer of sound from one space to the next.

Spaces, too, must be carefully evaluated with intended use in mind, and acoustics tailored to diffuse or absorb particular sound levels. The new addition will include four large, expansive rehearsal spaces for orchestra, bands, percussion and jazz. Each rehearsal area will be equipped with sound lock vestibules, storage rooms and audio/visual equipment specific to the size and type of group or ensemble.

Kirkegaard acoustician Polyana Frangetto says creating dedicated spaces for particular types of music represents a major transformation to the College’s facilities, and a vast difference from the current layout which relies on smaller, multi-purpose rooms that have little acoustic range or tolerance.

“There is an appropriate acoustic range for each type of music or group,” Frangetto says. “For instance, Cook was designed for small ensembles without a lot of variable acoustics. A dedicated jazz room, though, would have more absorption and sound would not bounce or reverberate as much.”

Third, heating and cooling systems must be carefully planned and placed in music buildings to avoid disruption and sound quality within spaces. On a very basic level, those systems must be upgraded or installed to move air quietly through large, space-intensive air ducts. Audio-visual, recording, IT and other high-tech systems must be seamlessly integrated to meet modern music performance and education needs.

Acoustic specialists from Kirkegaard agree that it takes a very complicated assembly of composite materials and systems to achieve varying degrees of sound isolation between spaces so one faculty can compose, another can have a one-on-one lesson, and another can lead an ensemble or performance. Building and renovating effective spaces, they say, goes far beyond simply paint and drywall and depends on what's between the walls or in the floors and ceilings.

All specifics aside, the art and science of the building must mesh to serve the needs of students, faculty and community—today and into the future. That starts with ensuring that students and faculty can delve deeper and find nuances in what they're playing in professionally designed spaces with superb acoustics and sound isolation.

“Creating a quiet, protected environment for interactive classwork, practicing, rehearsing, recording and performing is exceptionally important for students as they prepare for their careers,” Forger says. “We're very proud of what we've accomplished in our facilities, but now it's time to rocket forward.”

Digital elevation rendering from the west showing the width of the Music Pavilion expansion.
Conceptual rendering of the orchestra rehearsal hall.
Digital elevation rendering of the Music Pavilion expansion as viewed from West Circle Drive.
Conceptual rendering of the percussion rehearsal room.

Joining spaces

As analysis of spaces moves ahead, the architectural and acoustic team is simultaneously tackling the challenges of renovating and joining the existing building to the new Music Pavilion.

Constructed with labor and funds through the Works Progress Administration, the original Music Building was the first on the MSU campus designed solely for liberal arts. A companion Music Practice Building was completed in 1968 to provide additional space for the College’s full-time faculty, practice rooms and teaching studios.

Since then, the College has outgrown the facilities with 66 full-time faculty, 575 students working toward music degrees, and more than 2,000 additional students participating in ensembles and classes. Programs have expanded, while career and industry demands necessitate access to high-tech tools and recording capabilities.

Forger adds that new and renovated areas will be “right-sized" and flexible, with some areas capable of serving as host sites for professional conferences, organizational meetings or master classes.

A major component of the project will be the essential improvements to practice rooms. “Current practice rooms lack proper ventilation and cannot accommodate more than one student, a bench and a piano,” Forger says. “The number of rooms is limited, resulting in long wait lines for students. Some ensembles, like percussion, are relegated to practicing in basement rooms with low ceilings and dim light. A number of new practice areas with excellent acoustics and space to foster collaboration are planned.”

The College also plans to include a social and café space in the new Music Pavilion. “The much-needed space,” Forger says, “will be ideal for informal gatherings, receptions, and dialog, and reinforce the principle that music, at its very core, is a collaborative art form.”

The area will feature small gathering spaces where faculty, students, staff and patrons can collaborate and chat among colleagues or seek a quite spot to study independently. “It will be a great space for community building,” Forger says, “a real boon for fostering our musical culture and advancing the collaborative spirit that thrives here.”

Digital elevation rendering from the north showing the Pavilion expansion to the right side of the Music Building.
Conceptual rendering of a proposed practice room.
Conceptual rendering of the vocal arts rehearsal and student recital hall.

Building on history

Planning and construction of music facilities is one of the most carefully designed and high-cost endeavors to pursue on any university campus. The architectural and acoustic team agrees that building an addition that is both sensitive to an original design and accommodating to today’s demands requires a balanced perspective, concentrated study and careful execution.

At MSU, special care will be taken to retain and carry through materials, forms and shapes that are familiar to 1940s-era design, but that also reflect the language of contemporary architecture. Ceiling height, material weight and mass, and scale and size of rooms are key to accommodating the needs for practice, instruction, performance and interaction between students, faculty and audiences.

The challenge, say members of the Kirkegaard team, is how to join the two structures together so they behave as one. College leadership recognizes that, too.

“That’s what also makes this project invigorating—that ability to knit together the old with the new,” says Forger. “When all this hard work is completed, we’ll have facilities and spaces that will serve the College of Music for generations to come.”

The expansion and renovation of MSU’s College of Music facilities was set in motion with a lead gift by MSU alumnus Dr. James K. Billman Jr. Additional major support was provided by alumni Byron and Dolores Cook, the late Ruth Charles and Selma Hollander. In total, more than $9.5 million has been raised for this brick and mortar project that received “approval to plan” by the MSU Board of Trustees in June 2017.

For information on how you can support the Music Pavilion campaign, support College of Music students and programs, or establish a named endowment, please contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development for the College of Music, at or 517-353-9872.

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