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.