Its scope--spanning the centuries from the Renaissance to the present, with examples from nearly every continent on the globe--is impressive. No less awe-inspiring, however, is the beauty of individual pieces. The instrument collection owned by the Oberlin Conservatory of Music is simply astounding.
That Oberlin has more Steinway grand pianos under one roof (170) than any place besides the Steinway factory is well known. There's more to the collection than Steinways, however.
A few highlights. In the orchestral collection, which includes excellent examples of all instruments, are four Lyon and Healy harps, a Stradivarius violin and two Gagliano violins, a Sannino viola, and a Gagliano cello. Percussion equipment includes suspended bowl timpani by Dresden, Yanich, and Ludwig, plus several five-octave concert grand marimbas. Among the keyboards are two dozen organs, several harpsichords, three facsimile fortepianos, and an original Erard grand piano. There are enough early instruments to form a complete baroque orchestra. Among the non-Western instruments are a complete Javanese gamelan, koras and xylophones from Gambia, and a selection of classical instruments from China, Korea, Japan, Turkey, and India.
In all, there are more than 1,000 instruments, and the total number of instruments and accessories comes to 1,625, according to Conservatory Assistant Dean John Jacobson.
These instruments aren't just sitting on shelves gathering dust. Vital to the Conservatory's instructional program, they are put to use by students every day in classes, lessons, and ensembles.
"The instrument collection helps the Conservatory in meeting its programs' goals," explained Kathryn Stuart, associate dean for academic affairs. "While many students arrive at Oberlin with their own instruments, others--notably pianists, organists, and percussionists--need to use the Conservatory's instruments."
Even students who bring their instruments to Oberlin may not have instruments of the highest quality. Such instruments can be extremely costly, and students often cannot afford them. Yet these are precisely the kind of instruments that students preparing for orchestral careers need to use, said Michael Manderen, director of Conservatory admissions. Borrowing from the Conservatory's collection lets students become familiar with the workings of high-quality instruments and gives them a competitive advantage, he said. He noted that students studying music education face an even bigger challenge: they need to learn about many instruments. "It's important for a school that's training future teachers to have a good collection."
"Then there's the whole notion of developing what I call connoisseurship," Manderen continued. "You often don't know what a fine instrument sounds like until you've experienced it directly. It's just not something you can learn by listening to recordings."
--Anne C. Paine
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