Very few people were violin or cello majors in 1896, and no one majored in any of the wind instruments. Professors Fred and Charles Doolittle taught violin and cello; Professor J. Arthur Demuth taught violin, cornet, horn, trombone, oboe, and clarinet; and Charles Doolittle, taught flute. Their valiant efforts made possible the formation that year of a Conservatory Orchestra with Professor George W. Andrews as conductor.
In 1916 the string and wind instrument students at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music were a small group. The addition of Maurice Kessler, violinist from the Boston Symphony, and Friedrich Goerner, former first cellist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, as instructors had strengthened the department, but of the 13 students studying with Mr. Goerner, only one was a cello major.
At this time the Conservatory Orchestra under Dr. Andrews included 40 musicians and consisted of one flute, one clarinet, two trumpets, three horns, trombone, timpani, and strings. Until the 1930s the missing parts would be supplied by organist Bruce Davis, who through long experience and great ability had acquired an enormous deftness in this task. Willard Warch was a member of the Orchestra's cello section of 1927-31, and recalls in his book Our First 100 Years, from which this account is taken, Professor Kessler looking out over the orchestra at a typical rehearsal and saying, "Bruce! Today we need second flute, second oboe, both bassoons, and third and fourth horns." And that, writes Warch, is what he gave them, or at least the essentials.
The orchestra in the years before the 1950s also had the assistance of other faculty members. Arthur Heacox had studied string bass in Munich and Paris and served the orchestra faithfully as bassist--sometimes the only one--for years. When he retired he persuaded Don Morrison, of violin and music education, to be his successor. Victor Lytle of the theory department was the orchestra timpanist for several years. (Dr. Andrews himself, while a student in the 1870s, had learned trombone in order to help out the orchestra of that time.)
Demuth, in 1916, played some of the winds or strings, as did his successor of the 1920s, R. Walter Frederick. The violin and cello teachers, of course, filled the first chairs of their instruments, and even the College faculty helped out. Mr. Jameson played horn. Professor and Mrs. Wolfgang Stechow played viola, and Dean Carl F. Wittke of the College of Arts and Sciences first played viola and then string bass. When Mr. Arthur Williams came in 1928, he played horn on occasion as well as trumpet; but the outstanding record of assistance to the Oberlin Orchestra and Bands belongs to George Waln, who at one time or another played B-flat clarinet, E-flat soprano clarinet, alto clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, English horn, bassoon, and contrabassoon.
A notable professor of orchestral conducting from 1966 to 1983 was Robert Baustian. The pantheon of conductors on the classical music scene who trained at Oberlin includes David Zinman, Robert Spano, Raymond Harvey, Michael Morgan, Jeannette Sorrell, Edwin London, John Kennedy, David Hoose, Stephen Gunzenhauser, and the up-and-coming Michael Christie.
Selected source material from Our First 100 Years by Willard Warch.
Please visit the following sites to learn more about Oberlin’s commitment to the arts and other opportunities afforded to students.
Additional Information about Carnegie Hall
Robert Spano in The New Yorker
Press Release for Carnegie Hall Concert
Recent Performances by the Oberlin Symphonic Orchestra
Oberlin Orchestra in China January 2006
Oberlin Orchestra at Severance Hall April 2006
Oberlin College Websites of Interest
Allen Memorial Art Museum
Oberlin Conservatory of Music Admissions
Oberlin College Admissions
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