Oberlin Conservatory is a world leader in the education of undergraduate musicians, but we're also an extensive resource for students in Oberlin’s College of Arts and Sciences. Every year hundreds of those students take private lessons and courses in music—and even perform in ensembles alongside their conservatory peers.

Our page dedicated to music opportunities in the College of Arts & Sciences is a great introduction to all that we offer, along with the list of frequently asked questions you’ll find below. Still have questions? We’d love to hear from you! Reach us at conservatory.admissions@oberlin.edu.

When reading the below information, the term “college” is used to refer to the College of Arts & Sciences.

1. Are there opportunities for college students to perform with an orchestra?

Yes, Oberlin Arts and Sciences Orchestra (OASO) is an excellent outlet for college students who would like to play in an orchestral setting. OASO is a full orchestral ensemble, including winds, brass, percussion, and strings, and is designed specifically for college musicians. You can learn more about this group on the OASO website. Interested students can reach out to Professor Tiffany Chang, OASO Conductor and Visiting Assistant Professor of Conducting, to schedule an audition.

College students may also audition to perform with the main conservatory large ensembles - Oberlin Orchestra, Oberlin Chamber Orchestra, Oberlin Sinfonietta, and Contemporary Music Ensemble. It should be noted, however, that due to the requirement that conservatory performance majors play in major ensembles every semester, we must ensure space is available to those students first. That may prevent college students in smaller instrument areas, such as winds, brass and percussion, from having available space, but is more likely in section instruments, such as strings.

2. Are there any music production classes for students in the college?

While the conservatory does not offer specific classes on the topic of music production, it can be explored through related courses in the TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) department. Some TIMARA classes involve music production peripherally and may be open to college students with permission from the faculty. TECH 101 is a specific TIMARA class that is open to college students and non-majors; other classes also exist at the 100-level for an introduction into electroacoustic music and recording.  Additionally, there are extra-curricular opportunities to build experience in music production - namely, student employment with Con Audio and working in Studio B, a broadcast studio a part of WOBC for local musicians.

3. What opportunities do college students have to play organ?

College students interested in playing any of the four concert organs around campus should be in contact with David Kazimir, Curator of Organs. There are also over a dozen practice rooms with practice organs from various time periods available to both college and conservatory students.

4. How do you get involved in musical theater at Oberlin?

Oberlin is home to many musical theater lovers! There is a long-standing student organization called Oberlin Musical Theater Association (OMTA). To join, you can attend their general interest meetings held throughout the year, speak with one of the student leaders (you can connect with them via social media on the OMTA Facebook page), or audition for one of their 3 productions done throughout the school year.

5. Is it still possible to add on a music major for a dual degree, and what is the timeline for doing so?

Yes, it is possible for enrolled college students to add the Bachelor of Music portion as part of the double degree program. We call this “Change of Divisional Status.” Students interested in adding the conservatory degree will need to audition for entry using the same audition and screening requirements as other Bachelor of Music applicants, and complete the Change of Divisional Status application process. Please keep in mind that acceptance into the conservatory is competitive and only a small number of college students are accepted each year. Interested students should contact the applied faculty within their chosen area soon after arriving as a college student to discuss the best way to prepare.

In nearly all cases, current college students would complete the Change of Divisional application in fall semester, audition in spring semester, and should they be accepted, enter the following year with double degree status (Ex. complete the application fall semester freshman year, audition spring semester, enter sophomore year as double degree). Exceptions to this are possible, but unlikely. You can begin taking certain conservatory classes (such as music theory, music history, etc.)  in your first semester as a college student, whether you are interested in the double degree program or not. Change of divisional status can be done within the first or second year enrolled and still complete both degrees within the maximum 5-year timeline. After the second year, students would require special permission to apply for the double degree program.

