The dawn of a new day

College of Music makes history with Billman Music Pavilion groundbreaking.


Lead donor and Billman Music Pavilion namesake Dr. James K. Billman, Jr. (center) at the groundbreaking event with College of Music Dean James Forger and Music alumna Karissa Longo who was supported by one of Dr. Billman's scholarships during her studies
Student Nikki Sanford addressed the crowd during the event and played French Horn during the Wind Symphony's performance.

Dr. James K. Billman, Jr. was on hand along with his fellow College of Music National Leadership Council members, major donors, and more than 400 other guests, including alumni, faculty and students of the College of Music, to celebrate the groundbreaking for an addition to the venerable Music Building at Michigan State University. Dr. Billman’s generous lead gift led to the naming of the new facility in his honor, now known as the Billman Music Pavilion.

On the brisk fall morning of October 19, 2018 on Adams Field, the College of Music took center stage among a series of events celebrating the success of the university-wide Empower Extraordinary Capital Campaign which brought in over $1.7B in contributions from nearly 250,000 donors since the 2014 kickoff. More than $51M has been raised for College of Music faculty, students, and programs with over $16M in commitments for the pavilion.

“As of the groundbreaking event, we stand at just over 93% of our $17.5M goal, and the fact that it was secured in just over 18 months is quite a testament to the dedication and generosity our alumni and friends have for dramatically improving music facilities on MSU’s campus,” said College of Music Dean James Forger.

A celebratory atmosphere pervaded the entire event as donors, faculty and staff listened to a series of performances and speakers.
Faculty from the MSU Professors of Jazz kicked off the event with a short set.
Student performers were integral to the groundbreaking event including these members of the MSU International Chamber Soloists.

The Billman Music Pavilion is a 37,000 square foot structure that will include multiple rehearsal and performance halls, additional practice rooms, new lobby, courtyard and terrace areas, and other teaching and technology spaces. The overall project also includes 8,500 square feet of renovations to existing spaces.

“We celebrate and salute today Dr. James K. Billman, Jr. whose lead gift was the impetus for the entire project,” said MSU Interim President John Engler from the podium. “It’s my privilege today to announce that Dr. Billman has increased his original commitment to the music pavilion, and that with the approval of Joel Ferguson and his colleagues on the MSU Board of Trustees, the building will henceforth be known as the Billman Music Pavilion in honor of Dr. James Billman.”

Following a standing ovation, Dr. Billman, a 1968 Natural Science and Honors College graduate of MSU, inspired the crowd with his remarks. In addition to his gift naming the music pavilion, support for this project, Billman funded 19 scholarships and endowed professorships over the years.

“I’ve been asked why I, mainly a science donor, chose to make my largest gift to Music, and it boils down to three things: the facility, the value, and the people,” Dr. Billman said. “Although our students and faculty do great things using what they have, they deserve a better place to teach, to study, to rehearse, and to practice their professions. Second, this gift not only benefits the college but the whole campus, and it benefits all the citizens of mid-Michigan who enjoy live music. And third, building on past excellence, Dean Forger has assembled a great staff and an extraordinary faculty who draw exceptional music students to MSU.”

Professor of Violin Dmitri Berlinsky led the MSU International Chamber Soloists in a rousing strings rendition of of the MSU Fight Song which brought the crowd to its feet.
As expected at a College of Music event, live performances were in abundance, including a piece by the Beaumont Brass Quintet featuring members of the MSU College of Music faculty.
MSU Jazz students took the stage for a lively set immediately following the formal program.

Nikki Sanford, a French Horn student who is double majoring in Music Education and Performance and serves as drum major in the Spartan Marching Band, spoke on behalf of her fellow students.

“We’ve all been waiting for this day to come, and it’s finally here,” Sanford said. “This (new facility) is greatly needed and has been for some time, and I have a new appreciation for the community surrounding this college that truly made it possible.”

Sanford went on to thank the donors and explain how they have motivated her and other students. “Our donors saw a problem, and they took action. They gave back to an organization full of brilliant minds and soulful music. And although they may not sing in these rehearsal spaces, they will always be able to witness the impact they made through the music we create,” she said. “They are setting the example. They are showing us what it means to be a Spartan.”

Other speakers during the event included The Honorable Joel Ferguson of the MSU Board of Trustees, MSU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs June Pierce Youatt, and University Distinguished Professor of Jazz Bass and Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker.

Featured performers during the groundbreaking event included the International Chamber Soloists, the Beaumont Brass Quintet, and members of the Professors of Jazz, the MSU Wind Symphony, and the University Chorale.

“I am so very proud of everything the faculty, the students and the staff of the College of Music have accomplished in this old building,” Dean Forger said, motioning to the current Music Building, constructed in 1939. “Over the years they have developed a truly world-class teaching and learning environment, and I’m even more excited to see what the future holds with a facility befitting our size, our sound and our spirit.”

The Billman Music Pavilion will open in spring 2020.

Watch the full Livestream of the event here.

Learn more about the Billman Music Pavilion here.

More pictures from the Billman Music Pavilion Groundbreaking event

A brisk but beautiful October morning greeted people arriving for the Billman Music Pavilion groundbreaking on Adams Field.
Dr. James Billman, Jr. addressed the crowd after receiving a standing ovation when MSU Interim President John Engler announced that Dr. Billman's lead gift would result in the naming of the Billman Music Pavilion,
Approximately 400 alumni, donors, faculty, staff and students gathered on Adams Field to celebrate the formal groundbreaking of the Billman Music Pavilion.
It was standing room only to hear performances and speakers such as Rodney Whitaker (left), lead donor James Billman, Dean James Forger, MSU Trustee Joel Ferguson, Interim President John Engler, Provost June Pierce Youatt, and student Nikki Sanford.
Members of the MSU Wind Symphony, led by Conductor Kevin Sedatole, performed for the groundbreaking attendees.
Members of the MSU University Chorale performed a Michigan-themed piece under the direction of Professor of Music and Director of Choral Programs David Rayl.
Speakers at the event were joined by major Billman Music Pavilion donors for the official groundbreaking ceremonial dig.
Donor and MSU staff member Glen Brough (left) chats with Professor Kevin Sedatole, Director of Bands and Chair of the Conducting Area, following the groundbreaking ceremony.
The day after the groundbreaking, Dr. James Billman (center left) was honored on the field at Spartan Stadium during the football game, joined by Dean James Forger (center right), and Empower Extraordinary Campaign Co-Chairs Dee Cook and Bob Skandalaris.

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