Walking up the intricately carved wooden spiral staircases in Crouse College, one can hear the faint strains of organ music. Open the doors of Setnor Auditorium and there it is: the 3,823-pipe organ donated by John Crouse that was originally built in 1889. The organ and the auditorium itself are perhaps the most recognizable assets to the Setnor School of Music, but the school is home to professors and students who are truly passionate about music.
Crouse College is nestled on the hillside of Syracuse University, its bell tower keeping a watchful eye on campus; the bells themselves, built in 1888, can be heard within a one-mile radius of the university. Crouse is home to the Setnor School and all that entails: music education, performance, composition and industry. Those who choose to pursue music at Setnor are immersed in the college’s conservatory-like atmosphere.
“I really liked that it’s a small school itself, but you also have the large campus environment at the same time,” said Dylan Rocke, a junior music industry major who also is a member of the guitar chamber ensemble. Rocke said it is only since coming to the Setnor School that he really improved as a guitarist.
Junior music major Kendall Winston has also expanded her musicianship since arriving at Setnor. Winston specializes in violin and she is a member of the symphony orchestra, but her list of talents does not end there: she was a member of the SU Marching Band for a short time, as she plays the saxophone, and she is also trained on the viola, guitar, cello and piano.
“Orchestra’s like my favorite thing in the world,” she said, laughing. “I’m kind of a dork, but I love playing in the orchestra, especially when there’s a huge audience.”
Winston went on to say that although she performed with many talented musicians before coming to SU, performing with students at Setnor was a different experience. These students, she said, are more focused and passionate about music.
This is clear just by venturing to the basement of Crouse College. If one walks down yet another curved staircase to the basement, where the practice rooms are housed, it’s possible to hear students practicing at all hours of the day and night. Winston said she tries to head there every day, most often on breaks in between classes or late at night.
The practice rooms are claustrophobic and closet-sized, large enough to squeeze only a bench and a music stand, but by watching Winston perform, it is clear she barely needs even that. She does not look at a single sheet of music when she performs — in fact, her eyes are trained solely on the strings of her violin as she performs a five-minute-long piece by heart.
Music majors venture out into the real world
In a city where the symphony recently shut down, and in an economy where simply finding a job related to one’s field of study can be challenging, the practicality of a degree in music can come into question.
“Whether I pursue music or not, I’m not really sure yet,” said Winston of her plans after graduation. “I’ve been looking in other directions like social work, sociology.”
Students like Rob Taylor, however, a junior music education major who plays the alto saxophone, have every intention of working a career in music after graduating. Taylor hopes to become a college professor.
“I want to be not only a teacher, but I’d also like to be an active performer, a composer and conductor,” Taylor said.
Taylor noted that pursuing a career as a professor will allow him to continue performing, and making a name for himself as a musician will reflect well on his university.
And Taylor has many notable Setnor alumni as examples. Michael Croiter, a percussion performance major and 1998 graduate of the Setnor School, is a two-time Emmy Award-winner for his work with sound mixing and sound editing. He has worked both on “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company.”
Other alumni continue to perform with orchestras or bands, such as Chris Ferrari, a 1990 graduate of the school who plays the trumpet in The President’s Own United States Marine Band. Or, more recently, Rebecca Zeller and Alexandra Lawn, 2006 and 2008 graduates, respectively, who helped to found Ra Ra Riot, a nationally renowned band that recently held a symposium for students of the Setnor School and performed a concert in Setnor Auditorium.
Both Winston and Taylor did note that lack of attendance at their concerts can sometimes be frustrating, no matter how much they enjoy performing.
“You don’t know how many times we’ve had a concert and I look out and there’s 20 people,” said Winston. “It can be hard sometimes, but I think the program is definitely growing. I think from my freshman year until now, even, it’s gotten a lot stronger.”
But in the end, Winston said, performing is the only thing that is truly important to her.
“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. My whole life has been taken up by music.”