In The Locker Room with Jules Sawhill


Julie Anna Gulenko

Jules Sawhill, Student-Athlete and Conservatory Student

Michaela Puterbaugh, Staff Writer

This week, the Review sat down with fifth-year double-degree student Jules Sawhill. After coincidentally walking on to the baseball team as a first-year, Sawhill ended up pitching for the Yeomen for all four years of NCAA eligibility. In his final year at Oberlin, Sawhill is now focusing on finishing his degrees in Politics and Viola Performance. Sawhill discussed the overlap between athletic and musical performance and the surprising ways he ended up doing both at Oberlin.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What instrument do you play and when did you start?

I play the viola, and I started playing viola three years ago in Oberlin, but I’ve actually been playing the violin since I was four-years old. I started that in 1999 when I was growing up in Puerto Rico. Viola is more a recent development that I discovered here.

Q: Did you intend to play baseball when you first came to Oberlin?  

JS: I had no intention of playing baseball. My high school baseball coach told me that I would never play college baseball because I wasn’t good enough. I showed up to a baseball class by accident, thinking it was like a skills training class for everyone. I walked in, and the whole team was there. It was really awkward. But I ended up getting recruited [as a pitcher], a position that I never played before.

Q: What was your experience like playing baseball and also being in the Conservatory?

JS: Pretty hectic. A lot of jumping around from place to place, but to be honest, I think baseball is what kept me sane while I was in the Conservatory. It gave me a three-hour chunk of the day where I could just do whatever I wanted, turn off my brain and not think about anything pertaining to school and just sort of compete in another universe.

Q: How did you develop the time-management skills needed to juggle both commitments?

JS: I don’t know if I ever fully developed them, to be honest. I always played at least one sport throughout middle school and high school. I was always running cross country and playing baseball, and even one year I played basketball, so I had three sports. I guess I have always been used to juggling — sort of jumping — between tasks and being able to have these switches in my head that I can turn on and off … where I can think about music for two hours and then just go to college classes for two hours and then go to baseball. It was a process that took a long time to perfect.

Q: What has been the most challenging thing for you?

JS: Sleep. Getting to bed on time. Everything is challenging. Probably practicing after pitching because my arm was really tired and hurt a lot. And my fingers wouldn’t move some days, which was really tough. But at the end of the day, if that was my worst problem, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.

Q: What skills, if any, have transferred over to the Conservatory from playing baseball? Or vice versa?

JS: Definitely teamwork skills. I think playing in an orchestra or playing in chamber music is very similar to being on a [sports] team. You have to be unselfish and collaborative at all times. You can destroy team chemistry on either the baseball field or in a chamber group or in an orchestra by playing selfishly. I think that my coaches on the baseball field and my coaches in the Conservatory have both taught me that.

Q: What is it like not playing baseball this year and just focusing on music?

JS: I’ve made a lot of strides this year in music. But overall, it’s sad because I really, really miss playing baseball, and going to the games is bittersweet. I still get phantom arm pain at random times during the day because my brain thinks that I’m still pitching. But yeah, I definitely miss it. It comes in waves but right now, especially after watching them play, it’s not fun on the sideline.

Q: What are your plans for after graduation?

JS: I’m staying in Ohio. I’m going to the Cleveland Institute of Music and studying with Robert Vernon, who was the principal violist of the Cleveland Orchestra for 40 years. He just retired. So I will be getting my master’s degree at CIM with him, but I will be around the area probably.

Q: What advice can you offer to anyone thinking of being in the Conservatory and playing a sport?

JS: Stay calm. Just always make sure you are planning ahead and you have a good idea of what your game plan is because if you fall behind, it’s really tough to get back on the wagon.

Interview by Michaela Puterbaugh, Staff writer