Melvin Douglas Soyars, professor emeritus of music industry in the Rose, Jules R. and Stanford S. Setnor School of Music in Syracuse University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), died Sunday, April 3, in Kitty Hawk, N.C. He was 76.
While Soyars held many positions during his 40-year career at the Setnor School—including dean of the school and director of the SU Marching Band and Jazz Band—he is best known for inspiring and mentoring countless students and pioneering a national movement for the inclusion of music industry as a course of study in colleges and universities. Under his supervision, the Setnor School established the nation’s first bachelor of music in music industry degree program in 1971.
Soyars, who became the longtime chair of the music industry program, taught introductory and advanced courses in all areas of music industry. Under his leadership, the program offered a unique education that blended music, business and academics with hands-on experiences. Internships and engagement with visiting industry professionals were emphasized. In 1996, students involved in the music industry course “The Recording Company” established the student-run, University-owned record label Syracuse University Recordings, which releases both studio and live recordings.
In 2003, the Setnor School established the Soyars Leadership Lecture Series, which annually boasts an outstanding roster of visiting music and entertainment industry professionals, some of whom are SU alumni.
Among Soyars’ many awards and honors were VPA’s Outstanding Faculty Award, Macy’s Roley Award and Ville de Bruxelles Award. He served as a guest conductor and clinician for numerous high school, district and state organizations in the United States and Europe and was an administrative consultant for university schools of music and the College Entrance Examination Board. He was also on the Board of Visitors for the National Association of Schools of Music.
Born in Danville, Va., and raised in Norfolk, Va., Soyars served in the United States Army. He received his undergraduate degree from James Madison University and graduate degree from the University of Michigan. He retired from SU in 2007 and moved to North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a lifelong dream.
Soyars was predeceased by his wife, Julia Yancey Soyars. He is survived by his daughters Julia Soyars and Katie Cumberland, son-in-law Scott Cumberland, and three grandchildren. A memorial service in the Outer Banks will be announced at a later date. Donations may be made in Soyars’ honor to the Grameen Foundation USA, http://www.grameenfoundation.org.