MSU’s Renovated Ellis Hall: ‘Bigger and Bolder’

Sep 24, 2017

Hundreds gathered inside Missouri State University’s Ellis Hall Sunday for the renovated music building’s dedication ceremony. Community members filed in for self-guided tours and to hear music by Missouri State’s Chorale and brass band.

Dr. Shawn Wahl, interim dean of the College of Arts and Letters, said the upgraded facility sends a message to students to be “bigger and bolder.” He said Missouri State can now be a “destination school” for the arts.

MSU President Clif Smart speaking at Sunday's dedication. To his left, a Steinway grand piano.
Credit Ryan Welch / KSMU

“We are the front porch of the performing arts to the community,” Wahl said. “So when prospective students and members of the community come in to observe performances, (Ellis) really has the ‘wow factor’ that we were looking for.”

Spectators at Sunday’s event heard the MSU Chorale perform “Dedication,” a piece composed by university music professor Dr. Michael F. Murray. The song was adapted from a traditional Irish blessing and was directed by Dr. Cameron LaBarr, MSU’s director of choral studies.

LaBarr said he’s looking forward to seeing the new and improved Ellis Hall serve students for years to come.

“I had the opportunity to serve on the building committee through this process, and see it from the beginning to where it is now. It’s going to be a game-changer for our students to have the building itself live up to the students’ work ethic, talent and skill level—it’s just going to be a great fit for us,” said LaBarr.

Senior vocal music education major Chandler Cooper is the president of choral studies. He described the newly renovated Ellis as an open and clean space, with room for musicians to grow.

Lt. Gov. Mike Parson speaking at Sunday's dedication.
Credit Ryan Welch / KSMU

“It’s so cool how we go to a school that supports not just the music department but really all of the departments,” Cooper said. “You can see that throughout campus as other buildings are beginning to get renovated and (more) steps are being taken just to make it a better place for all of the students.”

Other speakers at Sunday’s dedication included MSU President Clif Smart, Lieutenant Gov. Mike Parson and Julie Combs, head of the school’s Music Department.

The Ellis Hall renovation had a budget of $14 million, with $7.7 million coming from the state, according to Smart. The funds covered “improving the facility’s acoustic conditions, re-configuring space and updating material finishes,” according to a release sent before the dedication.

Donations to the Missouri State Foundation from Sam Hamra, chairman of Hamra Enterprises, and his wife June, former Board of Regents member, provided funds for new recital space and a Steinway grand piano. The Music Department is currently replacing its piano inventory and as Wahl described, is on a “journey to become a Steinway-only school.”

Parson explained the $200 million bonding bill passed two years ago by the Missouri Legislature played a significant role in the renovation of Ellis Hall.