Oberlin Blogs

An Expo-tition

February 17, 2009

Joe Dawson ’12

Not many doors are locked at Oberlin, so exploring various buildings around campus is pretty easy, and quite fun. Your faithful author found himself walking around the Conservatory yesterday not long after lunch, really enjoying the sights and sounds. There were, of course, a great mixture of instrument-practice sounds, conversations about musical crap I could never fathom, and some dude beating on his locker lock with something heavy. Every once in a while, the musical bubbling would be split by a vocalizing singer, and my ears tried to widen enough to hear everything.

I realized that the Conservatory was a lot bigger than I had imagined. I guess I knew all of those students had to take classes and practice somewhere, but Robertson Hall is really quite impressive. I wandered through the tiled hallways, feeling very foreign and un-musical. Like every person I passed could look at my hands and say in a thick Russian accent:

"Ha! Zeez are not musician's 'ands! Zees are scientist 'ands, for working in ze laboratory! Out! Out!"

Not that my hands are particularly suited to lab work, I've just been doing a lot of it lately, with Chem and Bio labs last semester, Bio labs this semester, and working with the scanning electron microscope (soo cool) two days a week.

I wandered lonely as a cloud around the second floor for a while, listening to really skillful musicians playing really interesting music. I guess lunchtime is a really popular time to practice piano, because I only found one room with an open piano on the second floor. I listened to a girl let out a scream, like a horror movie scream, then continue the scream up and down the scales a few octaves. I proceeded to plink out Ode to Joy on my Steinway. It's really the only thing I know how to play, although I am learning more stuff. I remembered a figure from the Oberlin.edu homepage, that the conservatory has 200 Steinway grand pianos, and 150 practice rooms, most with windows. Mine definitely had a window, from which I could see a large pit. Not very scenic, but I think that pit is part of the construction for the new Center for Disposable Lighter Repair. Or jazz studies, I forget.

After rolling Beethoven over a few times and dismissing the weird looks from passers-by ("It's performance art. I play Ode to Joy really crappily for ten minutes. Oh, you don't get it?"), I stopped and pretended to study some sheet music. Really I was just listening to the guy next door play something jazzy and wondering if I started today, could I ever practice enough to play piano like that before the carpal tunnel syndrome got me.

I had entered the Con with much trepidation, I must admit. I could see it from the other side, though. Conservatory students in Calculus classes with math wizards (in Missouri we have meth wizards) and feeling totally out of their element. I wonder if more musically gifted Obies feel like the rest of the school looks down at them, but I have to respect (and I know I'm not alone) anybody who puts that amount of effort and time into making something as beautiful as the music I heard in the Con yesterday.

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