Oberlin Blogs

Flauting Con-vention

January 19, 2011

Ida Hoequist ’14

I'll be honest: I'm not in the Conservatory, but I'm not sure I'd be at Oberlin if it wasn't for the music. Let's have some storytime, and then I'll tell you why.

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Ida. She wanted a flute very badly, and wasn't shy about telling her mother this. She also wasn't shy about repeating it. Indeed, it took several months of repeating to get her parents to cave and find a flute teacher willing to take on a four-year-old, but cave they did. Little Ida's first recital half a year later featured Mary Had A Little Lamb and gratuitous amounts of really adorable mistakes, but she stuck with the lessons for many, many years and eventually learned how to play Mary Had A Little Lamb without mistakes. Now she plays whatever she wants to, including two or three other instruments, and her parents are very happy they let Little Ida have her way. The end.

True story. I don't remember asking for a flute, just like I don't remember a time when I wasn't able to play flute; after doing it every day for fourteen years, some of the days start to blur together. At this point, I think it's safe to say I'm comfortable with the instrument. I think it's also safe to say that I'm in love with it. Despite this love, I made the decision a few years ago to not pursue a professional flute career. There are too many other things I'm wildly curious about to limit myself with commitment, even if I'm passionate about my instrument.

My love affair with flute meant that, when I was deciding where I wanted to go to college, a promising music scene had to be just as much a part of the equation as an excellent liberal arts program. No way was I going to exile myself to a place where I couldn't keep taking lessons, practicing, and hopefully playing with my peers. I've had the misfortune of living places that really can't provide me with musicians my age, on my level, so that's one of the things that had me on the edge of my seat with anticipation about college.

Taking all of this into account, Oberlin looked pretty golden. My only concern was that the Conservatory would be annoyingly exclusive and hoard all the good musicians, and I would be left with a pack of nonmusicians who, while probably still awesome, just wouldn't share my love of jamming out. As a prospie, I tried to poke around and find out about life as a non-Conservatory musician at Oberlin, but the general response I got was "you can do whatever you want." I've since realized that this is almost a mantra at Oberlin, and also absolutely true, but it didn't help me at the time.

So, for all of you music lovers who have decided that you also love other things: here it is. Life as a non-Conservatory musician at Oberlin.

I play flute and piano every day in the practice rooms, and I enjoy it. There's nothing like clearing my head on the bike ride to the Con, walking into the building, and letting the cacophony of fellow musicians hard at work wash over me in a chaotically beautiful prelude to my own practicing. It's a daily ritual I enjoy - daily, not only because I feel like a bad person if I don't practice, but also because I take secondary lessons for credit. I have to make sure I'm prepared for my weekly meeting with the Conservatory flutist who listens to me play etudes and Bach partitas and tells me how I can make it better. He also gives me the lowdown on Conservatory goings-on in between pieces, and we chat about life in general while we put away our instruments at the end; it's less formal than any lessons I've had before, but certainly no less effective. Sometimes he'll play a few measures of the piece I'm working on to demonstrate something and I'll think, "Hey, I can probably do that." And then I do it. It's both inspiring and humbling to be taught by someone not much older than me, who is nevertheless obviously a highly accomplished flutist already. There's an approachability there, but also a sense of awe. Can you say motivation?

In addition to these classes, I recently started sitting in on the weekly flute studio lessons. The professor said that I was welcome to come watch, so for the last few Thursdays of the term, I listened to Conservatory flutists do their thing. It is, again, simultaneously inspiring and humbling. I practice extra hard on Thursdays.

When I've had my fill, I return home to Dascomb. Two of my next-door neighbors are in the Conservatory, for voice and string bass; I watch operas with the tenor, and our whole group of friends goes to their concerts. Con kid or no, almost all of us are classically trained musicians, so we can appreciate the high-quality music our friends produce. I especially look forward to the Conservatory Orchestra's perennially impressive concerts (not least because I'm very proud of my friends in it). For the ambitious College student, the Con Orchestra holds open auditions - but they're difficult, to say the least. That, and there are always more musicians than there are spots, so any non-Con musician would have to beat out Conservatory kids (who, mark you, are majoring in their instrument) to join. I have hopes of trying out next year, but I don't figure I'll make it. I don't mind. I'm having a lot of fun with my flute as it is.

