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Wheeling a large Lyon & Healy harp through the halls of SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, Shannon Boyle ’20 & ’22 wove through the connected buildings with ease like a slalom skier maneuvering around a series of gates on a familiar course.

Pushing her harp past the rehearsal halls and practice rooms on her way to Snell Hall is a route she has charted many times before—first as a child in National String Project, then as an undergraduate student, and now as a graduate student pursuing a degree in harp performance at Crane.

Her trajectory began when she was just 10 years old. Boyle started taking harp lessons through the National String Project, a program that pairs college students at Crane with children in North Country—with the former gaining valuable teaching skills, and the latter receiving exceptional hands-on training. She continued with the NSP all the way through middle school and high school, and then when she was looking for the right college to pursue a degree in music, The Crane School of Music rose to the top of the list.

“I didn’t want to go anywhere else. The reason I chose Crane was because of my teacher, Dr. (Jessica) Suchy-Pilalis. I just love her. I had known her before I came here as an undergraduate student and I just love the way she teaches her students. She has so much joy when she interacts with people, and that really impacted me,” Boyle recalled. “Another big reason was that it was really close to home, and financially it really worked for me. The school gave me a lot of scholarships, which has impacted me tremendously.”

Boyle has thrived at Crane, driven by her passion for harp performance and the mentorship of Suchy-Pilalis. Her success as a musician is unrivaled as she continued to perform with the Crane Symphony Orchestra every year. In 2018, she placed second in the Crane Concerto Competition, paving the way for her to take the stage as a soloist during the CSO Concerto Concert in the spring of 2019, much like her predecessors, alumna Anna Wiegandt '16, and alumna Mikaela Davis ’14. “I remember very vividly, Mikaela’s performance with the orchestra when she won the concerto competition, seeing her walking out on stage in this beautiful sparkling pink and purple dress, and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’ Who would have known that I would be in the same position years later? It was such an amazing experience.”

Boyle has also embraced a newfound love for teaching. Even though both her undergraduate and graduate degrees have been focused on harp performance, she has been thriving as a teacher, mentoring young musicians in the National String Project, the same program where she was once a student. “I had never taught harp before, it wasn’t on my radar, but I started teaching through the National String Project and I loved it,” she said. “It awoke a passion in me that I didn’t know that I had. That is one of the most impactful things to me—finding that love for teaching and just the joy and satisfaction of seeing a student succeed.”

 “I really love teaching. My teachers have had such an impact on my life as a person, not just as a harpist, and I strive to do that for my students.”

Boyle’s success has been bolstered by an outpouring of scholarships to fund her education. She is the recipient of the Hultberg Scholarship, Pamela Michne Fox ’59 Music Scholarship, Barrington Merit Scholarship, Curtis B. Bailey & Irma B. Bailey Memorial Scholarship, Ken Cottrell Outstanding Human Service Award, the SUNY Potsdam Travel Award, the Crane Youth Music Schaberg Scholarship, the SUNY Potsdam Freshman Scholars Award, and the Edwin and Eleanor Strand Music Loan Fund. “I actually got so much funding for my undergraduate degree that I was getting money back every semester,” Boyle said. “All the money in my savings account right now is from that, and I’m saving it up for the harp when I graduate.”

The harp in question is a Lyon & Healy 100, which she has been using for the past five years at Crane. Through the Strand Program, an initiative that provides incoming students with an instrument to use for free during their time at Crane, she has avoided the burden of purchasing an expensive instrument. When she graduates in the spring of 2022, Boyle will be looking to the future without any loans to pay back, something that was as important to her as a quality education.

“When my parents were first married, they had a lot of debt. They’re still paying it off and they’ve been married for 33 years,” Boyle said. “For them, debt is really not OK. They’re like, ‘You know, Shannon, you can’t be in debt.’ Crane was a great option for me because the costs were lower and I had an abundance of scholarships and assistance, so it really worked out.”

Article and photos by Jason Hunter