What do viola, baseball, and politics have in common? Julian Sawhill ’17.
Sawhill is a relief pitcher on the Oberlin baseball team, a politics major in the college, and a viola student in the conservatory. But unlike most students who enter into the heralded Double Degree Program at Oberlin, Sawhill found his way through a series of formative events after beginning his experience on campus.
Originally from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Sawhill arrived on campus with a profound interest in politics that he traces to a government class in high school. It was there that he learned, as he puts it, that “my ignorance was staggering. I believe that study of government is one of the most imperative tasks one can undertake.”
He also walked on to the baseball team and “shot up the depth chart” by the end of his sophomore year, according to his coach, Adrian Abrahamowicz.
Politics and baseball would easily fill most students’ schedules, but Sawhill longed for something more. A violinist as a child, he attended the well-respected Greenwood Music Camp for nine years. And though he put down the instrument before college, he found himself gravitating toward musicians at Oberlin.
“Simply put, I was jealous of my friends in the conservatory,” he says. “Hanging out with them while they talked about music was sometimes almost painful.”
So he participated in campus musicals as a pit orchestra violinist, and he returned to Greenwood as a counselor following his freshman year. With music gradually creeping back into his life, he decided to do something “constructively musical”: Oberlin’s 2014 String Quartet Intensive and Festival, held on campus over winter term.
There, Sawhill played second violin—an experience that convinced him to make a full return to music. He shared his longing to be a part of the conservatory with the director of the quartet intensive, Associate Professor of Viola Michael Strauss.
Strauss suggested the viola and gave Sawhill a concerto to learn for auditions.
“At that point, I would have played fifth violin in a nonet,” says Sawhill, who had been introduced to viola in a recent season at Greenwood. “I would have done whatever I could to play.”
“I noticed Jules’ love for both the instrument and chamber music, and it guided my instinct to encourage him to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician,” says Strauss.
Auditions are a nerve-racking proposition regardless of circumstances, and Sawhill had only a month to prepare on a relatively unfamiliar instrument. But his energetic and engaging performance resulted in an invitation to join the conservatory.
Through it all, Sawhill has continued to play baseball—a sport that he compares to music. “When I pitch, I clear my head and get out all the thoughts I need to, and focus only on the game,” he says. That calming exercise is invaluable in stressful situations such as auditions.
Now a violist in Strauss’ studio, Sawhill finds that his love of baseball has benefited him across campus too.
“I am a big baseball fan, and used to play and coach,” Strauss says. “We refer to baseball when the situation may call for an analogy. Those times are fun for both of us.”
Beyond their shared love of America’s pastime, Strauss lauds Sawhill’s passion. “Jules is a very intense worker,” he says.
Coach Abrahamowicz sees the same.
“Jules is a great teammate. A guy that you get the best out of all the time,” he says. “His work ethic on and off the field is an amazing quality that few possess.”
As for the rest of the team?
“My teammates think I’m nuts,” Sawhill says. “But in the end they respect the work I’m doing.”