Oberlin Blogs

My Journey to Oberlin

March 24, 2018

Rachel Gibson ’20

I am originally from rural Pennsylvania, so when I visited Oberlin, I thought the place was huge. I couldn’t believe how much there was to do (and sometimes I still have trouble choosing what events to go to or what concerts to see). This school was definitely my “reach” school, so when I found out that I was accepted into the Conservatory, I was ecstatic and also in a bit of disbelief. My high school’s music department was extremely small, and my graduating class was only about sixty students, even though it was a public school. I never had the opportunity to go to music camps over the summer, and I never was able to study at a music pre-college like some of my fellow Obies did. I just did not know how a person like me could end up at such a prestigious school like Oberlin, especially as a Pell grant and first-generation student. I learned that with a lot of hard work, it does not matter where you come from, only where you go from there. 

I am going to rewind for a minute because I actually never had heard of Oberlin until I was a junior in high school.

I became intensely serious about percussion in 7th grade, even though I started in 4th grade. There was an honor band for middle school students in my county, and, unfortunately, all of the percussion spots were filled up by the time my band director was able to put my name down to be picked, so I was not selected. Two days before the concert, a percussionist couldn’t come to the concert, so they dropped out. My band director knew I could learn the music fast and volunteered me to fill the spot. That concert band was the best band I had played with at that point in my early music career, and I was so thankful I was able to have the opportunity to play in it. And it happened all by chance! From there on, I made a vow to myself to be the best percussionist that I could possibly be.

So I practiced.

And I practiced. And I practiced as hard as I could. I begged my parents for a marimba (I got a xylophone instead, but I still love it so much and still practice on it when I am on breaks). I practiced at home. I practiced at school. I never could seem to get enough of it. I joined a youth orchestra in 8th grade because my school didn’t have one. I knew this was what I was meant to do.

When I was in high school, I started auditioning for honor band and orchestra festivals through PMEA (Pennsylvania Music Education Association) because my school paid for students to go if they had a successful audition. I gained ensemble experience through these festivals. I started taking private percussion lessons in 10th grade, and I joined a bigger youth orchestra.

By junior year, I wanted to start looking at music schools, but I had no clue where to start. I did not know that taking sample lessons with professors as a prospective student was the norm, so I didn’t do any of that.

Then I found Oberlin through a Google search.

Every year, Oberlin holds a performing arts college fair, so I thought touring the school and also getting information about others all at once would be a good place to start my college search. I didn’t think I would have the funds to travel and visit many other colleges before auditioning, so I thought everything would be in one place. I really liked Oberlin when I toured and just decided I would audition there - I don’t think I actually understood how famous Oberlin was.

Believe it or not, a week before my Oberlin audition, I almost cancelled it! I was set on going to another school at the time, and I didn’t think I would get into Oberlin. However, something inside of me said that I should at least try, or I would never know what would have happened. So I ended up going and learned so much more about the school thanks to the prospective student dinners that the Conservatory has for percussion students. I happened to be the only one that was there a day early, so three percussion majors took me out to dinner and I was able to ask them any questions I had about Oberlin. They did such a good job at showcasing Oberlin that I was convinced I had to come here. I thought my audition went okay, and I left Oberlin nervous, excited, and hoping I would be accepted.

During the first weeks of March, I received an email from Michael Rosen (my percussion teacher here at Oberlin) saying it was looking good that I would be accepted. I was so excited! I waited a few more weeks, and boom! I received my acceptance packet in the mail. I was going to Oberlin.

I love Oberlin’s location because it is close to Cleveland, but it is also out of the way on its own. Overall, the campus makes me feel safe because it’s rural and small. However, it still has many cool shops, like Ratsy’s, Ben Franklin’s, and Gingko Gallery. There’s also a neat antique shop that I like to browse. There’s a nice variety of restaurants as well (way more than the ones in my hometown). Oberlin’s rural location allows me to truly focus in on my work. There’s also so much to do every day here, and there’s literally never a dull day in Oberlin. I don’t have a driver’s license either, so I am always in Oberlin, and I am never bored.

On the other hand, Conservatory students have to take 32 credits of liberal arts courses while they’re at Oberlin, which totals to one four-credit class in the college every semester. The awesome thing is that you can pick whatever subject you are interested in, and I love how Oberlin has a huge selection of classes to choose from. Class sizes are pretty small, and I was already used to that type of setting, so it was easy for me to adjust. Students have more individualized attention from the professors, which I believe is a very valuable thing to have. I love all my professors and my classes.

The Conservatory has four main ensembles and many opportunities for chamber music. Since Oberlin is all undergraduate students, you are pretty much guaranteed to start playing as soon as you arrive here. I love the small, vibrant community that the Conservatory has - everyone is passionate about their work, and this environment continues to motivate me. We also have had several wellness workshops centered on Alexander technique and performance anxiety.

Lastly, I fell in love with experimental music almost as soon as I came to Oberlin, which led me to the Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) program. This program is truly one of a kind. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting myself into, but for some reason I just knew I would love it. Now, I am a double major in percussion and TIMARA, and I am loving every second of both.

Oberlin takes you down unexpected paths and allows students to explore so many different subjects and interests. I would never be the person I am today if I had not chosen Oberlin. I guess in a way I never felt like I fit in during my high school years. When I came to Oberlin, I knew I had found a place where I truly belong.

And if you were accepted to Oberlin, you certainly were accepted for all the right reasons.

Girl standing behind sign in front of Oberlin Conservatory of Music.
One of my very first pictures as an accepted student.


Leave a Comment

Similar Blog Entries