Fun, like the Oberlin College of Arts & Sciences Orchestra (OCASO): a student-run, student-conducted organization that puts on at least one concert per term. There is an overabundance of flutists, so I only played in one piece in this past term's concert. Happily, it was Haydn's Clock Symphony (which was loads of fun). I'm not complaining. Sometimes unfun things happen, too, like having trouble getting rehearsal space when all the Conservatory ensembles needed to rehearse for their concerts. Not being part of the Conservatory, we didn't get priority status - but next term we will be an ExCo! If all goes according to plan, that will mean much more regular rehearsals and definitely two concerts.

Since OCASO welcomes anyone with an interest and an instrument, no one really has control over how big (or tiny) any one section gets, and a wide range of skill levels are represented - consequently, the music has a 50/50 chance of being either banal or impossible to sightread. There's no way to please everyone, but there's also nothing binding about it. OCASO is great because no one is forced to join; everyone in the room is there out of their own free will. They're there because, like me, they need to be in an ensemble to be happy musicians.

I love that I go to a school where, if someone wants to, they can just start their own bleedin' orchestra, and people will join.

Responses to this Entry

Yay for college orchestra! The con is definitely one of my favorite things about being here - the musical atmosphere on campus is incredible. I can't even begin to list the concerts to which I have gone that were thoroughly impressive and enjoyable. Music at Oberlin is the best! :)

Posted by: Patrick on January 20, 2011 10:33 AM

It must be music time at the Oberlin blogs; I'm neck-deep in a post about my relationship to music at Oberlin, too. It also features flutes!

There was a really cool video made about the OCASO last year, which you can watch here.

Yay music! Yay... little Ida! Yay ensembles! Yay!

Posted by: Ma'ayan on January 20, 2011 11:28 AM

ALL of the Oberlin music. Because soon I will be blogging about HANDBELLS! YAY!

Also, the OCASO video is awesome. I'm definitely in the group in the concert, you just can't see me. Jeffrey and Anna are amazing and I'm glad that they started the group.

Posted by: Patrick on January 20, 2011 11:54 AM

Someone besides me pimping College Orchestra!

Posted by: Zoë on January 20, 2011 7:34 PM

What of those who are more inclined toward the jazz side of things? I'm an entering A&S Oberliner (ED1) and I really totally dig the whole music thing. Very seriously. I study and play - I'm in a few groups, a big band or two, blah, but I couldn't do the double degree thing - too little time, was applying to the college, fear (and loathing), depression, self-doubt, etc. From what I've heard/read (especially in this blog), being a college student doesn't mean you can't practice and play regularly, but the big thing is groups! Are con jazz groups open to college students as well? Do we have to set up our own? Also, do college students have the same opportunities to take con classes and study with jazz professors, provided they're fo' real? Can crazy people like me fulfill engineering req's, study jazz guitar and chemistry, and bake bread at the same time?!

Posted by: Dan Bee on January 20, 2011 9:22 PM

Patrick: Yes! Music! And all I wrote about was flute things I do regularly, not even exciting things (or non-flute things) that I love that don't happen every week.

Ma'ayan: I watched that video as a prospie and that's basically why I'm in OCASO. Go publicity!

Zoë: Only every chance I get!

Dan: 1) You are in big bands and bake bread; you are awesome. Oberlin loves you already. I just wanted to say that.
2) I am excited that you have questions, but jazz is not my area of expertise. It makes me sad, but there you have it. As far as I can tell, a lot of jazz ensembles just kind of form informally when friends jam out and realize it's truckloads of fun, but con jazz groups I am completely in the dark about. Perhaps you should direct jazz questions at fellow blogger Will Mason?
3) In my experience, non-Connies take lessons from Connies. I, personally, am trying to finagle my way into lessons from a Con professor right now. It's probably possible, especially if you're super super intense about it! At least, that's what I'm banking on.
4) Seriously? You can do whatever you want. Not even the sky is a limit.

