Priscilla Alice Smith
first knowledge of Priscilla Smith came when I was an undergraduate
music education student at the University of Illinois. My teacher,
Paul Rolland, had spoken of her with great respect, and I was
aware that she was at that time one of the few women in the field
of string pedagogy at the collegiate level. Unbeknownst to her,
she was my mentor.
When I joined the Oberlin faculty in 1992, Priscilla was very
helpful in making the transition easy for me. Everywhere I turned
she had been there before, paving the way for string teaching.
Her work in preparing students for teaching was exemplified by
the fine student teachers I encountered here. Her conducting clinics
were legendary. Her book, A Guide to Orchestral Bowing Through
Musical Styles, co-authored with Marvin Rabin, continues to
be a regular resource for conducting classes.
The Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra, which she conducted from 1976-1981,
thrived under her leadership. She assisted me in bringing her
friend and nationally known conducting teacher, Elizabeth Green,
to Oberlin for a master class in 1994, and helped me make contacts
for adjudicating string competitions and conducting summer camps
as she prepared to move on to other things. Because of her position
as national secretary of American String Teacher Association from
1974-1976, she was a primary source for an article I wrote on
the 50th Anniversary of ASTA.
A quote from her portion of the article reflected her global view
of string teaching: "ASTA's diversity is unique for it brings
together so many facets of string teaching and playing." She also
belonged to the Music Educators National Conference, the Suzuki
Association of the Americas, Pi Kappa Lambda, and Sigma Alpha
her retirement in 1991, Priscilla taught for a year at the Punahou
School in Honolulu. She was elected president of the Ohio String
Teacher Association from 1992-94. From 1981-1995 she was on
the faculty of the National String Workshop at the University
Before her appointment to Oberlin in 1973, she had taught in
schools in Indiana and at Florida State University, and had
played cello in orchestras in Cleveland, Ft. Lauderdale, and
Indianapolis. Her cello teachers included Luigi Silva at the
Eastman School of Music and Fritz Magg at Indiana University.
Her bachelor and master degrees in music education were from
Indiana State University where she received the Music Alumni
Achievement Award in 1994.
As a fine cellist, Priscilla was dedicated to the ideals of
music education. This is evident in a quote from the Oberlin
College Observer in May 1991, written at the time of
her retirement: "Sometimes music education is looked upon as
an adjunct in a professional school, but in my view, it is the
bottom line. If the art is going to continue, we need leadership
in teaching from people who are fine musicians."
Priscilla died suddenly on March 10, 2001, in Ft. Myers, Florida,
and was buried in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she was born.
The Priscilla A. Smith Memorial Scholarship has been established
at Oberlin in her memory, and the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestras
dedicated their May 13 concert to her.
Erwin is associate professor and director of music education
at Oberlin College.
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