Information for Prospective Students

Oberlin Conservatory of Music offers the Bachelors of Music degree in performance, composition, music education, music history, historical performance, jazz studies, and electronic and computer music. For students with interest in more than one area, Bachelor of Music degrees with double majors are possible. A five year, double-degree program is also available through the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Oberlin's College of Arts and Sciences.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to Oberlin's percussion program will be evaluated for clearly defined talent, recognizable potential for further growth and development, and dedication to becoming a professional percussionist.

Audition requirements:

Marimba or Xylophone:
Snare Drum: Timpani:

Audition Dates

  • December 6, 2014
  • February 7, 2015
  • February 14, 2015
  • February 21, 2015
  • February 28, 2015

  • If the above dates are not convenient, please contact Michael Rosen directly to arrange a special audition time. Feel free to contact Mr. Rosen to determine if the material you have choosen is appropriate if you have doubts. (michael.rosen@oberlin.edu)

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Q. I can't possibly come to audition in person because I live too far away. Can I audition at one of the regional auditions or should I send a tape?

    A. Percussion auditions are only held on campus but you can send a tape, but be sure to send an unedited video tape or DVD with all of the above requirements. Sound quality is important so try to make the very best tape you can with the best equipment you can get. I also recommend you do your best to come to visit Oberlin. It is always best to see in person the school where you intend to spend 4 years.

    Q. Should I include sight-reading on the video I send?

    A. No

    Q. Will I have to play drumset for my audition?

    A. No. If you audition for the jazz department you will have to play drumset, but not for the classical department

    Q. Will I have the opportunity to practice or warmup before the audition?

    A. Sure! We have six practice rooms where you can warmup. Just come to the percussion room (Room 38) where you will find a percussionist who will let you in to one of them where you can practice.

    Q. What are the most effective and/or popular audition pieces you hear?

    A. I like to hear students play Bach on the marimba; either from the cello suites, lute suites or the sonatas and partitas for violin. Choosing just the right piece at an audition is a delicate balance between the technical demands of the composition and the student's ability to demonstrate his or her level of accomplishment and musicianship. Often students will play Carter timpani solos but I find I cannot tell what kind of a sound a student has on the instrument when they play these pieces because they call for hitting in the middle, dead stick, hitting at the edge and with the back of the stick. And there is no tuning or rolls in the pieces either! These pieces are more compositional than timpanistic. I am more interested in determining if a student has a good well focused tone on timpani and a good sense of pitch. I also include sight-reading on snare drum and marimba in auditions which helps me determine at what level a student is in their musical development.

    Q. What qualities are you looking for in a student who auditions?

    A. I am looking for musicianship, talent and potential. I am looking for a student who is committed to music and dedicated to his or her instrument and is ready to work hard to attain their goals. The amount of experience in orchestras, shows and bands is also important. I don't expect to hear students who are ready for the Cleveland Orchestra but I do evaluate their potential for a career as a professional. Knowledge of style is important as is a well tuned technique. Does the student have something they want to share with me as a performer or are they content to just play the notes on the page. In addition, I want to demonstrate what kind of teacher I am and what my teaching style is so every audition for Oberlin is a mini-lesson to see how a student responds to my advice; to see if they can change; how open they are to new ideas. I suggest to all auditioning students to take piano lessons. There is so much to learn from a knowledge of the keyboard; it will help you to sight read, to analyze music, to understand phrasing and harmony and in your general musicianship.

    Q. What kind of timpani will I audition on?

    A. We have timpani with a clutch pedal (Clevelander) and balanced action pedal (Ludwig). And we do have a timpani stool for you to use. You are welcome to use whichever set feels most comfortable for you. However, if you have chosen a piece that requires the sticks be played with the wooden end such as the Elliot Carter March, the Firth Etude No.1, or the Goodman Ballade for the Dance please note that I will ask you to play with the normal end of the sticks so as not to damage the heads. I am also more interested in hearing your sound on timpani and it is more difficult to tell how you sound when you play with the wood end.

