The History of Credo

During the summers of the 1980’s and 1990’s, Credo’s Artistic Director Peter Slowik served on the faculty of the leading string instruction centers in the country: Musicorda, Aspen, Madeline Island Music Camp, Encore, Eastern Music Festival, etc. An inventive musician and keen pedagogue with an eye for detail, Slowik observed strong elements at each program, yet saw the need for a new kind of summer program – a program which addressed the whole being, focusing on personal excellence as well as musical excellence.

Motivated by the philosophy of such great musicians/humanitarians as Pablo Casals and Fritz Kreisler (“No man can achieve great things unless his heart is filled with love.“), Slowik envisioned a place where the highest level of musical training would be accomplished in an atmosphere of Christian love and mentorship. Credo co-founder Karen Armbrust suggested that an element of service be added to complete the picture, and by January 1999 Credo’s mission statement was set: “Develop the Gift, Acknowledge the source, Respond with Service.”

The first summer was blessed with about $50,000 of donations for this new program. Forty-five intrepid students descended in Resurrection Center in Woodstock, IL to try this bold new approach. As one student put it, “I have no idea what cleaning homeless shelters will do for my playing, but I’m going to find out!” And find out they did, with Credo’s unique blend of faith, musical excellence and service forging a special inspirational bond.

Students from that first year have since won the National American String Teachers Association Solo Competition, graduated from Juilliard, Curtis, and Eastman, and now hold significant positions in professional orchestras and on college faculties. A number of them have become string teachers across America—in fact, some of their students (we call them “Credo grandstudents”) have come to Credo in recent years! A no less significant achievement has been the inspiration to take mission trips, keep in touch with each other (and Credo!) and enter ministry. Right from the beginning, our alumni exemplified Credo’s conscious “re-definition” of success as living in the intersection of the world’s greatest need and one’s greatest joy.

Perhaps the greatest measure of Credo’s success is that over the first eleven years of Credo, seven of the eight founding faculty members have returned to Credo each year! This extraordinary investment in Credo becomes reflected in the effort faculty members put forth in their coaching and student mentorship.

2000 and 2001 saw modest growth of Credo in Woodstock. Having joined the Oberlin faculty in 1999, Slowik saw the tremendous synergistic possibilities of Credo in Oberlin, and formulated a Credo “all-star” tour of Northeast Ohio in 2001. The tour was met with such a great reception that the Credo board voted to move the program to Oberlin in the summer of 2002.

Establishing Credo at one of the world’s recognized centers of string excellence did much to bolster Credo’s esteem in the musical community, and applications grew threefold over the next four years! After a number of experiments with format (including a brass program in 2001, a vocal program in Goshen, IN in 2002 and 2003, and the creation of the “Opus 1” program to meet the growing demand for Credo-principled instruction), Credo settled on the three-week format for the Credo string program in 2004.

Through the first few years, the Credo office and governance structure scrambled to keep up with the growing needs of the organization. In the early years, Credo existed as a file on Karen Armbrust’s computer, which soon became many files on computers spread across Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. In the spring of 2004, Slowik founded the 501(c)(3) non-profit Slowik Music Institute (SMI-Credo). Recognizing the prudence of a legal entity in Oberlin, the initial presenter of Credo, the Illinois-based Credo Chamber Music Association, turned over the operation of the festival to SMI-Credo.

After 14 years, the Credo program is a fixture on the summer string education scene, annually attracting nearly 150 applicants. Our alumni occupy leadership positions in music education and performance throughout the country, and are consistently among the major prizewinners in national and regional competitions. From a financial aid budget of $12,000 in 1999, Credo has worked diligently to expand financial aid to make it possible for all talented and worthy students to attend Credo – in the summer of 2011 we awarded over $60,000 of financial aid!

Equally impressive is Credo’s uncompromising commitment to serving our community with labor and music. Over the last 14 years, Credo students have been found at countless agencies, large and small, contributing a total of nearly 9,800 volunteer hours. Whether it’s cleaning homeless shelters, packing food at a food bank, or performing for underserved audiences at nursing homes, hospitals and low-income housing projects, Credo students have made a lasting impact on thousands of people in Northeast Ohio.

David Stull, former Dean of the Conservatory at Oberlin College, has remarked, “[Credo] is really a phenomenal program. But beyond that, what does make it unique, is the fact that involved with this program is a directed, not just superficial, effort towards community service. The students really engage with the community here in Oberlin and spend time in the summer working with people in ways that typically aren’t found at most chamber music camps – in fact, none that I am aware of.”

SMI-Credo has weathered a variety of financial storms and it is poised to continue its’ innovative program in response to growing demand for the unique amalgam of music, spirit and service. We stand at a unique intersection of artistic recognition (for example our National Endowment for the Arts grant in 2009), trusted relationships with the broad faith community (partnerships with faith-based programs from coast to coast), and a record of producing musical leaders with a social conscience.

The small beginning in Woodstock, IL has been transformed in the last 15 years into a national program. With festivals in a variety of locations (Chicago, IL, Waco, TX, Oberlin, OH, Sydney, Australia) and the Credo blog, webinars, and social media sites virtually connecting those that resonate with the Credo model, Credo has become not just a summer festival, but a way of life!