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A Musical Education

Amanda Zall’s love for music is apparent, whether she’s teaching schoolchildren, performing or leading the Syracuse University Marching Band.

Amanda Zall ’21 spreads her joy of music with unbridled enthusiasm. Whether she’s performing on the cello, leading the Syracuse University Marching Band or teaching children how to play an instrument, Zall knows music can shape lives. She traces that passion to her work at a children’s string instrument summer camp when she was in high school. “The kids were so in love with the music they were making,” she says. “Being part of creating that product absolutely filled my heart in a way I’d never felt before.”

For Zall, it was the spark that set her on a path to Syracuse University, where she is a music education major in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Education . Growing up in Wakefield, Massachusetts, Zall took up the cello in fourth grade and cites several influential teachers, including “powerful women in music at the time,” for encouraging her to pursue music. One even helped her discover that she had synesthesia, a rare condition in which a person visualizes music through color. “When I hear certain songs or music, I associate colors with it,” she says. “For me, being able to express audibly with my instrument and then visually through art and then description was really impactful for my career as a musician.”

Among her teachers were alumni of the Rose, Jules R. and Stanford S. Setnor School of Music, including her high school marching band director, Tom Bankert ’02. If she wanted to study music education, they told her, Syracuse is the place to go. She applied, came to Syracuse for her audition and narrowly averted disaster: Her cello broke before she even played a note. “Fun fact—you’re not supposed to be able to stick your hand inside of the cello,” she says. “I could stick my hand inside of my cello. They ended up duct-taping it shut so I could play the audition.” She was upset, but went through with the audition and appreciated the concern and help she received. “After having that experience and how welcoming it was,” she says, “I just knew Syracuse was the place for me.”

Leader of the Band

Amanda Zall leads band

Despite the inauspicious start, Zall has thrived during her time on campus. Drawn to the Syracuse University Marching Band, she played trombone her first year and set her sights on becoming a drum major—a leader of the Pride of the Orange. After much preparation, she nailed her audition for the position, and she’s energized Dome football crowds as a drum major for the past two years. When defending national champion Clemson came to town in fall 2019, Zall debuted the drum major backbend—a new tradition performed on the “S” in the center of Ernie Davis Legends Field—before striking up the band and signaling the unofficial start of the game. Zall says she and her co-drum majors practiced the challenging move for months. “I feel such an overwhelming sense of pride and joy and love when I’m there,” she says. “I look around and see everyone enjoying the show.” Once the game is underway, it’s up to the drum majors to conduct the band based on what’s happening on the field. “I have an obscene amount of football knowledge now,” she says. “It is so challenging, but so fun when you get it right. Watching the crowd interact with the band is also really fun.”

Beyond the field performances, the position requires dedication and long hours. Zall works closely with music professor Tim Diem, the director of athletic bands, running rehearsals and drills. She also works in the band office. “I’m getting hands-on experience on how to run a band program,” she says. “Having that opportunity is so unique.”

It also allows Zall to polish her teaching skills, complementing her work in the music education program. She values the faculty’s range of musical talents and the opportunities the program offers, especially gaining classroom experience through its relationship with the Syracuse City School District. She appreciates the well-rounded, inclusive approach and learning about elementary education, education for students with special needs, and education for students who have limited exposure to music. “You learn how to adapt to your environment because we’re shown that, unfortunately, not every program is funded the same way, but that doesn’t mean students deserve a lesser education,” she says. “I’ve seen some absolutely amazing students come out of Syracuse University and go into city school districts and change those kids’ lives with just a little bit of music in their day.”

As a sophomore, Zall, who also belongs to the Syracuse University Symphony Orchestra, discovered during an observation time at Syracuse’s Nottingham High School that the school’s orchestra was on hiatus. She volunteered to get it running again and spent Tuesdays conducting the orchestra. “It’s something I would never have done if it wasn’t for being in the music education program,” she says. “It was life-changing to work with these kids and give them an opportunity to make more music. It was really impactful to have them in my life as an educator.”

Enriching Musical Knowledge

Amanda Zall in concert

Zall also took advantage of the opportunity to study at the Conservatoire Strasbourg in France through Syracuse Abroad’s Strasbourg program. She enjoyed the experience of living with a host family, becoming good friends with other students in the program and learning from professors Rudolf Weber and Samuel Andreyev. In a traveling seminar, Weber introduced students to Berlin and shared stories of the city’s music spots before the wall separating east and west came down in 1989. “He had such enriching musical knowledge and an interesting way of teaching us music and expressing his love for music,” she says. Zall credits Andreyev with changing her perception of music theory and ear training. “He opened a whole new door of possibility for all of us,” she says.

As Zall looks toward her senior year, she is considering whether to begin her professional teaching career—she’s excited to have her own students and put on concerts—or pursue a master’s degree in conducting. Either way, she treasures how invested the music education faculty are in their students’ academics and music careers. Her Syracuse experience is one that she will carry with her as a teacher and musician—and reflects her thoughts of what it means to be Orange. “I’m so unbelievably proud of who I am,” Zall says. “Whether I’m in my marching band uniform representing the Pride of the Orange, in my classroom at Nottingham or in my classroom at Setnor, I’m always so proud to say and show I’m a Syracuse student—whether I do it with my actions or my words, it’s something I always carry with myself.”

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