Taking Note

Faculty and staff leave their mark on Billman Music Pavilion.

If their dedication to students wasn’t apparent enough through their work in classrooms, concert halls and administrative offices, look no further than the new Billman Music Pavilion for the incontrovertible proof: faculty, staff and retirees of the College of Music are wholly and enthusiastically committed to the success and wellness of their students.

It’s visible in their faces when they talk about how cinderblock and old tile have given way to spring-loaded floors, acoustic ceilings and soundproof walls.

College of Music faculty, staff and retiree donors gathered at the new Billman Music Pavilion in early March while construction was still wrapping up.

Soon, it’ll also be visible on a wall plaque, commemorating 68 College of Music faculty, staff and retirees of the College of Music who made a collective gift to name a space in the 37,000-square-foot pavilion. In total, 75% of the college’s current faculty and staff contributed to the project.

They chose to name the Study Mezzanine: a second-floor balcony area with counter space, seating, outlets to charge devices, and an impressive bird’s-eye view of the two-story, glassed-in Charles Atrium and West Circle Drive outside a two-story wall of windows. It is sure to be a high-traffic spot, and faculty and staff donors recognized its potential for universal appeal among students.

“So much of success in music relies on your skills in collaborating, and connecting with others both musically and interpersonally,” says Christine Beamer (’19), director of Career Services and Music Entrepreneurship. “I hope that this non-classroom space will encourage students to gather, to discover commonalities despite differences in discipline or areas of study.”

University Distinguished Professor of Jazz Bass and Director of the Jazz Studies Program Rodney Whitaker agrees, “Music students spend the majority of their time, maybe ten to twelve hours a day, at school. It is important to have a community space where they can relax in an inspiring environment.”

Director of Choral Programs and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research David Rayl was thinking of students and of the broader community when he gave: “I gave to the project because I believe in the fundamental value of music to our society, now more than ever,” he says. “The College of Music provides a first-class music education to our students and life-enhancing experiences to non-music majors, and the Billman Music Pavilion will play a major role in the college’s preparation of music professionals for generations to come.”

The original Music Building, completed in 1939, was the first academic building on MSU’s campus designated solely for the liberal arts. The adjacent Music Practice Building was added just a few steps away in 1968. Both remained largely unchanged structurally, and for decades, music students have thrived in spite of the buildings’ age and acoustical challenges, and faculty and staff have made the best of instructional and performance spaces that were no longer adequate for teaching and making music.

This is something Clarinet Professor Emerita Elsa Verdehr knows all too well after 50 years at MSU. She and her husband, fellow Emeritus Professor and Violinist Walter Verdehr, joined their colleagues in supporting the project.

“Walter and I loved our years at MSU and working with wonderful, talented students,” Elsa says. “We are delighted that music students can now have modern, improved facilities in which to explore their talents—particularly new practice rooms!—and that our friends on the faculty will also benefit from the grand new music pavilion.”

An official ribbon cutting, originally scheduled for April 17, has been postponed as this spring—usually a time of celebration on campus—has taken a challenging turn on a global scale. Everything, from in-person final exams to final recitals, has been canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“At this time, our hearts and minds are with our students—particularly the Class of 2020,” says College of Music Dean James Forger. “They were here at the beginning, when our long-held dream started to become an exciting reality, and they were supposed to be here at the end, to be among the first to fully enjoy the facility that grew up alongside them.

“We look forward to the day we can welcome all of our students and alumni back into our incredible building—because these fresh classrooms and study areas, state-of-the-art practice rooms and beautiful new performance spaces are far too quiet without them.”

Learn more about supporting the College of Music by contacting Senior Director of Development Rebecca Surian at surian@msu.edu or by calling 517-353-9872.

Other Ways to Support: Gifts to the College of Music Student Emergency Fund will be put to work immediately to support students in need during this difficult time: givingto.msu.edu/musicstudentemergencyfund/

Author: Devon Barrett

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