Message from the Dean: Spring 2018 v1

Bringing to close another successful academic year with an exciting future ahead.

Final moments of the World Premier of "Ferrum" by Dr. David Biedenbender. Percussion students from left to right: Sebastian Buhts, Kramer Milan, Daniel Gerhardt and Steven Murtonen.
Zhou Tian takes a moment to talk about his work “Concerto for Orchestra” with CSO Music Director and Conductor Louis Langrée. Photo by M Berneking, courtesy CSO.
Graduate student Kyle Landry composed a piece for the 2017-18 North American Saxophone Alliance composition competition that took first place.
Natalie Law, a masters student in bassoon performance
Natalie Law, a masters student in bassoon performance, took first place in the 2018 Running Start Competition with her idea to create a unique beginning bassoon system.

As we bring another successful academic year to a close, I welcome this opportunity to share with you the pride I have in our students and faculty. With support from alumni and friends, the Michigan State University College of Music continues to flourish through performance, scholarly work, competitions and awards, inclusivity and outreach, and exciting plans for our future.

It was another excellent year of music making. A wide range of dynamic performances were featured, from Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah to principal string players from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra joining cellist Suren Bagratuni; from the contemporary yMusic ensemble to the Renaissance vocal ensemble Tallis Scholars; from Carnival of the Animals, the music of Camille Saint-Saëns, to the opera Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck; and from the unique Latin IS America series and the Jorge Glem Trio to the annual Jazz Artists in residence series and the Jazz Spectacular featuring the great jazz bassist Ron Carter. It has certainly been a year to remember.

While our students and faculty rehearsed and worked their craft, interacting with a wide variety of guest artists, they still managed time to win a wide variety of competitions and awards. A partial list includes:

  • Our Percussion Ensemble earned their way into the winner’s circle at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the ultimate conference for percussionists;
  • Undergraduate senior Drew Kilpela was selected as the winner in the 2018 American Trombone Workshop, Division II Jazz Competition;
  • Composition faculty member Zhou Tian’s “Concerto for Orchestra” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Contemporary Classical Composition category;
  • Saxophone student success included Kyle Landry who took first place in 2017-18 North American Saxophone Alliance composition competition and Julian Velasco who won the prestigious Vandoren Emerging Artist Competition;
  • Jazz faculty Michael Dease and Xavier Davis were honored with a Grammy as part of renowned bassist Christian McBride’s Big Band which won Best Large Jazz Ensemble;
  • Trombone professor Ava Ordman was recognized with the International Trombone Association’s Neill Humfeld Award, given for Excellence in Trombone Teaching; and
  • Jazz trumpet faculty Etienne Charles was recognized with a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award for his work on vocalist Somi’s Petite Afrique recording, the Outstanding Jazz Album that featured Charles as co-producer, trumpeter, composer, percussionist and arranger.

All of these recognitions and achievements are in addition to the innovative thinking and entrepreneurial pursuits readily found in our community.

Take for example our students who were recognized during our Running Start Competition for their inventive ideas which included new products, pilot programs and musical pursuits. Among them are graduate bassoonist Natalie Law who is in the process of creating an innovative bassoon teaching system. At the same time, faculty member Tasha Warren spearheaded an idea and worked with graduate student Emily Roberts to create a concert series for people with special needs, the first of which was held this spring at the MSU Community Music School.

Our faculty are innovators, too. In fact, this year saw the debut of a first-of-its-kind music theory conference led by Michael Callahan and Gordon Sly that included scholarly presentations on topical pieces of music from the past 100 years followed by live, professional performances of those same works. They created a unique approach to scholarly presentations which captured the attendance and participation of people from around the country.

All of this success and hard work has taken place in our aging facilities, despite cramped and inadequate space. To address that, I am happy to share that the MSU Board of Trustees recently approved a motion to proceed with construction of a 35,000 square foot Music Pavilion to be built immediately west of our current site toward Adams Field. The project will include approximately 8,500 square feet of renovated space in the Music Building, and the work will begin soon. I thank the alumni, friends and donors who have enthusiastically supported this project and helped us to raise over $10 million toward our $17.5 million fundraising goal. There remain many opportunities to be a part of this major transformation in the college, and I encourage you to reach out to us and determine how you can help to make it a reality.

Our students, our faculty and our staff continue to work in the classroom, practice rooms, and stages to support our continued achievements, in part by fostering open dialogue in our community. Success in our future depends on it, and we are working hard on many fronts to ensure we build and maintain an inclusive, safe, challenging and productive work and learning environment.


James Forger, Dean
College of Music

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