Washington and Jefferson College students "J.J." Lendl and Nicole Carolla sing together in the choir, so it was easy listening to a mutual friend who suggested an ensemble of a different sort.
Grant Scheuring, like his friends, enjoys music. Why not apply for one of the theme dorms the college offered for the first time this year? W&J proposed students live in a house together enjoying one another's company and a special interest of their choosing.
Mr. Scheuring has since transferred to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, but this semester, nine of his friends are singing and playing instruments together in the Music House, one of three themes celebrated in two houses on Chestnut Street.
Faith and leadership are the special interests of the other groups. Greek fraternities occupy eight other new houses.
From the street, the three-story red brick Music House resembles a spacious townhouse with a small porch and pillars at the entrance. There's no place like home, but this comes close for college students. It accommodates 26 students.
A "Welcome To Our House" sign greets visitors as they enter. First-floor rooms on each side of the entrance can be used as a living room, office or meeting room.
Although sparsely furnished with couches provided by the college in one room and only empty space in the other, residents are working on getting a piano, said Miss Carolla, 22, a senior who rooms with Emily Bloom, 21, a senior. A kitchen, laundry room with new washer and dryer and an apartment occupy the remainder of the floor.
Students' rooms on the second and third floors resemble apartment-style living with room numbers on each door. Two shared bathrooms on each level allow one student to shower while others can wash up at two basins.
Theme dorms started in the 1980s, said Gerald Stebbins, associate dean of student life. Early on, colleges and universities grouped students on one floor based on specialty interests such as healthy living or study. Before introducing it on its campus, W&J researched the idea for two years.
It is best when theme ideas come from students, because they are the ones who will make it work, Mr. Stebbins said. So W&J lets students decide what their special interests or themes will be.
Music students, eight women and four men, live on the second floor of the Music House while independents unconnected to the group stay on the third. The music students are having an influence on the independents because one recently bought a guitar, Mr. Lendl said with a smile.
Calling the residents music students, however, is something of a misnomer because no one is a music major. Mr. Lendl, who plays the piano, majors in history and theater; Miss Carolla, who plays the violin and flute, is a biology major.
The walls of their rooms are decorated with the requisite college posters, the Steve Miller Band and the Beatles, among others, in Miss Carolla's case and "Star Wars" in Mr. Lendl's.
Mr. Lendl, 20, a junior who rooms solo, believes having no music majors is for the best. A house full of them spending all of their time in pursuit of their subject might cause friction, he said. This way, it's a group of friends who simply sing or play instruments in their spare time, enjoying each other's company inside and outside the house.
To live in a theme dorm, Mr. Stebbins said, students are asked to provide an educational program around the theme for its dorm members and another program for the greater college community each semester.
A number of groups pitched ideas to a committee of faculty, students and staff, who made the selections. It would not be just 20 buddies who wanted to room together, Mr. Stebbins said. The students had to figure out why they wanted to live together and what they could offer the larger college community.
The three theme houses -- music, faith and leadership -- were the strongest and best planned, Mr. Stebbins said.
The Music House is planning a trip to the Pittsburgh Symphony for the group and a holiday party for the greater W&J community. An open house would be nice, Mr. Stebbins suggested to Mr. Lendl and Miss Carolla.
At the end of this semester, all three houses will be re-evaluated to determine whether any needs more guidance or to disband.
There have been no discipline problems. House members hold their fellow students accountable for their behavior.
One of the draws of living in a theme house is that it allows students greater control over where they live, Mr. Stebbins said. He envisions having more theme houses.