Back to Campus: Capital University celebrates 100 years of music

Erica Thompson
From left: Neal Schmitt, Chad Loughrige, Lynn Roseberry, Bob Breithaupt and Tristan Huygen in the studio at Capital University, photo by Maddie McGarvey

Otto Mees, the eighth president of Capital University, is credited with growing the institution beyond its seminary roots. During his progressive tenure, which ran from 1912 to 1946, the science hall and library were established, and student activities thrived. Additionally, the first women students were admitted in 1919.

And exactly 100 years ago, in 1918, the School of Music was established. Within a decade, it was transformed into a conservatory, and Mees Hall was opened.

“What we don't realize is that Mees Hall predated the other performance halls in the city of Columbus,” said Bob Breithaupt, a professor and department chair of performance studies. In its early days, the venue hosted the Columbus Symphony and renowned arts figures like Igor Stravinsky.

“It was a cornerstone of performing arts in Columbus,” he said.

That pivotal period set Capital's music program on a path to becoming what it is today — a leader in multifaceted music instruction and preparation for the industry.

“We've been blessed with generations of wonderful students and teachers,” said Lynn Roseberry, acting dean of the conservatory. “We're always evolving [and] we're always encouraging our students to be entrepreneurial. … What our students are getting is life experience and role models to follow.”

While traditional music performance and education tracks are available, students can also pursue degrees in music industry and music technology, gaining hands-on skills in engineering and production in multiple state-of-the-art recording studios. The school even has a virtual reality lab to give students the experience of composing music and sound effects for virtual environments.

“A lot of times our students are like, ‘I didn't know that was a career,'” said instructor Neal Schmitt, who used to record bands locally at Workbook Studio, a former recording space he ran with Jon Chinn. “We hear that sentence a lot.”

Other perks of attending the school are field trips to famous recording studios in cities like Nashville, and the opportunity to interact with visiting professionals. For example, senior music technology student Mick Martinez was thrilled when Capital brought in acclaimed engineer Will Yip.

“It's truly like meeting a celebrity,” said Martinez, who also plays guitar in local indie-rock acts Cherry Chrome and Snarls. “But that kind of thing has happened so many times. And I know that Neal has been working really hard on getting diverse people to come speak to us, so it's not like your classic, white dude live sound engineer that you see all the time.”

Both Martinez and alumnus Tristan Huygen, who plays in indie-pop quartet the Bascinets, utilized Capital University's studios to record projects for their bands.

“The space at Capital and the skills I picked up there have allowed me to be able to do what I do now,” Huygen said. He also praised the collaborative environment at the university. “It's a friendly, competitive atmosphere because everyone's engineering each other's sessions [and] helping each other out.”

Capital grads have gone on to work in Columbus venues — virtually all of the Lincoln Theatre's sound is run by alumni, the faculty said — and beyond.

“About five years ago, we had three former students [from] the percussion studio, which is my studio, on late-night TV in one week,” Breithaupt said.

“What Capital lacks in proximity to larger entertainment cities like Nashville and New York or Los Angeles, [it] makes up for in the facilities and the connections to the people that are doing stuff [outside the city],” Huygen said. “It really makes the best of all its resources.”

Capital is committed to keeping arts in the forefront in the Columbus community; the conservatory averages 200 events per year, and many are free and open to the public. This school year, the schedule will include performances celebrating the institution's 100th anniversary, including a two-night gala featuring alumni and current students in March.

“I think it's important to emphasize art for everyone, because it is for everyone,” Roseberry said. “Our students are very forward-facing, and they represent the future, and we want the future to be bright. We don't want it to be a privileged future. … We want them to have the skills to be creative, the skills to be entrepreneurial and to keep on paying it forward.”