Oberlin Alumni Magazine: Summer 2001 Vol.97 No.1
Feature Stories
When Worlds Meet
Visions of Oberlin
Safety Man
[cover story] Caught in the Act
Round Robin Takes Flight
Message from the President
Around Tappan Square

Priscilla Alice Smith


My first knowledge of Priscilla Smith came when I was an undergraduate music education student at the University of Illinois. My teacher, Paul Rolland, had spoken of her with great respect, and I was aware that she was at that time one of the few women in the field of string pedagogy at the collegiate level. Unbeknownst to her, she was my mentor.

When I joined the Oberlin faculty in 1992, Priscilla was very helpful in making the transition easy for me. Everywhere I turned she had been there before, paving the way for string teaching. Her work in preparing students for teaching was exemplified by the fine student teachers I encountered here. Her conducting clinics were legendary. Her book, A Guide to Orchestral Bowing Through Musical Styles, co-authored with Marvin Rabin, continues to be a regular resource for conducting classes.

The Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra, which she conducted from 1976-1981, thrived under her leadership. She assisted me in bringing her friend and nationally known conducting teacher, Elizabeth Green, to Oberlin for a master class in 1994, and helped me make contacts for adjudicating string competitions and conducting summer camps as she prepared to move on to other things. Because of her position as national secretary of American String Teacher Association from 1974-1976, she was a primary source for an article I wrote on the 50th Anniversary of ASTA.

A quote from her portion of the article reflected her global view of string teaching: "ASTA's diversity is unique for it brings together so many facets of string teaching and playing." She also belonged to the Music Educators National Conference, the Suzuki Association of the Americas, Pi Kappa Lambda, and Sigma Alpha Iota.

After her retirement in 1991, Priscilla taught for a year at the Punahou School in Honolulu. She was elected president of the Ohio String Teacher Association from 1992-94. From 1981-1995 she was on the faculty of the National String Workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Before her appointment to Oberlin in 1973, she had taught in schools in Indiana and at Florida State University, and had played cello in orchestras in Cleveland, Ft. Lauderdale, and Indianapolis. Her cello teachers included Luigi Silva at the Eastman School of Music and Fritz Magg at Indiana University. Her bachelor and master degrees in music education were from Indiana State University where she received the Music Alumni Achievement Award in 1994.

As a fine cellist, Priscilla was dedicated to the ideals of music education. This is evident in a quote from the Oberlin College Observer in May 1991, written at the time of her retirement: "Sometimes music education is looked upon as an adjunct in a professional school, but in my view, it is the bottom line. If the art is going to continue, we need leadership in teaching from people who are fine musicians."

Priscilla died suddenly on March 10, 2001, in Ft. Myers, Florida, and was buried in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she was born. The Priscilla A. Smith Memorial Scholarship has been established at Oberlin in her memory, and the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestras dedicated their May 13 concert to her.

Joanne Erwin is associate professor and director of music education at Oberlin College.

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