November 10, 2017
by Eilish Spear '20
Photo credit: Pacific Symphony

Violist Meredith Crawford ’09 forged a robust career in Los Angeles while completing two Oberlin degrees.

The Double Degree Program at Oberlin is famous for producing high-achieving students, and Meredith Crawford ’09 can readily claim to be among them. During her time on campus, Crawford pursued a BM in viola performance from Oberlin Conservatory and a BA in English literature from Oberlin College. She was the first violist to win the Senior Concerto Competition since Kirsten Docter ’92, and she won her first job—with the Pacific Symphony—in her penultimate year at Oberlin.

Since then, Crawford has quickly risen through Pacific’s ranks, first as assistant principal and now as principal violist in the symphony’s Catherine and James Emmi Chair. She is also a substitute with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and other L.A. orchestras, a member of various chamber music groups in Southern California, and a regular contributor to Hollywood studio sessions.

“I feel incredibly lucky to get to do so many different things on any given day,” she says. “It's always been important to me to be attentive to as diverse a range of my musical interests as possible. In particular, recording movie and television scores has been incredibly fun and something I've dreamed of doing since I was young. If I could go back in time and tell 10-year-old me that I would be a part of the newest Star Wars soundtrack, I think she wouldn't believe me!”

Crawford enthusiastically credits Oberlin for her love of a diverse musical life. “I never felt more at home than I did there, especially at the conservatory,” she says. “I met so many dedicated and creative people, both students and faculty alike. It always amazed me just how much was going on there on any given day. There was never a shortage of new experiences, and I appreciated how much of that came from the students themselves. It was inspiring and energizing to be surrounded by so many passionate people.”

As a student, Crawford appeared on several recordings released by Oberlin Music, the conservatory’s official record label. She was part of the 2006 tour to Carnegie Hall under the baton of Robert Spano ’84, she won first place in the 2007 Ohio Viola Society competition, and she attended music festivals including Oberlin in Italy, the Yellow Barn Young Artists Program, and Kneisel Hall.

Like many students, Crawford chose Oberlin primarily because of its Double Degree Program—the first such program ever established. “At the end of high school, a lot of my friends were going to conservatories to study music, but I felt I didn't want to give up my academic studies so soon. In speaking to the faculty and administration at Oberlin, it was apparent that they not only allowed students to pursue two degrees but encouraged it. This was a very different attitude from other schools I looked at.”

Any discussion of an Oberlin viola education cannot go without mention of longtime Professor of Viola Peter Slowik, and Crawford expresses her gratitude for her mentor several times throughout the conversation. “He was and continues to be one of my biggest supporters,” she says. “He is certainly one of the most genuinely dedicated teachers I've met anywhere, and his style of teaching reaches so many different types of students. I remember being so inspired by the older students in our studio class as an underclassman, and then as an upperclassman wanting to help newer students in the studio feel included and supported. His studio really felt like a family, and he was a big part of that.”

Because Crawford won her first job before finishing her degree, she spent the last year at Oberlin commuting back and forth from L.A.—a routine that made her transition into professional life a little more seamless than the typical Obie would experience. “In a way, I felt like a ghost on campus,” she says. “My new life had already started across the country, yet I was still tied to the school. I was able to ease my way into my new life as a professional musician while still feeling connected to school life.

“Also, there were certain people on campus—Mr. Slowik included—who helped me feel grounded while my time at Oberlin was winding down and helped to prepare me for my ultimate departure into the professional world.”

Could anything more have been done to prepare her?

“In terms of what Oberlin could do better?” Crawford says, then considers the question for a moment.

“Teach us how to do our damn taxes!”

Eilish Spear ’20 is a double-degree student in viola performance and politics. She studies viola with Associate Professor Kirsten Docter.

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