    Q. What kind of marimba will I use for my audition?

    A. You can audition on a Kori 5 octave, a 4 1/2 octave Kori or a 4 octave Deagan King George instrument.

    Q. What is the focus of the percussion department at Oberlin?

    A. I teach orchestral as well as general percussion. Contemporary music also has an important place in the curriculum. I think it is important to get a well rounded percussion education at the undergraduate level. The time to specialize in timpani or marimba is when you go to grad-school. Perhaps this could best be illustrated by telling you that I have had two students attending grad school at Yale. One is studying as a marimba specialist and the other as a multiple-percussionist. However, I use orchestral repertoire to teach the basics and let students work with more diligence on whichever instrument they have an affinity for. You should know that I have former students in playing timpani and percussion in symphonies, teaching at Universities and playing in New Music ensembles. Students pick their own direction although I do stress a well-rounded and balanced percussion education. Three recent graduates are studying with Steve Schick and another is at Temple Universoty studying with Alan Abel so the range of interest is wide.

    Q. Are there many opportunities to study jazz vibes and ethnic percussion while at Oberlin?

    A. Certainly! There is a jazz department with several drumset majors and you might like to know that Billy Hart teaches drumset here. There is also a Steel Drum Band that is student managed. We do not have other ethnic drumming here because I think it is important to specialize in what I know best and not to spread student interest too thin. However, Oberlin has a one-month period during January called Winter Term when students are encouraged to pursue other interests. In the past I have had students study Tabla with Bob Becker, drumset with Joe Morello, vibes with Ted Pilzecker, etc.

    Q. In general, what type of repertoire do your students study?

    A. I do only music written for marimba (except Bach) and serious music for percussion ensemble. We don't do arrangements of pop tunes and that sort of thing. The books I use for lessons include: Snare Drum: Peters-Advanced SD, Intermediate SD and Developing Dexterity, Payson-SD in the Concert Hall, Stone-Stk Control and Accents & Rebounds, Aleo-SD Etudes, Sholle-The Roll, Delecluse-Methode de Caisse Claire and Douze Etudes in addition to my own exercises. Timpani: Hinger Method, Friese/Lepak Method, Nick Woud Etudes and my own exercises. Orchestral repertoire for timpani is the backbone of lessons. Mallets: Green Exercises; my own exercises for 2 and 4 mallets, Musser etudes, Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Cello Suites and other pieces including Japanese Marimba pieces as well as works by American composers such as Andrew Thomas, Jacob Druckman, Allesandro Vinao, Peter Klatzow and Evan Hause for the advanced students. I also include orchestral repertoire as an important ingredient in the developement of the well rounded percussionist. One learns delicacy, style and how to refine basic techniques such as the roll and ornaments by working on this repertoire. And at the same time one develops a love for the music.

    Q-What kind of performing opportunities are available at Oberlin? Can I expect to play in major ensembles as a freshman?

    A- I assign all parts to the major ensembles including Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Contemporary Ensemble and Opera as well as OPG so there is no negative competition for parts. Since we only have 12 percussion majors at any one time we need everyone to play. I can guarantee you will be playing in these ensembles in your first year right next to seniors from whom you will garner much experience. I use the ensembles as an extension of lessons. I will not assign a student to a part if I do not think he or she is prepared play it successfully but if they are ready for a part I will give it to them even if they are a freshman. However, you cannot expect to play a part like the timpani part in the Rite of Spring in your first year. But there will be something for you to do. There are also many ad hoc ensembles such as those for composers for all to play in. At Oberlin you have the opportunity from the very beginning to put into practice what you practice.

    Q. Are there scholarships available for percussionists?

    A. Yes, there are special Dean's Awards available for percussionists. For information about scholarships and other details about cost contact Beth Weiss in the Admissions Office at 440.775.8413 or beth.weiss@ oberlin.edu.