6. Are there any courses for college students in Baroque music?

Yes, college students can take classes such as Music of the Baroque, Medieval and Renaissance Eras through the Music History department and Introduction to Historical Performance. There are also several ensembles that college students can perform with that are conducted by conservatory faculty, such as our early music choir, Collegium Musicum, the recorder consort, or the gamba consort.

7. Are there opportunities for college students to take private lessons?

Yes, we offer all students the opportunity for private music lessons through our Secondary Lessons Program. They are offered in every conservatory department and students of all skill levels are welcome. Students will perform an audition in their area and are placed with either a student or a faculty member (less likely due to their teaching load and schedule). Secondary lessons with students can be taken as for-credit or not-for-credit; secondary lessons with faculty must be for-credit. Lessons are given each week for 30 minutes. Not-for-credit lessons require payment of $8 per half hour. Read more about the secondary lessons program.

8. Are there opportunities for college students to perform with a choir or in an opera theater production?

Yes, in addition to many student-formed a cappella groups on campus, there are several choirs that are available to college students. Musical Union at Oberlin is the nation’s second oldest continuing choral tradition, and its membership is comprised of college students, conservatory students, and members of the Oberlin community. Oberlin College Choir is the conservatory’s main large vocal ensemble, and like other main conservatory large ensembles, college students are welcome to audition for participation. Interested students should contact Professor Gregory Ristow, Director of Vocal Ensembles and Associate Professor of Conducting, to arrange an audition. Students interested in Musical Union may also complete the interest form.

Oberlin produces 3 operas each year—one mainstage production each semester and one smaller production over Winter Term. Of these, the Winter Term opera is most accessible to college students and has featured college students in the recent past. College students are able to audition for the other two mainstage productions as well, however participation is often restricted due to availability—roles and choir parts are typically reserved for students who need to be in a production per their degree requirements.

9. What does the new music minor entail? What are interdivisional minors/programs?

Oberlin’s new music minor is an opportunity for college students to learn about music in a practical way by giving them a foundation in musical studies and rigorous musical experiences. The minor consists of five courses to be taken in 3 of 5 areas: Solo Performance (which include secondary lessons, see Answer #7) Ensemble Performance, Academic Areas, Creative Practice, and PACE & PROF areas. PACE is an acronym for Pedagogy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement, which is a department that houses classes related to music education. PROF is the course code for our classes in the Professional Development department. Learn more about the music minor in the online course catalog.

In addition to the music minor for college students described above, both college and conservatory students may elect to pursue one or more of the new interdivisional programs. These include minors in Arts and Creative Technologies, Interdisciplinary Performance, Music and Cognition, Music and Popular Culture, and an integrative concentration in Arts Administration and Leadership. While the music minor focuses solely on coursework within the conservatory, the interdivisional programs utilize coursework and opportunities within both the college and conservatory as they relate to the specific program. Learn more about the interdivisional programs on our website here.

10. What are some study abroad opportunities for Musical Studies majors in the college?

As studying abroad is student driven, there are myriad possibilities of study abroad and international projects for Musical Studies majors. You can participate in Oberlin-affiliated programs, like The Center for University Programs Abroad (CUPA) which offers classes in music, or programs you find in your own research, based on your own needs. Note that you can study abroad during either semester, over Winter Term, for the entire school year, or throughout the summer. Check out our Office of Study Away webpage for more details.

11. Is there interaction between the music, theater, and dance departments? Are there opportunities that integrate all of these various art forms?

Yes, some through structured opportunities that take place annually, but much of which happens organically. One example of this would be the recent performance of Two the Hands by Caroline Shaw. This work was performed by Oberlin College Choir, a vocal ensemble comprised of both college and conservatory musicians, accompanied by string instrumentalists from the conservatory and featuring dancers from the college Dance Department. It was choreographed by a Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance. While this performance doesn’t happen annually, it is not unusual for productions to involve several departments.

