A grassy lot at the corner of George Bush Drive and Coke Street on the campus of Texas A&M University transformed into a scene of celebration where more than a hundred supporters gathered under a tent to break ground on the John D. White ’70 – Robert L. Walker ’58 Music Activities Center last Friday. A perfectly sunny 80-degree afternoon served as the ideal backdrop while melodious harmonies crooned by the Singing Cadets and booming marching tunes performed by the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band welcomed enthusiastic Aggies.
“Music is so fundamental to much of what we do — it is pervasive and woven throughout the life of this institution, and is in so many ways the highest expression of what we are, how we come together, and how we understand the world,” said Texas A&M President Michael K. Young in his remarks at the event. “To continue weaving that tradition through this entire institution is an important goal of this new building.”
Appropriately, the Singing Cadets serenaded the crowd with “The Awakening” by composer Joseph Martin, among other compositions. Martin, who found solace in music as a youth attending inner-city schools rife with violence, composed the anthem to honor his inspirational middle school music teacher who was murdered in her choir room, to relate his “journey back to joy” after the tragedy, and to impart to music teachers everywhere the influence they can have on their students.
“Using our artistic abilities to create music is what we enjoy most…with class and many other stressful tasks that students are presented, we use the time making music as stress relief,” said Abigail Gregory, a 22-year-old senior allied health major from Cypress who plays the piccolo and the flute for the Symphonic Winds. “Opportunities like this do not come every day; we are extremely grateful for the supporters and donors who have made this music activities center possible for future students.”
When the choir was not singing, the Aggie Band added to the revelry with performances of the “Texas Aggie War Hymn” and “Spirit of Aggieland,” among other upbeat tunes.
The new 70,000-square-foot facility will replace the E.V. Adams Band Hall built in 1970, which proved inadequate for the needs of the growing music program long ago. Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel J. Pugh credits Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Tom Reber as someone “who ought to get a heck of a lot of credit for stewarding this project” because “if you want to get a project off the ground and across the finish line, Tom’s the person to do it.”
“Music is critical to the formation of a well-educated individual…you’ve heard that musicians get better scores and achieve higher mastery of subjects such as mathematics, emphasizing patterns, fractions and ratios, and communication, emphasizing teamwork, self discipline and creativity — all critical skills for success in school, the workplace and in life,” said Pugh to the audience.
Director of Bands and Music Activities Timothy Rhea referred to music as a lifelong gift that is “academic, physical and emotional.” He continued that, “no other achievement can be as great as the emotional and spiritual uplifting provided by music.”
“The music activities center will serve our campus and local community for decades as a wellspring for music appreciation, creation and education,” said Tyson Voelkel, president of the Texas A&M Foundation. “As a former Aggie Bandsman, I know firsthand that music and its application builds bridges across disciplines on campus, and I thank the visionaries who have created this opportunity for thousands to enjoy and learn from.”
The new music center will accommodate more than 1,300 student musicians who participate in a total of 14 orchestras, choral groups and bands. Four rehearsal halls with state-of-the-art acoustics will allow various musical groups to rehearse simultaneously, a benefit not currently available to them. The Aggie Band will rehearse indoors in air conditioning for the first time in several years, and they will march outdoors on a new 100-yard artificial turf practice field. For the first time, student musicians will have access to individual soundproof practice rooms both during and after school hours. And the students will have the unprecedented convenience of ample storage and locker space for their instruments and other necessities.
David ’83 and Anne Dunlap of The Woodlands received special recognition at the ceremony as generous donors. Both David Dunlap, CEO of Superior Energy Services, and his father played the trombone in the Aggie Band, and he credited their experiences, at least in part, to their successes later in life.
“When people not familiar with Texas A&M see and hear the Aggie Band, they are amazed and they always remember them,” said Dunlap. “As great ambassadors of Texas A&M, the Aggie Band deserves the new drill field, and we are proud to participate.”
Paul Haskell ’52 and Elizabeth Motheral of Spicewood also were honored at the event for their generous financial contributions to the center.
“I played the clarinet and the saxophone in all the musical groups when I was in school at Texas A&M, and nurturing both my creative and analytical sides greatly helped me build my career as a civil engineer,” said Haskell, retired chairman of Valley Caliche Products, Inc. “For many decades, my wife and I have been promoting the combination of the performing arts with science and engineering, the right and left sides of the brain, through scholarships for musicians to study engineering and engineers to exercise and expand their musical skills.”
Tim Kroeger, 24, a graduate student of mechanical engineering from Flower Bluff and leader of the viola section of the orchestra, said the most appealing aspect of the new center is the expansion of rehearsal space from one to four halls and the soundproof practice rooms.
“The new rehearsal halls will allow the choirs to integrate into the band and orchestra space, fostering better cooperation and interaction among different musical groups,” Kroeger said. “And having multiple halls will allow better flexibility in scheduling rehearsals for less interference with popular class times in students’ majors.”
The resource-efficient, silver-certified LEED design, which Brown Reynolds Watford Architects, and Hammel, Green and Abrahamson, Inc. collaborated to create, will provide plenty of room for future growth. Construction is expected to wrap up near the end of the summer 2019 semester so that students can begin using the facility in the fall.
“I can speak for the whole orchestra when I say that we are extremely grateful to the university and to the donors who are making such a fantastic facility a reality,” Kroeger said. “To the Aggie donors who look back on their time at A&M so fondly, I would say that gifts like this keep A&M an equally special place for future generations of Aggies.”
An additional $515,000 is still needed to meet the project’s $20 million fundraising goal through the Texas A&M Foundation. An additional $2.5 million also will be needed for project overages and maintenance. Donor support that helps to construct this grand facility will help to transform music education at Texas A&M. Naming opportunities are still available that fund a space, a room or a pillar inside or outside the building. Matching gifts from a donor’s employer could double, triple or quadruple the size of the gift.
To contribute a major gift of $25,000 or more to the Music Activities Center, contact Cindy Munson, senior director of major gifts, at email@example.com or 979-845-7558, or give online at give.am/SupportAggieMusic.
Media contact: Timothy Rhea, Director of Bands & Head of Music Activities, at (979) 845-3529 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Elena Watts, Division of Marketing & Communications, at (979) 458-8412 or email@example.com.