    Q. What pieces have been played in percussion ensemble in recent years?

    A. A few years ago we played several pieces by John Cage at the PAS Convention. The OPG (Oberlin Percussion Group) has performed music written by: Sir Harrison Birtwistle, James Wood, Luigi Nono, John Cage, Reed Holmes, Michael Dougherty, William Russell, Joan Tower, Johanna Beyer, Franco Donatoni, Eugene Novotney, Riccardo Malpiero, Henry Cowell, Chris Rouse, George Crumb, Bruno Giner, Mary Ellen Childs, Mauricio Kagel, Lukas Foss, Phillip Parker, Gerald Strang, Maki Ishii, Toru Takemitsu, Iannis Xenakis, Michael Levinas, Davide Zanonni, Lou Harrison, Dominique Lemaitre, Stuart Smith, Steve Reich, Franco Donatoni, Henry Cowell, Paul Lansky, Thomas Meadowcroft, composers on the faculty here and other contemporary composers who are on the cutting edge of percussion literature. For a complete list of concerts played check out the Past OPG Concerts listing on this website. In addition OPG has made 3 CDs.

    Q. How many students are in the studio?

    A. I try to keep 3 in each class for a total of 12. However, since we have a very popular double-degree program at Oberlin we sometimes have a few more or less. Presently there are 13 students in the percussion department.

    How many students audition for Oberlin and how many do you accept each year?

    A. I usually hear about 25 auditions each year and the amount of students that are accepted depends on how many students graduate. Usually I accept two ot three every year and try to keep a balance of 12 students in the studio.

    Q. How does the percussion studio get along?

    A."Since we spend so much time together, performing, practicing, and rehearsing, the studio couldn't be tighter. Whether we're all eating dinner together at "chicken night," or living in the same house (yes, last year all of the juniors and senior percussionists rented a house together), we have a great time working together or just hanging out." (Walter 'Hudie' Broughton, class of 2002)

    Q. How many practice rooms for the percussionists are there?

    A. We have 7 practice rooms that students can lock and store their personal equipment in. Many students bring their own instruments and can leave them in the rooms with the stipulation that no one else practice on them. However, students usually let others practice on their instruments because they are very careful.

    Q. What type of equipment does the school have?

    A. We have two 5 oct. marimbas (an Adams and a Kori), two 4 oct Musser marimbas, two full sets of Clevelander timpani, four Ludwig timpani and a set of original German Dresden Timpani, dozens of snare drums and tom-toms (most with calf heads), 3 sets of vibes, 3 sets of chimes, 4 xylophones, cymbals, woodblocks, tambourines, bongos, congas, almglocken and all the accessories any percussion piece would require. Our latest purchase is a beautiful two octave set of tuned gongs. In addition, I own 2 marimbas (including a King George) that I keep in my studio to teach with in addition to vibes, cymbals and tambourines that students can use. I also have about 30 vintage snare drums that I allow students to use for concerts.

    Q. If I do come to Oberlin what would my first year course-load look like?

    A. You would take percussion lessons, Oberlin Percussion Group, piano lessons, ensembles for percussionists (either orchestra, chamber orchestra, wind ensemble, opera or contemporary music ensemble), music theory, aural skills and music history for a total of 16 credit in the first semester.

    Q. What do Oberlin percussion students do in the summer?

    A. Students have participated in several summer festivals and programs including Aspen Symphony Orchestra Academy of the Pacific, Bob Becker's Rag Time seminar, Bang on a Can, Rome Festival, Tanglewood, Music Academy of the East, the Oberlin Percussion Institute, the Duff Timpani Seminar, Banff Music Festival, American Wind Symphony (Pittsburgh), Roundtop (Texas), National Repertoire Orchestra, Hot Springs Music Festival, Brevard, Waterloo Music Festival (New York) and the National Orchestra Institute. Often a student will stay in Oberlin and practice for their senior recital while others may go home to work to earn money for the next academic year.