Posted by: Ida Hoequist '14 on January 20, 2011 10:44 PM

Hey Dan,

I've written a little bit about this in past blogs; I'd check out these two posts below and also the comments and I think most of your questions will be answered. The short of it is that you will have to audition to be able to form a conservatory combo, and then you'll have to track down musicians to play with -- so, in other words, passing the audition doesn't guarantee getting into a coached ensemble. the best thing to do is play with a lot of people during orientation.

as for lessons, the faculty here are as accommodating as they can be of talented college students: basically, they teach "X" number of hours each semester, and if those hours are all taken by con students then you're out of luck. but if they have a smaller-than-usual studio you can probably get lessons. bobby ferrazza's the nicest guy you're likely to meet and he'll definitely help you out if he can.



Posted by: Will on January 21, 2011 12:22 PM

Huh. I didn't know that's how it works. Thanks, Will!

Posted by: Ida on January 21, 2011 12:51 PM

as a post script, "Talented college students" isn't meant to sound condescending -- it just was the word that came to mind for trying to separate those who come here having played an instrument for a while from those who come here wanting to learn a new one. (Both are great, but only the former should consider trying to study with faculty.)

Posted by: Will on January 21, 2011 1:38 PM

Gee, thanks for the helpful word lads. Will - I can't believe I missed your post on exactly what I was asking, but I've read all your blogs otherwise. Actually, they were part of the reason I applied to only the college. I figured if I get there and find that I can actually keep up with the other jazz guitarists, it'll still be cool. It's too bad you'll be done by the time I get there, or we could've jammed. Oh well, you know? Anywho, I'm super excited for next fall semester. Thanks a bunch!

Posted by: Dan Bee on January 22, 2011 6:44 PM

As a "prospie" of Oberlin, I really enjoyed reading this article about music in the conservatory and out of it. I have been involved in music as long as I can remember; currently, my main musical instruments are piano, horn, and voice. I think I would like to go into music, possibly as a music teacher, but I'm not entirely sure about that, or even about going into music in general. I do know whether I major in music or not, I would definitely like to be heavily involved in ensembles and courses throughout college. What can anyone tell me about either starting in the Conservatory, and if I decided it wasn't for me, transfering to the college, or starting in the college and attempting to get into the Conservatory later?

Posted by: Erin on February 6, 2011 1:55 PM


The best choice, to me, is to start with the conservatory. It is easier to enroll at Oberlin College after missing your first year (particularly if your interests are varied), while the first year of the Conservatory is so intense that you'll have a much harder time enrolling afterward. If you go double-degree, you can often complete your Bachelor of Music. in four years and have the freedom as a fifth year to pursue varied interests just like a freshman (but with more perspective!).

You should also be very careful; you shouldn't consider applying to the conservatory because you are good at instruments, but instead because you love them and could not see yourself without playing a particular instrument. Very (I mean very!) few people can handle more than one instrument (esp. if one is piano or voice), particularly as a double-degree, so you might need to do some soul-searching.

However, it is an AMAZING idea to apply for a music form you love, then take a few crazy college classes your first year and decide if you want to be double-degree! You can also study music as a Bachelor of Arts student and get some of best experiences of both schools without giving up the liberal arts college experience. You have a lot of choices! Good luck :)

-Seán, a 5th year double degree who started as a conservatory freshman!

Posted by: Seán on February 8, 2011 10:15 PM

Seán: you rock. I could not have put it better myself. In fact, I probably even couldn't have put it that well.

Erin: I hope that helped! Good luck. See you sometime in the future, if all goes well.

Posted by: Ida on February 9, 2011 11:15 AM

Great, thank you so much! I definitely have some "soul-searching" to do, but it'll be easier knowing all of the options I have! I'm also hoping to come visit on one of the weekends in March to get a feel for the campus itself. Thank you guys for the options and the advice :)

Posted by: Erin on February 9, 2011 5:35 PM

Leave a Comment

Similar Blog Entries