UT School of Music

A grand score (to the tune of $55 million)

Sarah and Ernest Butler
Sarah and Ernest Butler

Of the many beautiful sounds heard around the University of Texas School of Music through the years, surely one of the sweetest ever was the sound last week of $55 million dropping into the school's coffers. The gift, from a single Austin couple, will support expansion of the school's $33 million endowment and provide assistance for faculty and other programs, with two-thirds designated for student scholarships and related support.

The source of the record donation – the largest ever to a music school at a public university – was hardly a surprise. Ernest and Sarah Butler are well-known and active in the local cultural scene (he serves on the UT College of Fine Arts Advisory Council; she's chairwoman of the Ballet Austin board of directors and a member of the Blanton Museum Council), and they have a history of major gifts to the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Austin Lyric Opera, Austin Museum of Art, Blanton Museum of Art, and the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Plus, they have been showing extraordinary support for UT's School of Music for a quarter of a century, funding nine endowments there, including a $2 million endowment for the opera theatre program that led to it being renamed the Butler Opera Center. Still, the scale of this gift outstrips even their $3.5 million donation to Ballet Austin, which helped create the company's new Downtown headquarters, the Butler Dance Education Center. It almost outstrips any other gifts to UT – to date, only the $245 million bequest to the Geological Sciences Department from the estate of oilman John Jackson and his wife, Katherine, is larger.

Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, considers the Butlers "truly exceptional patrons of the arts who understand the transformative power of bold giving." One transformation already taking place is the renaming of the school as the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music. The sound of that is pretty sweet, too.

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