James Caldwell’s Legacy Extends Beyond Oboe
James Caldwell, Professor of Oboe at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music since 1971, died on Wednesday, Feb.8, 2006 at a medical center in Elyria, OH, where he was being treated for lung cancer.
Even before he came to Oberlin 35 years ago, Caldwell was widely known and respected throughout the music world for his keen musicality and virtuosic performances. After graduating from the Curtis Institute of Music in 1961, he served as Principal Oboist in many prestigious ensembles including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Chamber Symphony of Philadelphia and the Puerto Rico Symphony.
Also an active recitalist, Caldwell performed numerous solo engagements with the Philadelphia Symphony during and after his tenure there and appeared with the Casals Festival Orchestra, the Chicago Little Symphony and at Carnegie Hall.
Caldwell came to Oberlin in 1971. Marci Janas, OC ’91, writes that with Caldwell’s appointment to the Conservatory came “a three-fold increase in the number of prospective oboe students applying for admission.”
The successful applicants found a superb mentor and teacher in James Caldwell, and the achievements of these oboists is a testament to Caldwell’s professorial excellence. Caldwell’s former students hold positions with a variety of distinguished performance and educational institutions including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, Miami University, Michigan State University and the Cleveland Institute of Music, among many others. Other students have gone on to win a Grammy award and other prestigious solo prizes.
Junior Allison Pickett said that Caldwell’s influence extended even beyond music. “Mr. Caldwell was more than our oboe teacher. The oboe studio is a family, and he was a surrogate father to all of us.” Roy Poper, Associate Professor of Trumpet, observed this same familial spirit among the faculty. He admires the respect Caldwell accorded to all of his colleagues and enjoyed the camaraderie among faculty that resulted from Caldwell’s kindness and generosity.
“Anything I say wouldn’t do him justice,” Pickett continued. “He helped us grow not only as musicians, but as people, too.”
That special bond that Caldwell fostered among his students and the skills he passed to them stands the test of time: Andrea Ridilla, a Conservatory alumna, is now Professor of Oboe at Miami University in Oxford, OH. She is proud to have benefited from Caldwell’s unique tutelage.
“He taught me not only how to play the oboe, but also how to teach the oboe. He always began with music, not the oboe, in mind. We learned the oboe as a result of the musical demands of the phrasing: his ideas on tension and relaxation, moving the phrase and never forgetting the word ‘musicality.’ He was a gentle soul who led his students to development, each in their own way. He taught and exemplified artistry,” Ridilla said.
The artistry Ridilla describes extended even beyond Caldwell’s pedagogical and performance accomplishments: over the course of his career Caldwell earned a reputation as an innovative and leading historical scholar. In the course of his time with the National Symphony Orchestra, he developed an intense passion for Baroque and other historical music.
It was this interest that led him to found the Washington Consort of Viols, and later, the Baroque Performance Institute at Oberlin, a groundbreaking summer program for historical performers. Caldwell and his wife, Catharina Meints, Associate Professor of Viola da Gamba and Cello, have amassed one of the largest and finest collections of historical instruments in the world. In addition to his musical pursuits, Caldwell was a consummate art collector, jewelry maker and bonsai cultivator.
Caldwell is survived by his wife, Catharina, their son, Jonathan, and his legend. As Dean David Stull said in an article about Professor Caldwell in the Feb. 10 issue of Oberlin Online, “James Caldwell’s professional accomplishments cannot be measured at this point in our history. His reach into the world of music and art will be felt for generations to come.”
The Oberlin Community greatly mourns the loss of Professor James Caldwell.
However, “He will continue to live on in the music of his students and in
the hearts of everyone he knew,” said Allison Pickett.