The next time you hear the ceremonial trumpets at Torchlight or Commencement, you can thank Hugh Burritt.
Burritt, the former chair of the Music Department, is responsible for bringing music to SUNY Oswego ceremonies. The herald trumpets that play during public ceremonies are the original ones he bought 40 years ago.
Initially, the trumpets were only used for graduation. They were then added to Commencement Torchlight in May, and later used during Welcoming Torchlight in the fall.
“These ceremonial trumpets you don’t just go downtown and buy,” Burritt said. “I had a dealer I did business with. He was able to get a hold of these horns for me.”
Before Burritt spent 20 years with the music faculty at SUNY Oswego, he taught band to hundreds of children in the Oswego City School District. One of those students, Stan Gosek, would succeed Burritt as chair of the music department.
Burritt taught by day and played at night. Burritt’s talent with the trumpet led to acceptance to the elite Julliard School, and later to gigs with Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra.
Burritt had a love for jazz and played weekly gigs at the Three Rivers Inn in Phoenix, N.Y., during the 1950s and early ’60s. He also arranged for musicians to back up the top-shelf singers.
“We put together the band,” Burritt said. “They would tell us how many musicians they wanted. They all had their own books they carried around. We’d get the bands together and play these shows that would run for a week and a half.”
“Show Me The Way” – State Singers/Solid State. Music Department Reunion, Waterman Theater, 2007. Directed by Hugh Burritt. Written by Jim Soluri and Hugh Burritt.
Burritt came to SUNY Oswego in 1968 to teach brass and basic music theory. He quickly brought his love for jazz to the department, creating the Jazz Lab Band, which the next year became Solid State.
Solid State performed popular shows downstairs at Hewitt Union in a venue called the Rathskeller. Designed and built by students, the Rathskeller included multiple seating levels, professional-grade stage and sound, murals and a bar.
Burritt also collaborated with the late Jim Soluri, who directed Oswego’s Statesingers. The two groups thrilled audiences for years by performing original arrangements of rock, jazz, gospel and show tunes.
Burritt made lifelong friendships at Oswego, perhaps most importantly his wife, Grace Mowatt, whom he met through working on the public ceremonies committee. Grace taught physical education and was the women’s swimming and diving coach.
Together, they endowed a scholarship. The Hugh and Grace Mowatt Burritt Scholarship goes to a student who is a member of a music performance organization on campus or to a wellness management major, a health science minor or a student involved in a campus organization or team, club or intramural sports.
The Burritts stay in touch with many former students, and their hope was that the scholarship would help future Oswego students to afford college. The relationships with people made the time at Oswego special, Hugh said.
“That’s my fondest memory,” Burritt said. “The students, the musicians, the concerts we put together. We had some pretty thrilling events.”
-Edwin Acevedo M’09