Dr. Jerry Exline
Oswego students were happily persuaded to join the music of Jerry Exline.
“He could walk into the dining room of the old Hewitt Union and literally recruit new students by approaching a table of frat boys and cajoling them into playing or singing in one of the ensembles or adding a music major or minor,” said Dr. Julie Pretzat, dean of the School of Communication, Media and the Arts. “His enthusiasm for music and for his students was always a defining aspect of his time here.”
Jerry was an integral part of the SUNY Oswego campus from 1972 until his retirement in 1997, serving as chair of the Music Department for the last eight years of his tenure on campus. Jerry went on to teach both visual and performing arts at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., but he considers his time at SUNY Oswego the pinnacle of his time as an educator.
“Oswego State is the centerpiece of my career,” Jerry said in an interview from his home in Cicero, N.Y. “So many things stand out from my time there. For me, Oswego was the alpha and the omega.”
Jerry’s career as a performer began on Aug. 7, 1960, when he had his debut with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, for which he played “Rhapsody in Blue” on the piano—an instrument he began playing at just 3 years of age. He was just a freshman in high school in Interlochen, Mich., when that performance shaped him as a musician, leading him to the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., from where he ultimately earned a Ph.D.
On the SUNY Oswego campus, Jerry matched his distinguished credentials with an enthusiasm for education that led him to teach piano, music education and many other courses; he also served on countless committees and conducted for all of the instrumental and choral groups on campus. Along with Jim Soluri, he was the visionary force and founder of the Oswego Opera Theatre.
“It all was to meet the needs of the students,” Jerry said. “The students taught me patience. They taught me to always look for what, seemingly, is not there.”
And among his former students, the stories of Jerry are prolific.
“Dr. Exline was the first piano teacher I had who showed me how to focus raw emotion and bring it into my playing of structured music to make the audience feel something,” said Daniel Leopold ’93.
“I will always be indebted to him for that.”
Bryan Rurey ’89 followed Dr. Exline from high school to college. As a sophomore in high school, he became a private student, continuing on to SUNY Oswego.
“I was consistently challenged … musically, technically and personally,” Rurey said. “Dr. Exline created a safe place to explore your talent and creativity and then share the results of that journey with your classmates and very often the greater college community. I still play every single day and hope that I can inspire someone the way he inspired me! Thank you, Dr. Exline!”
Most recently, Jerry remains active as a voice and piano teacher for his private studio, Artist’s Pianos in Dewitt, N.Y. He’s also a member of the board of directors for Civic Morning Musicals, served as assistant director of the Le Moyne College Jazzuits and is a member of the Bearcat Jazz Band—just a few of the groups he’s been part of over the years. For years, he was an accompanist for professional singers.
“He is a complete musician—one of those who can sit down and play anything by ear or by sight reading a score, no matter how difficult the piece,” Dean Pretzat said. “It speaks volumes that he has remained so active in the music world.”
Alumni from the SUNY Oswego music department were asked to share memories about Professor Emeritus Dr. Jerry Exline, who was featured in the OSWEGO Alumni Magazine’s spring 2019 issue Faculty Hall of Fame. Have a memory to share? Visit https://www.facebook.com/SUNY-Oswego-Music-Department-191192914568/
Douglas Keith ’78
It was his ear training class that impacted me most. He saw in me a desire for more information, more learning, more involvement, more “internalization”. He gave me that. He, more than anybody, understood my thirst for the truth of music – how it worked. He gave me the tools to see through the mystery of how music worked. I have put those tools to work in my own musical pursuits ever since.
Kim Backus Grindle ’81
He was one of the most caring college professors I had. He really cares about his students.
Bryan Rurey ’89
I became a student of Dr. Exline as a Sophomore in high school and continued through to SUNY Oswego. I was consistently challenged…musically, technically and personally. Dr. Exline created a safe place to explore your talent and creativity and then share the results of that journey with your classmates and very often the greater college community. I still play every single day…and hope that I can inspire someone the way he inspired me! Thank you, Dr. Exline!
Daniel Leopold ’93
Dr.Exline was the first piano teacher I had who showed me how to focus raw emotion and bring it into my playing of structured music to make the audience feel something. I will always be indebted to him for that.
Will Benson ’96
When it comes to Dr. Exline I can honestly say his approach to admissions, instruction and mentorship had a profound impact on not just my scholarly career…but my life as a whole. I was a B/C student in high school and not sure I would have made the cut today…however when deciding whom to bring to Oswego…from my viewpoint it seems that Dr. Exline looked at the whole picture. When I got my acceptance letter from Oswego it said: “The music department has assisted your acceptance”. I called and spoke to him and introduced myself as Bill Benson. We spoke for a few minutes and he seemed warm and genuinely excited to have me be a student there. When I arrived I decided to make music my major and over my four years there Dr. Exline always greeted me warmly and, I realize now, spent great time memorizing my name. See, about three days after arriving on Oswego’s campus I decided I wanted to be called Will instead of Bill. The reasons aren’t important (although, yes, there was a girl involved who said she liked Will better than Bill… let’s not dwell) however, over the next three years Dr. Exline continued to call me Bill. No matter if I tried to correct him or not. He just did. Even 15 years later during a reunion he addressed me as Bill Benson. It makes me smile to this day. I share this anecdote because it shows how incredibly important each student is to him. He knew I think somewhere that most freshman students may be a bit nervous about being far from home. Maybe feel disconnected or unimportant to the culture of their new home. Dr. Exline, in learning my name and sticking to it no matter what, showed that he cared about each of us as people. Not just as members of an orchestra, choir, piano class or business of music class (and yes, everyone should have taken that class… it was awesome!) but as people. We weren’t just grade point averages on a piece of paper, or an audition cassette. He knew we were people who could make a culture that would make memories and relationships that would last a lifetime. I still talk to a lot of the people I knew at Oswego regularly. I’m marrying someone this year I met while a student there. In fact, our stories and shared experiences have actually inspired her oldest to attend Oswego and he starts in the fall of 2019. I am so thankful to him for taking a chance on a kid who probably didn’t deserve it and for giving me a life, loves and friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Thank you, Dr. Exline.
Jason Fitzgerald ’97
Doc is the reason I’m first to the office every day. He’s the reason I bring my passion to the most mundane tasks. He worked the word “perseverance” into so many lectures and ordinary conversations – which of course were always in the context of music. Even though I don’t have that wonderful context most days, that word (Booming in my head the same way he’d project it) made me the person I am today. All my sacrifice, sweat, vision and passion were ignited from it and the man that voiced it. I only hope I can pass that on half as well as he did to me!
Sheila Middlebrook ’97
After a disastrous beginning to my 2nd year, Doc Exline sat down and convinced me not to change my major. I can’t remember the exact words, but what I do remember was, it was intense. I definitely left the conversation with the feeling that if he was trying that hard to convince me not to switch my major, maybe I should listen (which of course I did). I also distinctly remember thinking, during what was a very emotional exchange, that I have never seen anyone turn as red as he.
John Petro ’97
When I applied to SUNY schools, Dr. Exline called me only a few days after my part II was submitted. He talked to me about playing in the orchestra and made me feel like he really wanted me there. That attitude didn’t change once I got to Oswego, and I will NEVER forget it.