Oberlin Blogs

Oberlin in NYC Tour: Rehearsals & the Road Ahead

January 15, 2019

Rachel Gibson ’20

Two drums, pianos in the background, and a conductor upstage.
Photo credit: Rachel Gibson

Winter term is a special time for Obies to pursue any sort of project they want. It could be research, it could be an independent activity that they did not have time to do during the semester, or it could be a collaborative project with a group. For my winter term project, I am going on tour with the Oberlin Orchestra and Choir to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City!

This is an exciting opportunity, and I think it will be an interesting adventure. Even though I am from Pennsylvania, I have never been to NYC and I never played in Carnegie Hall either. I am from such a rural part of PA, so it will be awesome to have the chance to see a big and iconic city. 

Before I even start, I want to give a huge thanks to my percussion teacher, Prof. Michael Rosen and of course, the TIMARA department for their continued support in everything that I do. BUT! I also want to give my sincerest and most heartfelt thanks for Leah Brockman, our operations and ensemble personnel manager and Marjorie Gold, our production manager and technical director. This tour would be NOTHING without their hard work and dedication to the students. They have been at every rehearsal and helping to make sure all our percussion instruments get to the right place at the right time. Huge thanks to all of these wonderful people. 

If you are familiar with orchestras or any sort of music ensemble, you might realize that percussion is a different sort of family of instruments in comparison to others. So here is an inside look at what we were up to.  

First, both the orchestra and the choir will be performing in a combined concert on January 19. There are four works on the concert. Percussion is playing in all of them. The choir will be on the first half of the concert, and we will be playing Tarik O'Regan's Triptych and Igor Stravinsky's Les Noces. The orchestra is on the second half, and we are playing Elizabeth Ogonek’s All These Lighted Things and Claude Debussy's La Mer. I'm going to be playing in every piece. What a concert! It's going to be a long one. 

For all of us percussionists, the tour rehearsals began on January 7 with the choir. Then on the 9, those in orchestra started to have two rehearsals a day. I have choir in the mornings in Warner Concert Hall from 10AM-12:30PM and then orchestra in Finney Chapel from 2PM to 4:30PM. On paper, this looks sort of like a breeze. But in reality, we usually had to get to our first rehearsal around 9AM each day to set up all our instruments. The hour and a half break between choir and orchestra rehearsals becomes short if you are a percussionist. All of these pieces are percussion-heavy, which does not make moving equipment any easier. 

January 7 - First Day of Choir Rehearsal

Around 7:30AM, I was able to take a run outside around Oberlin. It was so nice. Exercising always helps me focus.

A sidewalk in Oberlin in the morning.

At 9AM, I was in Warner setting up for Les Noces

Breakfast time! I am meal prepping in advance to save time. I packed overnight oats for breakfast.

Overnight oats and bananas in a cup.


Downbeat is at 10AM for rehearsal. We’re all ready to go. I’m playing two drums, one tom-tom and a snare drum with snares off. I also play crotales at the very end. This is a really fun part!

Two pianos, two drums, and a conductor in a concert hall.

A panoramic view of the stage. Drums, xylophone, pianos, and other percussion instruments.

I had the rest of the day off.

January 8 - Second Day of Choir Rehearsal

Today, I was able to go for another run outside. Unfortunately, this was my last run outside because snow soon came, so now I have to run at the gym.

A sidewalk in Oberlin in the morning.

Today was our first rehearsal for Triptych, which is for eight percussionists and choir. It is weird being upfront on stage because we are always in the back. All of us are playing mallet instruments. I am playing vibraphone and marimba.

Eight percussionists with marimbas, xylophones, and vibraphones.

I had the rest of the day off, but soon that changed.

January 9 - First Day of Having Both Choir and Orchestra Rehearsal

We had to get to Finney at 8AM to set up for orchestra, since that is when stage crew started setting up all the chairs. Then, off to choir rehearsal at 10AM.

People setting up chairs on a stage.

Back of the stage. Percussion instruments, like cymbals and glockenspiel are pictured.

 Orchestra rehearsal went well, and now things are in full swing. I am playing glockenspiel and tam-tam in La Mer, and a variety of percussion instruments for All These Lighted Things

January 11 - Orchestra!!

