Saraceni Gift Brings Music to Seton Hill
A financial commitment from Gene and Iva Saraceni, of Greensburg, Pa., enables Seton Hill to announce formally the University’s intent to become an All-Steinway School.
The All-Steinway School designation is awarded to institutions that use Steinway & Sons concert and practice pianos. Seton Hill University is one of only 100 conservatories, universities, colleges, and schools across the world considered All Steinway Schools. Steinway & Sons instruments are the pianos of choice for professional musicians worldwide.
With this commitment, Seton Hill University will purchase two concert pianos and three practice pianos. The additional pianos bring the total number of Steinways on the University’s campus to 19; Seton Hill is now three-quarters of the way toward achieving All-Steinway status.
Dr. Curt Scheib, chair of Seton Hill University’s Division of Visual and Performing Arts, said, “In choosing a college, students and their families consider facilities, the faculty, and the equipment. Seton Hill has a magnificent new Performing Arts Center and a well-credentialed and experienced faculty. Pianos are the largest and most viable financial investment in equipment for a music program; now, we will have the best. As a result of the wonderful leadership commitment, Seton Hill is proud to announce its intention to join the distinguished list of institutions that are All-Steinway Schools. This decision allows us to provide our students with the finest pianos for both practice and performance.”
The Saracenis, retired Seton Hill University theatre professors, made the gift in memory of their daughter, Elyse Jeanne Saraceni, who was killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988. Elyse was in the middle of her junior year at Seton Hill at the time of her death.
Elyse “Lisi” Saraceni, from an early age, had a great passion for art and music and was a serious student of both.
According to Gene Saraceni, a Krakauer Brothers upright once graced Lowe Dining Hall, located on Seton Hill University’s hilltop campus. The piano was very old and desperately needed tuning and repairs. He remembers asking Sister Perpetua Murphy, S.C. if he could have the piano for his then 18-month old daughter, Elyse.
Sister Perpetua, who served as the University’s treasurer, told him that he could not have the piano; however, she would allow him to buy it from Seton Hill for the purchase price of one dollar. He did.
The old Krakauer Brothers upright inspired Elyse’s appreciation of music, an appreciation that developed further as she became a young adult.
Elyse Saraceni would perform in musicals and in musical theatre productions with the Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont, Conley Entertainment in Irwin, and Scottdale Showtime Theatre.
Her artistic talents evolved throughout her school years. According to Gene Saraceni, during Elyse’s junior year at Greensburg Central Catholic High School, she submitted a portfolio to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts and was accepted in the prestigious art program the following summer. One of her prints was displayed in the Governor Dick Thornburgh’s office.
“By her senior year in high school, Lisi was an accomplished pianist and had grown proficient on several instruments and in music composition. When it came time to apply to college, she had trouble deciding whether to major in art or music. Lisi chose Seton Hill because she enjoyed the flexibility of taking coursework in both areas of study,” said Gene Saraceni.
Her composition skills were honed when she studied at the Royal Academy of Music through an exchange program with Regent’s College. She won a scholarship based on academic merit, recommendations, and an audition. In fact, her experience and the encouragement she received at the Royal Academy of Music led Elyse to shift her focus from piano performance to composition.
“Lisi told us about the wonderful practice rooms she used at the Royal Academy, rooms with Oriental rugs and Steinways. The sound of the Steinway thrilled and inspired her. We felt that a gift of music, of Steinways for instructional use, will inspire other students and be a perfect way to remember Lisi and her buoyant spirit,” said Gene Saraceni.
Seton Hill President, JoAnne Boyle commented, “In a combined total of more than 70 years at Seton Hill, Gene and Iva Saraceni served in just about every capacity in our theatre program. Known affectionately as 'Doc' and 'Mrs. S.' during their tenure on campus, their legacy at Seton Hill remains enduring. Gene Saraceni directed 76 plays in the former Reeves Theatre and Iva Saraceni directed at least 15 campus shows and worked on set and costume design in countless others. We are grateful for their generous gift. It truly honors Elyse’s love of music while celebrating our new Performing Arts Center and Seton Hill’s commitment to the arts in a profound way.”
And the piano that started it all for Elyse Saraceni? Today, the century year-old Krakauer Brothers piano is played by Rachel Elyse Saraceni, the Saraceni’s nine-year-old granddaughter who resides in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. Gene Saraceni commented, “Lisi would be delighted that Rachel is enjoying the Krakauer and Iva and I are pleased that the arts remain paramount in our family.”