William Loran Crosten, longtime head of Music Department, dead at 91
William Loran Crosten, who established the Stanford Music Department and served as its chair from 1947 to 1973, died Monday, Feb. 19, at his home on campus. He was 91.
Crosten, who went by his middle name, was a piano prodigy from an early age. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, he performed at Midwest revivals featuring the famed evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson when he was only 10. As a teen-ager, he performed with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
In 1930, he graduated from Drake University with a bachelor's degree in music. In 1936, he earned a master's degree from the University of Iowa. That same year, he married Mary Elizabeth Perry.
During World War II, Crosten served in the Navy and attained the rank of lieutenant commander.
In 1946, he earned his doctorate in musicology from Columbia University and joined the Stanford faculty as an associate professor of music. His job was to establish a music department; at the time, the university had only a division of music.
"He was an able administrator and certainly did a lot in terms of getting the department on its way," said John Planting, who studied music at Stanford and later became the department administrator. (Planting retired in 1996.)
Leonard Ratner, professor emeritus of music, agrees.
"He was an excellent chairman. He gave an enormous amount of support to the work I wanted to do," Ratner said. He recalled Crosten as a tall, soft-spoken man who was a superb pianist and a big sports fan.
"He loved baseball, and he went to just about every baseball game that Stanford played at home. He also liked basketball and football," Ratner said.
Both Ratner and Sandor Salgo, another professor emeritus of music, say Crosten emphasized a well-rounded approach to music for students.
"He believed in combining musical scholarship with performance," Salgo said. "So many times, students come to a university really just to study musicology. But he wanted students to excel in both performance and musicology or composition."
The music program reflected this philosophy, Salgo said.
As a scholar, Crosten specialized in opera history and aesthetics.
"His passion was opera," said his daughter, Lesley Ann Crosten.
Indeed, he was instrumental in staging several operas at the university. His book French Grand Opera: An Art and a Business was published in 1948. He also continued to perform in concerts on and off campus.
"I remember ... going to sleep and listening and listening to him practice," Lesley said.
He was supportive of electronic music at a time when many of his peers shuddered at the notion, she added.
Loran Crosten also helped to conceptualize Dinkelspiel Auditorium, which was built during his tenure as department chair.
He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Steinway Award for Service to the Music Profession and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Drake University. He also served as president of the College Music Society and of the California Music Executives.
Crosten and his wife were actively involved in the Stanford community, Planting said. (For years, Mary Crosten taught art classes to the children of faculty.)
After Loran Crosten retired in 1973, the couple moved to an estate in Booneville, N.Y. They created a recycling program for the town, and Loran became very involved with photography. A book of his photographs, Booneville and Beyond, was published in 1989.
"He was an avid fisherman, and he had such a love of the outdoors," his daughter said.
The couple moved back to Stanford in the late 1980s.
In addition to Mary, to whom he was married for almost 65 years, and Lesley of Orcas Island, Wash., Crosten is survived by a son, Stephen Perry Crosten, of Seattle.
A memorial service is being planned.
By John Sanford