    Q. I have heard about the double degree program at Oberlin. Are there any percussion students in this program?

    A. I have had many students in the double degree program in the studio. Percussionists in the past have graduated with majors in the college have included biology, classics (latin and greek), politics, creative writing, physics, computer science, musicology, economics and Russian.  Presently there are students majoring in chemistry, neuroscience and computer science in the studio.  For a discussion of the double degree program with a former student go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtHg4wckzio

    Q. Do you accept transfer students?

    A. Yes, by all means. However transfer students must stay at Oberlin to study with me for a minimum of 3 years.

    Q. What do you expect a student to have when they leave the percussion studio after 4 years?

    A. There are many aspects of percussion and life in general that I try to instill in my students. Among them are the most basic: excellent technique, knowledge of various musical styles, the ability to hear well (good ears!), a knowledge of the percussion repertoire required on percussion auditions and basically the ability to compete in the competitive world of percussion auditions. In addition I endeavor to nurture the complete musician by giving a student the abilty to learn and teach themselves, to be a well rounded, complete musician, and be open to new music and new experiences. I emphasize that the teaching goes on in the studio by the learning goes on in the practice room! At Oberlin you can expect to gain a great deal of performing erxperience and to develop self reliance, memorization skills, discipline, self confidence, concentration, responsibility, reliability and problem solving skills. My ultimate goal, which may seem contradictory, is to make myself obsolete as a teacher and to give students the tools they need to learn after they leave Oberlin and to inspire them to a musical as well as intellectual curiosity that will help them succeed and be fulfilled in life with music as an important element of that life. I do more than teach students to play percussion, I give them the courage to own it. These goals are the traits that set Oberlin apart from other schools.

    Q. What do your students do after they graduate?

    A. Usually my students go on to graduate school and in the past have attended Eastman, Yale, Northwestern, USC, Cincinnati Conservatory, University of Illinois, USC San Diego, Cleveland Institute of Music, San Francisco Conservatory, University of Michigan, Cleveland State, Vanderbilt University, University of North Carolina, SUNY Purchase and Temple University. After graduate school they often go on to performing jobs in symphony orchestras, chamber music groups or teaching jobs in Universities. Presently former students are in the Cleveland Orchestra, Colorado Springs Symphony, Honolulu Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Chinese National Orchestra, Dayton Symphony, Canton Symphony, Jacksonville Florida Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Liverpool Symphony (England), Columbus Symphony, Kennedy Center Orchestra (Washington, DC), North Carolina Symphony, San Antonio Symphony, Royal Swedish Opera, Minnesota Orchestra, Louisville Symphony and the Marine Band. Other former students teach at the University of Southern California, Yale, Georgia State (Atlanta), Cincinnati Conservatory and North Carolina School for the Arts and the Bejing Conservatory. I also have a student in the chamber group Eigth Blackbird, two in the Percussion Group/Cincinnati, one who is a jazz singer and teacher at Berklee, one who is percussion coordinator and percussionist with the Lion King and another who was the director of Tales and Scales and another who plays in Tales and Scales. Another former student is a founding member of the So Percussion Group and another in the Los Angeles Percussion Ensemle (Nominated for a Grammy in 2012!); one is training to be a conductor; one is a computer sound artist; two teach music in high schools; another is in the Ethos Percussion Quartet; another in ICE and another in eigth blackbird. Two graduates have former a percussion group in Norway. One is in the Ensemble Sospeso in New York while another does percussion out-reach programs for the New York Philharmonic. One is teaching at the National Philharmonic Charter School. Some other students have become composers while a few have used their degrees to advantage as a librarian, two musicologists, an actor (in a hit show on Broadway- for details go to Broadway), and assistant director of the Cleveland Museum Music Department. A few have chosen other professions such as law, musicology, physics, professional chef in New York, computers, software engineer, investment counselor, carpenter, selling audio equipment and teaching Japanese. One former student works for the Bank of China and another is a minister while another is in Rome studying to become a Catholic Priest. Another is in the Capital Crimes Unit of the US Department of Justice!

    Further Information

    For further information, please contact: Conservatory Admissions Michael Rosen, Professor of Percussion