One of the perks of being an organ student at Oberlin is the ability to acquire jobs in the area to apply the skills that we learn in lessons and classes. During my second year as an organist, I did a little bit of substitute organ work for fellow organ majors when they were sick or away, but it wasn’t much. I was enrolled in a Sacred Music Skills course, where we learned the practical skills behind church organ music. At the time, I was not so sure that I liked service playing, but I soon found that this was mostly because I did not yet get the chance to apply all of these skills I was learning.
It wasn’t until Easter of 2017 that I finally acquired a job of my own, working as guest organist at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio. My first service at the church was not what I was expecting at all. The sanctuary sat about 800 people, and it was packed. There was a 40-person volunteer choir, and the church was overflowing with love. I continued to work at Bay Presbyterian Church for the next several months, and I became much more comfortable with service playing. I also grew to adore it. The opportunity to play at this marvelous church was an absolute blessing.
It was at Bay Presbyterian Church that I became much more in touch with my faith. The pastors gave extremely relevant sermons, and I discovered that there’s something truly magical about leading a room full of people in worship. I remember one moment in particular: one week while I was playing the 2nd verse of Be Thou my Vision - I dropped to a very low volume on the organ and could hear everyone in the room singing: hundreds and hundreds of people. It was incredibly powerful.
I loved my time at Bay Presbyterian Church: the congregation, the sermons, the organ, the music. Even though I had to wake up at 7am or earlier every Sunday, I looked forward to it. Between services, I oftentimes took a walk right across the street to the tiny waterfall next to the lake. The church is literally right on the lake! It was nice to be in a different setting for a few hours.
In Autumn, the music ministry at Bay Presbyterian Church went through several changes, and there were many uncertainties for the future of the organ and traditional music at the church. It was so difficult to leave the opportunity to continue at Bay Presbyterian Church. I loved it there, but God was calling me somewhere else.
This somewhere else was Bethany English Lutheran Church in West Park, Cleveland. At Bethany, I have learned a whole other set of skills. At Bay Presbyterian Church, I played several hymns each week. However, at Bethany, I have to follow a liturgy as well. Playing for the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) denomination was something new to me, as was rehearsing with the choir on Thursday evenings. Bethany is a much smaller church, but with no less love resounding through the sanctuary.
Every week, I wake up no later than 7am, play a service at 8:30, take a congregation-wide coffee break at 9:45 and play another service at 11am. This means nothing crazy on Saturday nights! It also means that there are all too often the essential Sunday afternoon naps. I always look forward to the coffee break in between the two services. It’s incredibly refreshing to be able to talk with people outside of Oberlin. At Oberlin, I spend all of my time with people my age who do practically the exact same thing as me. However, there is something really special to me about listening to the stories and happenings of other people at Bethany who lead different lives and are at different stages in their lives than I am.
I have also felt very at home spiritually at Bethany. I’ve come to truly love the spiritual excitement of playing organ: the feeling that I am the one leading the worship. I am responsible for supporting the congregation’s experience in praising God. I am so used to the feeling of performing: sitting at the piano and playing while a whole room full of people sits and listens. However, I find that the feeling of participating with a room full of people is oftentimes an even more powerful experience for me.
Another job I have held at Oberlin is collaborative pianist. After four semesters of accompanying coachings and credits, I was allowed to accompany other Oberlin musicians for pay. The best part is that I can choose who to accompany. When I have a friend I want to play with, I can just do it! This semester, I’m working on the Poulenc cello sonata with a friend, Annika. I am in love with the piece, and I learn so much from the experience of working on it. We rehearse once a week and I often attend her weekly lessons. Last semester, I also accompanied a vocalist and played Prokofiev violin sonata no. 2 with my former roommate, Jae Yee. I even had the chance to perform this with her in her junior recital. Working as a paid accompanist at Oberlin is not a lucrative job ($12/hour), but it is a beneficial experience, considering this is something I love to do, something I am learning tons from, and something I am getting paid to do!
I also work as a secondary piano teacher at Oberlin. This is also a great job just to get further experience in a useful skill. After two semesters of piano pedagogy classes, I was allowed to take on as many students as I wanted. Normally, these are Oberlin students who want to take piano lessons as a non-major. Before Oberlin, I also taught several students, but all of my students were younger and normally beginner students. I loved that, but it’s such a different experience learning how to teach students who are intermediate or advanced and that are actually my age! Again, this is not an incredibly lucrative job ($8/half hour) but there is so much to be learned from it.
My final job here in Oberlin is writing for the Oberlin blogs! I get to write posts like this one, and I love the chance to share little snippits of my life here and reflect on the things that have been most impactful. I love talking with prospective students about the good and the bad, the best and the worst, etc. etc. etc. - so if you have any other questions, please do reach out and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.