A more structured opportunity would be the musical included annually as one of the Theater Department’s main stage productions. These productions often feature conservatory and college students both on stage and in the pit. The Theater and Dance departments are also closely related, with many cross-listed courses in the two areas. Our new interdivisional program in Interdisciplinary Performance brings together classes from all these art forms, in addition to visual art, cinematic studies, creative writing, and more. Students can even create their own majors to include coursework in music, theater, and dance. Additionally, there is opportunity for classes in these areas to be connected as part of a course cluster in our StudiOC.

12. Will college students have access to instruments if they do not own their own (i.e. percussion, contrabassoon)?

Yes, college students registered for private lessons as part of the Secondary Lessons program can check out instruments, free of charge, through our instrument depot, depending on availability. See more about instrument rentals.

13. Can I take conservatory classes as a college student, even if not working toward a minor or double degree?

Yes, just like conservatory students are able to fulfill elective requirements with classes in the college, college students are able to take classes in the conservatory. Students may elect to take standard classes that a conservatory student might take, or take one of the many classes designed for non-majors. The only thing to note is that there can be some limitations due to spaces available in the class, as majors who require the course for their degree will always get preference over non-majors (the same is true for classes in the college as well). Also, any prerequisites for the course would need to be met. There may be some upper-level courses that are restricted to majors only, as with any department in both the college and conservatory. Special permission may be granted by the faculty on a case-by-case basis for these courses.

14. What sorts of music are popular amongst Oberlin students?

Truly all sorts! There are many eclectic and wide-ranging musical interests of Oberlin students, even those in the conservatory who either major in classical performance or Jazz Studies. You will be sure to find other Obies who enjoy or are interested in the music you like to listen to.

15. Can a student participate in lessons for multiple instruments? Additionally, is there a maximum amount of lessons available to students?

Yes, students can take secondary lessons in more than one area at a time – it all depends on your schedule and space in your course load each semester. Note that only those lessons that fit in your course load will be able to be taken as for-credit; additional lessons will have to be taken as not-for-credit. See additional information about the secondary lessons program in Answer #7 above.

16. What is Performance and Improvisation and can college students participate?

The Performance and Improvisation (PI) ensembles provide an opportunity for students to enrich their existing musical vocabularies and skills through practical exploration of many different world musics and improvisation across a range of genres and styles. They are elective ensembles open to both college and conservatory students, and welcome participation from all instrument areas. Typically to audition for PI, students must be in their second year or higher. Those who play classical instruments are strongly encouraged to have taken the Beginning Improvisation class and at least one semester of the Internalizing Rhythms class. For more PI ensemble information, contact Professor Jamey Haddad, Professor of Advanced Improvisation and Percussion.

17. Are there pit orchestra opportunities for college students?

Yes, college students can audition to play in the pit orchestra for any of the musicals that are produced in the college, such as those in the Theater or Dance departments or the Oberlin Musical Theater Association (OMTA). The pit orchestra for mainstage opera theater productions is comprised of students in the Oberlin Orchestra and Oberlin Chamber Orchestra.

18. Is music theory a part of the Musical Studies major?

Yes. Music theory and aural skills courses are required for the Musical Studies major. Placement exams happen at the beginning of the school year in the fall. See more on the Musical Studies major.

19. Are there jazz performance opportunities for college students?

Yes, jazz ensembles (both Oberlin Jazz Ensemble - our big band - and the small ensembles) are open to college students who demonstrate, through audition, that they understand the vocabulary and harmonic details of the repertoire and display the skills to perform at a high level. Should students demonstrate this and wish to be involved in faculty-coached small ensembles, they will either be placed with conservatory Jazz Studies majors or other college students that also demonstrate strong performance abilities. Auditions can be arranged with Professor Bobby Ferrazza, Director of the Division of Jazz Studies and Professor of Jazz Guitar.

20. What sort of opportunities are there for college students to study composition?

College students are welcome take introductory composition courses, such as COMP 101, and there are even courses designed for non-majors. Private lessons are also offered in composition through the secondary lessons program.

