Lyvette De Jesus Cruz is only 19-years-old.
She’s tall, has curly dark hair and wears glasses that sit perfectly on her face. She has a big smile that she wears often and is known throughout the Stony Brook University Music Department as one of the most hardworking students on campus.
“I always ask if she’s tired because she works so hard that she has to be tired,” Susie Kaiserman, the receptionist of the music department on the third floor of Staller Music said.
Despite all the extra curricular activities that De Jesus Cruz is involved with, she says that she doesn’t even drink caffeinated drinks.
The 19-year-old junior is a music major at SBU whose specialty is the oboe. For about eight years she has been intensely studying the instrument, resulting in a talent that led the Puerto Rican born student from her home country to America.
Born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, De Jesus Cruz began studying music in the seventh grade at a specialized, musical high school and continued studying the oboe into her senior year.
“At first it’s not what I wanted to do,” she said. “I thought it was best for me to become a doctor – I’ve always wanted to be a psychologist, and then one day I woke up and I realized I’m not the kind of person to be in an office.”
“I needed something more exciting, something different, and I realized I couldn’t live without my instrument, without playing it, without being active, musically active.”
It all started when De Jesus Cruz was in the sixth grade. She had very little musical background, and she would simply listen to her mother’s cousins play salsa music on the tiny island where she lived. But one day, her mom came home offering her daughter the opportunity to apply to a high school specialized in something other than general education.
She said that she was not interested in sports or dance but decided to inquire about the music school completely on a whim.
While sitting in the audience during an orientation recital, she watched the different instruments play. She began to set her sights on the piano or violin – simple instruments that she had heard of before – until a woman walked out on stage with a strange instrument that had never crossed her sights in the past.
She played the oboe.
“I didn’t grow up wanting to play oboe: it happened by chance. It was a hunch, and here I am eight years later still playing it,” she laughed.
After studying in Puerto Rico, where classical music was a rare find, De Jesus Cruz decided she wanted to transfer to the United States, specifically to SBU after her teacher proposed the idea to her.
Pedro Diaz is an artist-in-residence at SBU and taught De Jesus Cruz on the small island made up of 3.5 million people. She knew that while he worked in Puerto Rico, he also had several other jobs, including his residency at Stony Brook.
After a quick year of college in Puerto Rico, she packed her bags and moved to New York with no family to room with – the closest relative, an aunt, was living in Manhattan and an uncle was in the Bronx.
“I came here because my professor here, he’s from Puerto Rico too, and I had about three master classes with him while I was in middle and high school,” she said. “He’s seen me grow and improve throughout the years, and I would always say [that] if I was going to study oboe one day I would study with that guy.”
With her family’s support, she researched SBU, applied and got in. “So that’s what I did and now I’m here,” she smiled.
“There are people back home who want to stay there and do their own thing, but I wanted to see the world and how different it was,” she said.
Assistant to the chair of the music department, Martha-Ruth Zadok noted that even before De Jesus Cruz walked into the building, she was going to be a success.
“Before she came here, her professor told me an amazing student was coming from Puerto Rico… She plays the oboe and we welcomed her,” Zadok said. “She’s fantastic. We rely on her for everything.”
De Jesus Cruz is not only a hardworking music student who plays with the SBU Orchestra, but she also works in the department of music as a helper to the office while tutoring other music students and young children on the side.
“She’s really strong and hardworking,” Zadok added. “She’s a blessing.”
Although she’s working hard part-time as a work-study student, tutoring and being the inspiration for little ones to grow up loving music, De Jesus Cruz worked just as hard while in Puerto Rico, especially after she decided to travel to America to continue playing the oboe.
The native Spanish speaker said that she specifically learned English to help her study at SBU. Growing up in a U.S. territory, she said that she knew a bit of the language, but once she found out she was moving to New York, she began to only read in English and watch movies with English subtitles. Today, she speaks perfect English with complete ease.
Speaking two languages came naturally to her, but her favorite language is the language of music. She said that her favorite part of performing is talking to the audience through her instrument.
“My favorite part is when you go out then someone comes to you and says, ‘Wow I really felt whatever you were trying to tell me,’ and I feel like that’s a language,” she said. “It’s my favorite language.”
Of four oboe players of the SBU Orchestra, De Jesus Cruz is the only music major. She is also one of the special students who were honored to play with the graduate orchestra on campus, the Stony Brook University Symphony Orchestra.
When she graduates, she would like to perform like she does now as a full-time orchestra ensemble member, preferably playing classical music.
“Where I’m from it’s Caribbean. It’s all about jazz and salsa.It’s not really about classical music,” she said. “When I came here, I realized how big the Met was or the New York Philharmonic. I realized it was a different movement and I realized it’s something I wanted.”
“I saw the world that opened up in front of me, and I was like, ‘Wow. I have so many options!’”
But what is her absolute favorite part about studying music at SBU? She said it’s finding the music within her.
“There’s that moment that when you’re playing a concert and the music is in you. In that moment you just feel like you’re part of it, and that’s my favorite moment.”