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Fast Forward to Commencement Day

February 11, 2016

Erich Burnett

Daniel Hautzinger
Photo credit: Zach Christy

This story is part of a series profiling double-degree students at Oberlin. Learn more about the double degree at Oberlin—and hear the stories of other double-degree students—at our Applying to Oberlin page.

Daniel Hautzinger double degree

In four years flat, Daniel Hautzinger will leave Oberlin with not one but two degrees: one in piano performance and another in history.

He’s also completing an honors thesis on the cultural impact of composer Benjamin Britten, a project that involved two weeks of research in Britten’s Britain in January.

On the side, Hautzinger sings with an a cappella ensemble and with the early music group Collegium Musicum. And he works in the college’s box office and the conservatory’s Office of Communications, a role that sees him promoting the exploits of fellow students who excel in their own ways.

Oberlin is widely known as the birthplace of the double degree—in fact, it’s a key factor in the college decisions of many high-achieving students. “Oberlin is the best place for people like that, because the college and conservatory are on the same campus,” says Hautzinger. While most of them plan to complete their degrees in four and a half or five years, Hautzinger is even more efficient.

“He is a perfect example of that Oberlin student who has so many talents and interests, and then he finds a way to satisfy all of them,” says Professor of Piano Alvin Chow, Hautzinger’s advisor in the conservatory. “Doing it all in four years shows just how unique Daniel is.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Hautzinger began studying piano in the first grade. By high school, he had designs on being a music critic—a dream fueled by the writings of New Yorker scribe Alex Ross. Hautzinger knew he wanted to study music—especially contemporary classical music—but he also knew he wanted something other than a life of performance.

“More than almost any other student I've ever taught, Daniel has challenged me by choosing to work on contemporary music I didn't know,” says Chow, a master of traditional repertoire. “We've had a great working relationship: We were willing to learn from each other, and we both profited from that.”

Hautzinger’s history studies, meanwhile, skew toward European cultural and intellectual history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Music, not surprisingly, lies at the heart of it. Over winter term, he spent two weeks in Aldeburgh, England, where Britten founded an arts festival in 1948 that thrives to this day.

“Daniel argues that through Aldeburgh, Britten presented a vision for a participatory, democratic, yet non-commercialized future for British culture,” says history professor Annemarie Sammartino, Hautzinger’s advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “This is really exciting work, and Daniel is poised to make a significant contribution to research on post-World War II Britain, the history of music, and indeed, European history.

“From Daniel's first days at Oberlin, he stood out as an excellent student,” Sammartino says. “He was, even at that point in his Oberlin career, capable of thinking in interesting and sophisticated ways about a wide range of topics, not least of which was his interest in the relationship between music and society.”

As effusive as faculty are in their praise of Hautzinger, the young scholar is equal in reciprocating.

“One of the great things about Oberlin is the access to the professors I’ve had. They are very willing to talk to you, and I’ve formed great relationships with a lot of them,” he says, citing his two advisors as well as history professor Ellen Wurtzel and music theorist Brian Alegant, among others.

Hautzinger met his journalism idol—Alex Ross—when he was selected to participate in the 2014 Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, a biennial competition founded at Oberlin in 2012. Through that experience, and by taking the conservatory’s Intro to Music Criticism course, he has developed outlets for his writing in both Cleveland and Chicago. In summer 2014, he supported himself through a fellowship with ClevelandClassical, northeast Ohio’s leading source for music news and criticism.

“Oberlin has given me a lot of things that I didn’t expect,” he says. “A lot of that has come from the music criticism class and institute, and a lot of it came through my work with the conservatory communications office. I get to see the con through the back door and meet a ton of great people.”

Upon graduating, Hautzinger plans to return to Chicago, where he has established roots in arts administration through summer internships. If it all leads to a role with a small ensemble or another group steeped in innovative programming and education, so much the better.

“Like Britten, I’m interested in creating programs for children and communities and widening audiences,” he says. “Basically, the goal is to not have art in this ivory tower, but to make music accessible and available to everyone.”

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