Celebrated Alumnus Connects with Students

Renowned orchestrator William Brohn visits College of Music, takes stage as Homecoming Grand Marshal. 

The 300-member Spartan Marching Band performed some well know show tunes orchestrated by William Brohn, including a creative formation.
Tony award winning arranger, William David Brohn talks with Christian Kolo about his work, “The River Runs Silver,” during a composition class at the College of Music.
William Brohn waits for the MSU Homecoming parade to get underway.
Left to right: Christine Beamer; director of career services and music entrepreneurship, William Brohn, and Etienne Charles, assistant professor of jazz trumpet engage in a discussion during an improvisation class at the College of Music.
Left to right: James Forger, dean of the MSU College of Music, William Brohn, John Madden, associate professor of music and director of the Spartan Marching Band, and Scott Westerman, executive director of the MSUAA pose for a photo at the football game.

Christian Kolo confesses he probably felt like a tween meeting Taylor Swift the day he met top Broadway orchestrator William David Brohn.

“I immediately went back home and listened to the soundtrack from ‘Wicked,’” says the sophomore composition student in the MSU College of Music. “It was such a fulfilling experience to think that I had just met him and that he looked at my work.”

Kolo was among dozens of students who had the opportunity to listen, meet and interact with Brohn while he was on campus as the grand marshal for the 2015 MSU Homecoming Parade.

Brohn, a 1955 music theory graduate and Flint-native, has arranged scores for some of the most popular shows on Broadway. His celebrated career includes “Miss Saigon,” “Ragtime,” and “Wicked.” Brohn received a Tony Award for Best Orchestration for “Ragtime,” and is a three-time winner of the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations.

During his packed four-day visit in early October, Brohn was able to spend quality time with music students and faculty from his alma mater. He talked about his career and arranging popular music in a popular jazz composition class led by Assistant Professor of Jazz Trumpet Etienne Charles. Brohn also facilitated an arranging and orchestration workshop with students. 

Charles says he was impressed by Brohn’s talent to create beautiful sounds using anything he had at hand.

“He did one great demonstration that involved a piano part he had received from a composer,” Charles says. “He showed students how he took that part and made it into a score.”

Associate Professor of Composition and Chair of the Composition Area Ricardo Lorenz was equally taken by Brohn’s warmth and enthusiasm, and his ability to provide students with clear examples, specific feedback, and sage advice for working in the contemporary world. He mentioned about 15 composition students attended a class or workshop with Brohn, including Kolo who studies with Lorenz.

“He was adamant about students getting a solid education in composition and to learn your craft in a traditional sense,” Lorenz says. “It was great for students to hear that no matter what type of composer you are going to be, you need to know your bread-and-butter.”

College of Music Dean James Forger says Brohn’s selection as the grand marshal for the 2015 Homecoming Parade reinforces that MSU is a high-achieving university of excellence with exceptional alumni at the top of their professions.

“Bill is among the people who exemplify that excellence,” Forger says. “He is warm, welcoming and modest—all while providing students with an inside look at what it’s like to work at the top of your craft.”

Forger says Brohn is enthusiastic about coming back to MSU for a residency in the spring to share his insights and experiences with students, faculty and the community. Within days of his Homecoming visit, Brohn responded positively to the invitation for a ‘return engagement,’ with a focus on workshops that emulate the real-world pressures and intricacies of arranging and orchestrating under deadlines.

“Like a true Spartan, he’s generous and willing to share the considerable knowledge, talent and skills he has developed over his long and successful career,” Forger says.

Interview on WKAR’s Current State

Audio courtesy WKAR. Interview October 2. 

Spartan Marching Band Homecoming Performance

Video courtesy MSU Spartan Marching Band

Brohn’s Connections with MSU

Brohn’s visit in early October included both Homecoming events coordinated through the MSU Alumni Association as well as those hosted by the College of Music and its National Leadership Council.

“No amount of rain could have made a drop of difference in an overwhelmingly signal visit home,” wrote Brohn in an email. “Thanks for a glorious Homecoming.”

Brohn is a longtime donor to the College of Music, having established the Alexander Schuster Principal Violinist Endowed and Expendable Scholarships in 1995, and donating to the Music Facilities Fund for the renovation of the Music Auditorium, transforming it to Cook Recital Hall and a modern Green Room for faculty, students and guest artists. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in fine art from MSU in 1996, and earned a degree in composition at the New England Conservatory of Music.

“Bill Brohn personifies everything that defines a great Spartan. He is considered the best of the best in his craft. He applies his many gifts to make the world a better place. And he has inspired dozens of MSU alumni to follow in his footsteps,” says Scott Westerman, associate vice president for Alumni Relations and executive director of the MSU Alumni Association. “Perhaps most importantly, Bill has helped to create the soundtrack of our lives, musical artistry that will endure across the generations. I can’t think of a better definition of Spartan immortality.”

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