The magic of safety and acoustical engineering

37,000 square foot Billman Music Pavilion opens.

The Billman Music Pavilion at the MSU College of Music.

Source: Lansing State Journal article, Friday September 4, 2020
By Mark Johnson

LANSING — For Jim Forger, the unseen features of the 37,000-square-foot addition to the Michigan State University College of Music building are the best part of the project.

Workers completed the $35 million project, including renovations to the existing building and construction of the Billman Music Pavilion, last month. It nearly doubles the College of Music building’s size and includes four large performance spaces, more than 40 new practice rooms and spaces for students and staff to gather.

Forger, the college's dean, appreciates the things you might not notice, like the thick walls and floating floors beneath that make some rooms free-standing boxes designed to contain the music inside and isolate it from nearby rooms and musicians.

“To me, the magic of this space is the safety and the acoustical engineering,” Forger said.

The Pavilion was completed in April. Renovations to the existing building finished last month. As a result, the College of Music now has four new large music halls designed for specific uses: two for orchestras, another for percussion, a fourth for jazz and chamber music, with more rehearsal and recital spaces and dozens of new practices spaces.

A view from the grand staircase in the Charles Atrium of the new Billman Music Pavilion.

Those practice rooms are more functional than rooms they replace.

“Some practice rooms were 55-square-feet, the size of an elevator,” Forger said. “You would need hearing protection if you’re going to do something like piano.”

All of the new practice rooms are tailored toward a specific music type and designed to move the sound around the room so a piano player could safely play at full volume without disrupting the trumpeters in the next room.

Musicians will find high ceilings and reflectors on treated walls that together break up and spread the sound around the room.

The addition also houses a large rehearsal hall, roughly double the size of the College of Music’s next largest rehearsal hall. With so much space, large groups like the MSU Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra and Concert Orchestra can comfortably practice and perform together.

The original College of Music building upgrades included renovating a former band room that alumni and students once knew as “120,” according to Associate Dean Michael Kroth, who narrated a College of Music virtual tour displaying the work.

Wood floors line the space, now known as Hollander Hall, with large windows that will fill with sunlight. The space will be used in three ways: as a classroom in the morning, for choral ensembles and opera in the afternoons and as a recital space in the evening.

Choral faculty members, including Professor of Music and Associate Director of Choral Programs Jonathan Reed, have already moved into their new home in Hollander Hall.

Murray Hall is a new rehearsal and performance space, one of four new plus one completely remodeled rehearsal spaces in the Billman Music Pavilion.

The room is fabulous, Reed said, from the lighting and climate control to the adjustable acoustics.

"All of the new facilities were conceived with the quality of student experiences as the driving factor," Reed said, in an email. "We have extraordinary students that go on to do great things in the field,  We finally have a facility to complement and enhance our wonderful students."

All rehearsal spaces have microphones and cameras to record audio and video. Additional technology allows musicians to stream rehearsals and classes with artists and scholars visiting remotely.

For Forger, the project is 15 years in the making.

MSU erected the original building in 1940. This project marks the first major addition since 1956.

Forger, who was picked to lead what was then the MSU School of Music in 1990, had dreams of a larger project but saw it shrink until final plans were outlined. He is still quick to express his appreciation.

MSU covered $17.5 million of the project and the remaining $17.5 million was raised by the College of Music. 

The Schalon Percussion Rehearsal Hall is designed for student and faculty safety with excellent acoustic properties that provide superior sound while protecting the ears of musicians.

The opening of the building comes at a perfect time, Forger said. Larger spaces allow students to practice social distancing once they return to in-person classes and the ventilation system refreshes the air in some rooms four times every hour, replacing air that may have been contaminated with COVID-19 from the last users.

Forger and the instructors in the College of Music won’t see most students until the spring semester, at the earliest, after MSU President Samuel Stanley Jr. moved most classes online amid the COVID-19 pandemic and encouraged students to learn remotely from their homes.

Graduate students looking to take lessons or practice can use the updated facilities while following strict safety protocols, like social distancing, bagging the bells of wind instruments and shortening rehearsals, Forger said. Some have learned it’s nearly impossible to practice with instruments, from drums to tubas, outside of the building.

Students can’t play the tuba in their apartment unless they don’t mind annoying neighbors. Other students took their instruments and practiced in their cars, he said, and choral students practice while standing at least 20 feet apart in parking garages.

“We would have been in big trouble without this. It’s a godsend for what we will need to do in the coming year,” he said. “You can almost say it was custom built for a pandemic.”

Forger hopes to host an open house in April 2021, filling several of the new spaces with jazz bands, singers and others to show what the building is capable of.

He wants the building to be a resource that the community can be proud of.

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