Two of the percussionists were in another choir piece that is going to be performed at the Eastman School of Music after we are done at Carnegie, so they were off with the choir in Cleveland for a performance. This meant that everyone in orchestra had rehearsal in Finney in the morning. Everything is going pretty well. It was nice, though, we did not have sectionals, so I had an afternoon break. I went to dinner at Aladdin’s, a restaurant in Oberlin that serves Mediterranean food. It is probably my favorite place to eat.

Percussion instruments on stage. No lights on.
A dark Finney Chapel at 9AM.

January 12 - I'm Exhausted, Les Noces ‘‘Extravaganza’’

What a day. As usual, we had to get set up for choir at 9AM. We ran Les Noces for two hours, then loaded Leah’s car at 12PM with our instruments for another choir rehearsal. I thought maybe I could relax and eat lunch, but then orchestra rehearsal started at 1PM. So I chewed my food fast and ran over to Finney. Good thing I had most of my stuff set up! Had a two-hour rehearsal, and then we are on the move again, setting up for Les Noces in Finney. 

The rehearsal started and it lasted three hours. In total, I think I was in rehearsal for like eight hours today. I was pretty mentally drained at the end of the day. Even though percussion might not have as many notes to play in comparison to other instruments, we still have to be focused counting rests or listening in rehearsal just in case the conductor calls out a measure number where we play. Weirdly, it gets tiring. Or maybe I’m more tired from moving instruments. It’s all a blur.

Drums, stands, stacked against the wall of Finney Chapel.
A little equipment move to Finney.

Finney Chapel stage. Six percussionists on stage with drums, cymbals, etc.

I ended the day by going to see On the Basis of Sex at the Apollo movie theatre in Oberlin. It was about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is one of the U.S.’s Supreme Court justices. It was a really inspiring movie. She was definitely pursuing a career in a male-dominated field at the time. I felt like I could relate in terms of being a woman in percussion. I am still the only one in my studio, and this is my third year at Oberlin. So, if you happen to be at the concert in NYC, I think you will be able to know which one is me.

January 13 - A Little R&R

I got to sleep in, and I took a rest day from exercising. This was a much-needed day, and it went way too fast. I still spent the day at the conservatory practicing, but it was nice to not be rushing around from rehearsal to rehearsal. 

January 14 - I’m Even More Exhausted 

Today was long and rough. I think others were feeling it too. We are halfway there, though. All the ensembles sound really awesome! I feel super comfortable with the music. 

We had our official tour meeting today, where we received some Oberlin in NYC swag and found out our itinerary, bus assignments, and roommate assignments. It looks like there will still be early mornings for the percussionists. The grind never stops.

A lady stands on stage above the crowd for a meeting.
Our official tour meeting.

January 15 - Finally All In Finney, Business As Usual

Today, both the choir and the orchestra are in Finney rehearsing for our pre-tour concert. We had run-throughs of all our pieces, and everyone seems to be happy that the hard work has paid off.

Marimbas, vibraphones, xylophones on stage at Finney Chapel, conductor up front.

Conductor works with the choir.

January 16 - Pre-Tour Concert: The Adventure Begins

Wish me luck. Watch the livestream at 7:30PM.

My favorite piece has to be Les Noces. It is rarely performed, so it is also a rare opportunity to perform it on a world stage. There is a full choir, four soloists, four pianos, and a percussion section. You don’t see that often. What is great about this work is that Stravinsky does not use many percussion instruments other than your standard orchestral ones like snare drum, tambourine, bass drum, xylophone, etc. He keeps it simple. Each player is only playing one or two instruments. However, he uses them so beautifully that I think he was able to get all the sounds he wanted . Even though he only utilized a few. 

Overall, this tour has been a lot of work, but everyone sounds great. I think we will have a wonderful concert. All the rehearsals have made me feel really confident in the parts that I play, so hopefully I won’t be too nervous. 

It has been a rewarding experience. Through all the craziness that is the tour, it is really my friends at Oberlin (the percussion studio) and the people who are helping us along the way (Leah, Marjorie, Prof. Rosen, I'm looking at you!) who make everything worthwhile. 

Stay tuned for another blog post about my time in NYC.

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