21. What's the scene for marching band, pep band, or something similar?

There is a student-run marching band, Oberlin College Marching Band (OCMB). It is a club-like group that was founded back in 1998 and is mainly composed of college students. You can find more info about the band and how to join on the OCMB website. OCMB also has a Facebook page where you can check out some of their past performances.

22. Are there opportunities for someone in the college to be an accompanist?

Yes, students who would like to accompany other musicians have many opportunities to do so. Most of these outlets will come from college musicians who are in need of a pianist, but college students adept at accompanying have also assisted in rehearsals for student-run musicals with the Oberlin Musical Theater Association (OASO) and they assist peers in special projects.

23. Do college students have the opportunity to put on recitals?

Yes, college students can perform recitals in many of the spaces around campus - even in dorms, as they have pianos in the lobbies! However, only conservatory students and Musical Studies majors are able to perform their recitals in the concert halls in the conservatory. This is only due to the fact that there are so many concerts and rehearsals happening every day, that we need to reserve those spaces for degree-required activities.

24. How many theatres are there for plays, musicals, etc. at Oberlin? And how many plays and musicals happen per year at Oberlin, on average?

Oberlin currently has 3 theaters – Hall Auditorium, which seats approximately 500 people, for mainstage productions; Kander Theater, a black-box theater for experimental shows, and the Wurtzel Theater, which is an adjustable space that can seat up to 300. The Warner Center, which houses the Theater and Dance departments, has additional studios. 

Each year, there is one mainstage musical and two mainstage plays, led by faculty or guest directors, in Hall Auditorium. There are at least three additional student-directed musicals through the Oberlin Musical Theater Association and five additional student-directed plays through the Oberlin Student Theater Association (OSTA). Theater majors also direct several plays each year as part of projects for their major in Kander Theater. Casting for all productions are open to all Oberlin students.

25. Can you take voice lessons in jazz and musical theater or is it rooted to classical voice?

Currently, there is no major or formal program in musical theater in either the college or the conservatory. Thus, the conservatory does not offer voice lessons in musical theater specifically, but does offer private lessons in jazz voice. One interested in learning musical theater singing could take lessons in either jazz or classical voice studies to build healthy singing technique and then apply those techniques to performing in musicals.

26. What is the process of joining the radio station at Oberlin?

For those who would like to be a part of Oberlin’s student-run radio station, WOBC-FM, they can attend one of their open general interest meetings to learn about how to run a station and apply, or find contact info on the WOBC website.

27. Is it possible to double minor?

Yes, students can double minor, either with both minors within the college or by adding the music minor through the conservatory to another college minor. See a list of all college minors.

28. Are there lessons or performance opportunities on electric bass, or is it upright double bass only?

The conservatory only offers lessons in upright double bass, in both classical and jazz, but student-teachers in jazz bass may be able to offer lessons on electric bass. There is no electric bass in the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble, our big band, but there may be opportunity in jazz small ensembles.

29. Are there any casual percussion ensembles or groups at Oberlin?

There are non-conservatory ensembles focused on percussion instruments: Oberlin Steel (or OSteel), our steel pan group, has a long history on Oberlin’s campus and has toured, recorded an album, and performs regularly in the community, and Oberlin College Taiko, the Japanese taiko drumming group. We also offer a for-credit course on Javanese Gamelan. Students can also play in a band or create their own groups, Experimental College (ExCo) classes, or student organizations related to percussion performance.

30. Are there practice rooms or practice space available to college students?

Yes, all of the general practice rooms (in which nearly all include pianos) located in Robertson Hall of the conservatory are open to college students for use, free of charge and without needing to sign up in advance. Rooms are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but the more than 150 practice rooms provide ample opportunity. Robertson Hall is open from 7:30am to midnight daily (except during special times in the school year, such as academic breaks) and there are additional practice rooms for college students in South Hall, one of our many residence halls. Additionally, pianos are located for practice in every residence hall’s lobby area.

