"Sometimes I feel like people know just by looking at me," Genny Boice, a college first-year, said.
Like many other students circling Robertson's hallways with instruments in hand, Boice is not a Conservatory student. She is a college musician - a member of a group of Oberlin students that includes music, physics, English and neuroscience majors, none of whom are strangers to Robertson's maze of practice cubicles.
While these students are not strangers to the Conservatory, Boice concedes that the Con can make a college student feel awkward. She is now in her second semester of flute lessons with John Rautenberg, flute teacher. She feels comfortable in her studio but jokes that she didn't even know how to register for lessons at one point. Practicing in the Con's facilities was also "intimidating" for the first couple of months.
Although all conservatory ensembles are open to college students by audition, Dean of the Conservatory Karen Wolff said that they do not fit all the needs of the musical community.
In addition to Conservatory ensembles, college ensembles exist to meet the remaining needs of college musicians. The College Community Strings was created last year to provide more performance opportunities to college string players. The Musical Union is available for vocalists. Though the College Community Winds was inactive for a while, it was quickly resurrected.
Wolff said that there have also been discussions about devoting dormitory space around campus to the creation of more practice rooms outside the conservatory.
Such efforts to make musical opportunities available to college students are supported in part because of the large role such opportunities have in attracting prospective and incoming students. According to Assistant Director of Admissions Aaron Melinski, the opportunity to participate in the Conservatory, "definitely draws a lot of applicants."
Transfer student, violist and biology major Katie Leuck, a junior, said that she was drawn to Oberlin partly because of the opportunities available in the Conservatory. Leuck said she is generally happy with her musical experiences so far. Her student teacher for secondary lessons, she said, has "passed on many of the professor's techniques, in addition to his own."
However, Leuck said that "being part of the Con as a college student is just like being part of any other group - sometimes you feel welcome and sometimes you don't." In particular, she often feels like she has to prove herself "more than Con students have to to each other."
The possibility of being part of Oberlin's music community also attracted sophomore Kristen Schultz to campus. Yet, she said that she has found the Con to be more "exclusive" than she had been led to believe.
Like Leuck, Schultz also said that she often feels she has to prove herself. "There is an assumption that because I do things in the Con but am not a Con student that I auditioned and didn't get in," Schultz said.
College first-year and violist Kaety Mayer takes lessons, works at the Conservatory Library and performs in several ensembles including the College Community Strings, an improv group called the Trained Monkey Ensemble and a string quartet. She said she feels that she is treated equally by other student musicians, and that her "social basis" is in the Conservatory. However, she said she is treated differently by faculty.
Mayer said there are fewer perfomance opportunities available to college students - partly because the spaces are limited and often go to the people who need them to fill requirements. As a potential college music major with an emphasis in performance (the other two emphases available are history-theory and composition), the most frustrating thing for her so far has been not being able to get lessons with Conservatory faculty. "Because student teachers have hectic schedules, it's hard to make any progress over a semester," Mayer said, of the student teacher program.
Mayer considered auditioning for the Conservatory, but decided against it because she "liked academics too much" and wanted time to take more liberal arts classes. Mayer expects to pursue an English major and does not want to have the academic limitations of pursuing a double-degree versus a double major.
"The Con is really intense, too," Mayer said. She likens the Conservatory building complex to a prison, where students get so used to being in their practice rooms that they never leave the building - and never have to, anyway. "[The Conservatory] sucks you in," she said.
"The Con is a pre-professional program and nearly all such programs have students in them that are more narrowly focused," Wolff said. Most Conservatory musicians "have been at this business since early childhood," she added. "We have to shoo them out of the building at midnight."
Perhaps after encountering the avid musicians Wolff jokes about, Boice said that early on she sensed the Conservatory's more competitive nature. Her first wanderings through the building with her flute left her with the impression that people weren't as friendly in the Con as they were in buildings such as King. "They … looked at me as another competitor, and I really didn't like that feeling. … Musicians are trained to be competitive, to get a job, and it sometimes carries over into other aspects of their lives."
While Wolff says that the "nice thing about Oberlin is that the two divisions [college and Conservatory] are stitched together more than in other places" and that the two divisions "depend on each other," college musicians such as Schultz feel that a part of the conservatory always remains exclusive by the nature of its philosophy.
Schultz mentioned being excited about the the founding of the College Community Strings last year, and then going to their fall concert this year and feeling disappointed over the relatively small size of the audience. "Some people in the Con just don't care," she said.
Philip Highfill, conductor of the College Community Strings, said that he perceives the Conservatory community to be "perfectly welcoming" to a college ensemble such as his group. While he does have to "fight for rehearsal space," he said this is a common obstacle for most groups in the Conservatory.
Highfill has praise for the string players in his group. "They're all really bright people and they're doing this, I presume, because they love it," he said.
Leafing through the forms filled out by College Community String members, Highfill recites the majors - math, psychology, music history, composition, English, biochemistry, physics, environmental studies - and stops there, assuming he's made his point.
"If you like to do [music] you should do it," Mayer said. "It doesn't matter what your major is."
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
Contact Review webmaster with suggestions or comments at email@example.com.
Contact Review editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.