Oberlin Blogs

Music from a Non-Conservatory Perspective

April 30, 2021

Lanie Lee Cheatham ’24

As other bloggers have explored in various posts, there are many opportunities for music for students that are not enrolled in the Conservatory. Here in this post, I’ll share a more in-depth look into music at Oberlin from two college students, me and my friend Morgan Piper Cordova. 

I applied and decided to go to Oberlin not based on music at all. I enjoy listening to music and I have dabbled in playing various instruments over the years, but it was not something I necessarily wanted to pursue in higher education. Coming to Oberlin, I have been immersed in music. The campus of Oberlin, music events, and the students have all made me come to appreciate music as an art. This semester, I decided to sign up for Beginning Piano, taught by a conservatory professor. I learned some basic music theory and techniques for piano playing. There are also many opportunities to listen to live music, more during a normal year, but there are still some now. Last weekend, I went to an amazing ethereal TIMARA (Technology In Music And Related Arts) performance, showcasing the art of Claudia Hinsdale. There was music, singing, and lights across the exterior of Mudd Library. Today, I went to another TIMARA performance over Youtube for Maxwell Addae which was extremely powerful. It incorporated acapella, images, coding, and dance music. Both of these performances were incredibly amazing, almost spiritual experiences that made me truly appreciate being on a campus where there are so many artists and musicians, and they share their art with you in such public ways. 

Morgan Piper Cordova is a first-year student in the college, major to be determined, and is also taking secondary music lessons with a jazz piano professor (Dan Wall). He is also taking a conservatory class, Internalizing Rhythms. I sat down and interviewed him about his experiences getting involved in music at Oberlin. 

L: Did you decide to come to Oberlin because of the opportunities for music and the Conservatory?

M: Yeah. I figured when I applied here that there were plenty of opportunities for me to both participate in the conservatory and the college, or while still being a college student. But it's been weird because I've sort of just discovered that secondhand through being here. Like I have never really, nobody really answered how to clear, or I never really asked how involved you could be in both with only being a college student or only being a conservatory student for that matter. This year, a lot of the classes are smaller, so there's less opportunity for college students since they get less priority when taking conservatory classes.

L: How long have you been playing piano before coming here? 

M: I started when I was seven or six. So I came here when I was 19. So what's that, 13 years doesn't seem right. But I guess it is 13 years. Yeah, tremendous. I didn't apply to the conservatory either, I thought I should mention that. 

L: Have you found it easy to get involved in the conservatory?

M: I sort of found out secondhand about what college students can do in the Con through seniors, juniors, and sophomores. What I do know is that the conservatory is very accessible for students in the college, but to somebody who's a really serious musician or serious about playing music—serious musician is such a dumb combination of words, who's like joking about music, everybody's serious about music—but people who are serious about playing with other people and being in an environment that has a lot of music in it. It is very easy to do conservatory classes, even this year. It's a little bit more difficult, but still pretty easy.

L: Tell me about Internalizing Rhythms. What is the class and what do you learn?

M: Internalizing Rhythms is a class taught by Jaimie Hadad in the Conservatory. It is a study into world rhythm but a focus on the Carnatic rhythms of South Asia. It is really an exploration into rhythm as a whole, what makes something groove for us, and broadening our scope of what rhythm is. I got lucky because there's a lot of seniors in the conservatory who have wanted to take it for the last four years but it didn't fit with their schedule, so they're just taking it now. I found out about it early and I was able to take it and it took up a lot of space in my schedule and it doesn't give me as many credits or it doesn't actually give me any credits, frankly, through the college unless I want to be a music studies major. I don't get any credits for my future major from any of the Con classes I take. But I still take them for the sake of learning music. 

L: How have you accessed secondary lessons? You take lessons with a professor, right? Is that normal?

M: I got lucky last semester by getting to take lessons from a professor. This semester, it wasn't necessarily about luck, but it was just because I had been playing with Dan Wall since last semester and he knew my ability, so he said he would give me lessons if he had space. And he had space, but--maybe this is just speaking to the jazz studies department--but in a normal year, I think it's more difficult to take classes directly from the professor. A lot of his students decided to just take time off to avoid student classes. I should mention, people who are in the college often take lessons from a student that are only 30-minute lessons. But I mean, anybody who likes music, it doesn't matter if you're taking lessons from a professor. If you're taking lessons from a student, the students are really good. And they've been taking lessons from professors, so they have a good idea of how to teach. 

L: Do you feel like you gained an increased appreciation for music at Oberlin?

M: Oh yeah, definitely. Oh my gosh. Tenfold, uh, I've had the same music teacher my whole life, like from when I was very young, six or seven to, um, I was 17. My high school didn't really have a music department. We had a choir and then my senior year, we got our jazz band back. So I didn't have a really musical community. It was just individuals that I would play music with once in a while and they were great. It's something that's shared within your community. That's what makes it so powerful. It's so great.

L: How have you grown as a musician by coming to Oberlin?

M: Before Oberlin, I was very jealous of other musicians when they were very good. I didn't necessarily take that as something to learn from. I took it as something to be threatened by. And I came here and I saw all these students that were so amazing. You start to realize that you're never going to be the best, but it doesn't matter who's the best or who's not the best because everybody has something to bring to the table. Oberlin really acknowledges that. There's no real hierarchy, which I think is different from most conservatories. Seniors play with freshmen all the time, freshmen play with juniors and sophomores juniors, sophomores will invite freshmen to jam. There's no real combo competition.

L: What is something you appreciate about the students here?

M: People are so excited about music here. People listen to music and really love it. And people really love just music in general, which is something that I haven't really come across. I've come across individuals who really love music, in the past but it's been difficult to share that with them. But here, you meet students who love jazz music. And I go to these Oberlin jazz society meetings. And these big-time jazz artists attend, Mark Turner was there today. He is really cool and had some really great things to say. And that was just open to anybody. You kinda do have to know somebody, but if you ask around, you can get involved. And maybe that's also this year. Maybe it's more accessible in a normal year. 

L: Have you had the opportunity to experience musical performances a lot here? Did you go to the cover band showcase the other day?

M: Yeah! Did you hear the Phineas and Ferb cover band? Oh, they were killer. Everybody loves music here, whether they play it or not. Everybody loves music. You can always see. It's always great. You can see music downtown too and it is easy to get involved. And they have music in Wilder Bowl, like the cover band showcase and other performances. 

L: What has impacted you the most musically at Oberlin?

M: I would say the community has had the most impact on me and on my understanding of music. My piano teacher back home, his brother went to Julliard. He used to tell me the story about how his brother was a super talented, incredible musician and he really loved music. But after a semester at Juilliard, he just hated it because of the competition on campus. It just wasn’t worth it to him anymore, because music isn’t supposed to be competitive. It's not competitive. It's only competitive because people feel as though they need to prove something or they've been told that they'd feel like they need to prove something. Cause that's what you need to do to “make it” or whatever. People aren't worried about “making it” here. Sometimes we'll get somebody to come in and they'll be like talking about how the music industry works or something. And that bothers me because I don't really care. Some people do need to know that that is sort of important, but like the concerns about “making it” aren't there. People don't care if you “make it” or not. They just want to play music, which is cool. Very great. I like that. That's all I have to say. 

L: Great! Thank you so much for taking the time to be interviewed!

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