College of Music celebrates successes

From receiving Grammys to teaching awards, College of Music alumni, students, faculty, and staff were honored to receive nearly 90 prestigious awards spring semester! Check out just a sampling here:

The MSU College of Music came up big at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards in February. Alumni Ben Williams, ’07, and the late Clare Fischer, ’51, won top honors in jazz while Associate Professor of Voice Molly Fillmore sang as Wagner's "Helmwige" for the Metropolitan Opera.

Ben Williams, left, and Pat Metheny, right, won best jazz instrumental album for the Unity Band CD. (Photo credit: Rick Diamond/

John Kratus, professor of music education, was honored by his peers with the Michigan Music Education Association Award of Merit during the Michigan Music Conference in Grand Rapids. Kratus, who founded the MMEA honors composition concert, is considered one of the top music education experts in the country.

Rodney Whitaker, professor of jazz bass and director of jazz studies, was recently named University Distinguished Professor along with eight other MSU faculty members. This honor recognizes distinguished achievement in teaching, research and public service and is among the highest honors that can be bestowed on a faculty member by the university.

Pianist Ralph Votapek received the MSU Faculty Emeriti Association “Outstanding Contributions by an Individual” award for 2012-13. His selection was based on his significant and ongoing contributions to the College of Music and MSU as an ever-active performing artist, collaborator, and teacher.


The MSU Opera Theatre production of The Pirates of Penzance received first prize in the National Opera Association’s Opera Production Competition, Division III. Opera Director Melanie Helton accepted the award in Portland, Oregon, at the national convention. The production featured 25 instrumentalists and 48 vocalists.

Nathaniel Peake, '10, who is singing leading roles in several companies, including San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seattle Opera, and Palm Beach Opera, won four of opera's most prestigious awards in the span of a month:

  • the Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition Grand Prize
  • the Richard Tucker Foundation Award
  • ​the George London Foundation Award
  • the Placido Domingo Opera Alia Opera and Zarzuela International Competitions. Nathaniel was the only finalist in both divisions (top 10 international competitors) and won the Zarzuela (Spanish operetta) division.

Kristopher Johnson, jazz studies alumnus and Kresge Performing Arts fellow, was recently named a 2013 Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award Recipient for his composition “Odd Expressions” by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

John Riesen, vocal performance master’s student, won in the initial rounds of the Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions. He was also a winner of the Detroit Metropolitan Opera District audition. John also recently won the Harold Haugh Vocal Competition and the Jackson Symphony award - for a total of $2600 in prizes. He will also be presented in a solo engagement with the Jackson Symphony. John is the recipient of the Clare S. Mackey Endowed Fund in Voice.

Robin Giebelhausen and Ryan Shaw, doctoral music education students and advisors of the College’s Music Educators Chapter of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), won one of three national awards for professional development in the 2013 NAfME Collegiate Chapter of Excellence Awards.

Jerrick Matthews, jazz trombone master’s student, won the Texas State Trombone Symposium Jazz Trombone Competition, selected first out of an international pool of applicants.

The Echo Saxophone Quartet (students Matt Tracy, Casey Grev, Eric Troiano, and Jim Spigner) won first place in the state and regional Music Teachers National Association competitions, Chamber Music Wind Division, and took second place at the national competition that was held in California.

Piano DMA alumni Edisher Savitsky, '13, and Vakhtang Kodanashvili, '12, performed in a Rachmaninoff concert as part of the Contemporary Piano Faces festival at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Graduate students Haobing Zhu (piano) and Marta Bagratuni (cello, voice) were two of the four local artists awarded grants from the Arts Council of Greater Lansing in the emerging artist category of the council’s Individual Artist Grant Program. Each of the women received cash awards of $1,000, which will help fund their projects that involve the production of CDs, community concerts, and presentations.

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