Percussion studio headed for major renovation
Changes will align facilities with the talent of faculty and students
A major improvement of the percussion studio at the MSU College of Music will transform the lives of current and future percussion students by providing sophisticated, state-of-the-art facilities to perform, rehearse and study.
Professor of Percussion and Percussion Area Chair Gwen Dease says that current facilities don’t align with the talent of students and faculty, many of whom win prestigious competitions and lead renowned careers in the percussion field. Alumnus Merritt Lutz agrees that new facilities for the area will dramatically affect the student experience.
Lutz was encouraged to come to MSU and audition for the drumline in the 1960s, and became part of the iconic Spartan Marching Band—an experience, he says, that shaped his life. He learned from high-level talent, made life-long friends, and co-authored “The Series”—the rhythmic cadence that has stood as a signature of the SMB for more than 50 years.
Now, the MSU alumnus says it’s his turn to help provide opportunity to all percussionists by supporting the 21st century makeover of the Music and Practice Buildings. The major redo will elevate the percussion rehearsal and studio spaces from the basement to a modern, purpose-built space above ground. The transformation is considered the most remarkable of the Music Building Pavilion Project, and illustrates the College’s commitment to students and faculty.
“We’ve increased the depth and breadth of talent, but these facilities are just like they were 50 years ago,” says Lutz, a member of the College’s National Leadership Council. “The College has a culture of hard work, excellence and the drive to be number one. We need to improve our facilities now for percussionists and all music students so we can grow and be even greater.”
Lutz and Dease are among many people who strongly advocate for an overhaul of spaces where percussion students rehearse, practice and perform.
"Overall, our college has a world-class faculty and draws really great students,” Dease says. “Our students consistently win international competitions and go on to prominent careers. We’ve been able to have the successes we do despite the building.”
Recent student accolades include repeat titles and invitations to perform at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention—the world’s top convention for percussionists. Dease, too, continues to emerge as a top talent in percussion circles, capturing high-level teaching and artistic awards and recognition as a cutting-edge soloist.
Percussion students, Dease says, spend countless hours in grim, dry or dank areas. Low ceilings, masonry walls, and tile floors produce poor acoustics and unsafe sound levels. Narrow doorways make it difficult and time-consuming to move instruments from room-to-room, while tiny practice rooms are impractical for percussion. Rehearsals and practices are sometimes stopped when sound levels impact other parts of the building. And when inadequate ventilation, fluctuating temperatures, and lack of natural light are added to the list, the result is a building that impedes student progress, health and wellbeing.
“We’re really looking forward to having a well-designed and well-engineered percussion space,” Dease says. “It’s being designed with all the sound issues in mind. Some of the music we play is really soft and delicate while some of it is the loudest music you will ever hear. We need a space where we can hear it well.”
Joseph Myers of Kirkegaard Associates is the project’s lead acoustician. Percussion areas, he says, require high-tech construction and design to prevent sound from bleeding into other areas. Surfaces and materials must also be considered for their ability to bounce or absorb sound, and for their position within the room.
The College’s new percussion area will combine acoustic science with functional, inspiring architectural design. In some instances, students will be able to rehearse without earplugs. The character of sound within rooms will be smooth and pleasant. In short, Myers says, students will be able to fully hear the music they are making and perfect their talents.
“I like to think of this new space as an artist’s studio—one with high ceilings, natural light, huge windows and mirrors, sheer drapes, and clean and consistent wall treatments,” Myers says. “My hope is that people will walk in, look around at different features, and think, ‘that's beautiful,’ rather than simply ‘that's where the acoustics are.’”
The newly constructed MSU Percussion Area will occupy 4,144 square feet of the 35,000-square-foot Music Pavilion. The area will consist of a rehearsal space, two offices, reserved practice rooms, and two faculty studios—with one named for Merritt and Candy Lutz in recognition of their generosity and connection to the MSU Spartan Marching Band and Drumline.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 517-353-9872.