31. How easy is it to create a band?

Starting a band at Oberlin is relatively easy; it basically involves advertising your interest around campus by having open calls for playing/jam sessions, or by reaching out to student musicians you know of. Our student-run radio station, WOBC-FM, hosts a cover band showcase every semester in the Dionysus Disco (‘Sco), a live music venue in our student union, Wilder Hall, and it is another great way to find others interested in playing together. There is a rehearsal room just for bands, featuring amps and other equipment, and a recording space available through Studio B, a broadcast studio a part of WOBC for local musicians, also in Wilder Hall. Bands most commonly perform in the ‘Sco, but there are also other venues for performance such as Wilder Main, a large event space on Wilder Hall’s first floor.

32. What chamber music opportunities are there for college students?

College students interested in chamber music can register for a dedicated class, Oberlin A&S Chamber Music, currently taught by Chris Jenkins, violist and Conservatory Associate Dean for Academic Support, who can be contacted for more information. Students in this course audition and are placed in various chamber groups, receiving coaching and instruction from the professor. They have an opportunity to perform a recital at the end of the course for a public audience. 

College students who play at a high level are also welcome to audition for conservatory chamber groups. Interested students should reach out to Professor Kirsten Docter, Associate Professor of Viola and Chamber Music.

33. In the case that a college student places in an ensemble with conservatory students, would the student have to re-audition annually?

Yes, all students have to do placement auditions each year. String players audition once a year; winds and brass audition once each semester. Availability may also change each concert cycle depending on the repertoire performed.

34. Is there a gospel choir at Oberlin, is it through the conservatory or college, and is it student run or facilitated and led by staff members?

Yes, there is a Gospel Choir offered through the conservatory, which is organized and directed by Professor La Tanya Hall, Teacher of Jazz Voice. Any student can audition to participate, and those interested should contact Professor Hall. There is also a student-run group called Voices for Christ, which is a smaller ensemble of students who perform gospel and Christian songs.

35. Is there a difference between college music classes and conservatory music classes?

All music classes taught at Oberlin are taught by conservatory faculty, but the educational focus of each class may differ. Classes required of conservatory students are focused on preparing them for a professional career in music, specifically in the jazz and classical arenas and often within the realm of performance or composition. Classes designed for college students are meant to provide a strong foundation for music within a liberal arts context, which is often applied to more academic careers in music, such as musical research, music journalism, or arts administration. They also provide experience for those who are interested in performing in areas not offered in the conservatory or seek to meaningfully enrich their lives in music. However, college students may access some of the advanced conservatory music classes with permission from the professor or division director, and conservatory students can also be found in those courses designed for college students when the subject is outside of their chosen major.

36. Could a small band fit in the practice rooms?

Small bands might fit into some of the practice rooms in Robertson Hall within the conservatory, but there is also a reserved space specifically for bands in Wilder Hall, our student union. See Answer #31 above for more information.

37. Are there choirs that perform contemporary music?

Yes, College Choir performs a wide array of repertoire, including new music from living composers – even faculty in our Composition Department. There are new ensembles being formed all of the time, featuring students from all over campus. This past Winter Term, a new student-led choral ensemble sang contemporary pieces from women, trans, and non-binary composers. You can also sing in a cappella groups (such as the newly created Sourgum Experimental Vocal Ensemble) or offer an ExCo class in contemporary choral music to sing with like-minded individuals.

38. Are college students able to audition for conservatory ensembles?

Yes, college students are able to audition for any ensemble in the conservatory, but participation in these ensembles is dependent upon the level of performance ability of the student and availability of spaces after assigning students who must participate as a degree requirement. You can find additional details in the answers regarding performance opportunities for orchestral ensembles (Answer #1), jazz ensembles (Answer #19), choral ensembles (Answer #8), and pit ensembles (Answer #17).