Oberlin Blogs

I did nothing for Winter Term.

January 31, 2024

Ben Smith ’24

I spent the entirety of Winter Term at home in my small town of Monroe, Georgia. This was something I never thought I’d do during my time at Oberlin. Not that I dislike being home, rather my hometown was a place I didn’t feel much connection to. Why go back to a place I wanted to leave after 18 years of feeling stuck there? This was my rationale prior to arriving home this past December. Pretty doom and gloom.

The Oberlin Orchestra's flute section standing and smiling in front of Carnegie Hall.
*insert obligatory Carnegie Hall photo*
photo credit: Alexa Still 

Plus, Winter Term is a great opportunity to explore any project you put your mind to, or at least that’s the whole premise. My winter term projects were varied and fulfilling each in their own way. For those curious, I did the following: 

  1. A flute repair project led by my flute professor, Alexa. 
  2. A large composition project that I am still working on to this day. 
  3. A trip to New York City and performance at Carnegie Hall with the Oberlin Orchestra. 

Here’s the facts though: you are only required to do three projects during your time at Oberlin and I’m in my fourth year. You can do that math. After doing more traveling than I ever thought I’d do the past two years, what my body was telling me to do was just spend time at home. A sort of self-induced hibernation: that’s what was calling to me. I deleted all my social media the day I returned home (December 14), bought a couple books, grabbed a journal, and let my brain sort out all the thoughts that I haven’t had the chance to parse out. 

[At this point, you might’ve guessed that the title of this blog isn’t the whole story. To be fair, I wouldn’t say it’s clickbait, either. Just... stay with me.]

During this break, my practice was perhaps the best, most mindful practice I’ve ever had the past couple of years. I was curious and open-minded about where the flute and I would find ourselves each time I picked it up–-how I could grow a little closer each day to becoming the musician I want to be. Not each day of this was fun, some were (and still are) very frustrating, but I think that sums up the learning process when you’re digging deep.

Right now, it feels like I'm on the cusp of a lot of things–like I'm nearing the top of this big mountain, but one momentary look away and then the peak appears higher than before. That saying about "the goalpost keeps moving," it's real. On the frustrating days, I turn to other avenues to remind myself why I’m doing all this. Some are simple distractions and some fuel my creativity. Often, I write. It’s always something I’ve just sort of “done,” you just happen to be reading the most public-facing version of it. I'm exploring what this public-facing sort of writing could look like post-Oberlin.

Final year of undergrad can be a stressful time. Moving on to next steps, it’s reminiscent of applying to undergrad… although it’s certainly not the same. Feels a bit bigger in scope, but a bit less scary, too. It is still a transition, but I feel pretty different from when I was doing this at 18. My relationship with music has changed. My relationship with myself has changed (and is far better, for that matter). It may seem cheesy/overly-romantic/farfetched to say I did some soul-searching over this past month and a half, but honestly, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an apt description. Now, although my relationship with myself is different, it’s not to say I don’t still face challenges. Au contraire. I still have some internal demons runnin’ around and, although they mean well, their attempts at helping me always end up being in vain. Everyone’s got demons, though, and I’m learning that may just be part of the human experience. Anyways.

When asked how my winter break was, in lieu of complicating the conversation I’ll probably say something along the lines of, “Great! All I did was stay at home!” But for anyone who reads this, well... you'll know what I really mean.

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