As I head into my final semester and hurtle toward graduation, I thought I would take a blog post to talk about one of my favorite experiences thus far in my time as an undergraduate. Last year was a bit strange; Oberlin did a three-semester system to depopulate the campus during Covid, so there were students enrolled and on campus over the summer. I wasn’t taking classes during the summer semester, but I still found myself staying on campus, working in the Writing Center and giving tours for the Conservatory Admissions Office. Due to the altered academic calendar for that year, no Conservatory students were enrolled over the summer, so the music I was making was mostly on my own.
One day early into the semester, I saw a post in one of the class Facebook groups saying that instrumentalists were needed for the pit orchestra for the summer musical— I immediately got on board with the production. I’ve loved musicals since childhood; they may be the thing in the world I know the most about. If I were on Jeopardy, musicals is the category I would sweep. When I was applying to college, I wrote my Common Application essay about how a high school production of The Phantom of the Opera I saw in the seventh grade made me fall in love with music. I really cannot stress enough how much I love musicals and how well versed I am in musical theater repertoire.
In spite of my deep love for musical theater, I haven’t participated in many shows. In high school, I didn’t play in a musical until my senior year, because those were the only shows that had horn parts. At Oberlin, all of the musicals that have been done in my time either didn’t have a horn part or I missed the casting call for them. The fact that it had been so long since I had played in a musical on top of the fact that this would be my first in-person performance since the start of pandemic made me extremely excited to take part in this production.
The musical was A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and it was put on by the Oberlin Musical Theater Association (OMTA), which is a student-run theater organization on campus. It’s a super fun show; I would describe it as goofy, hilarious, and an all-around good time. The show follows Monty Navarro, who is told that he is ninth in line to be the next Earl of Highhurst, much to his surprise. He proceeds to murder the members of his family who are ahead of him in line for the throne, while also trying to navigate a love triangle and not get caught in the midst of his crimes. It’s an odd summary, but it is a comedy, and I highly recommend giving it a listen.
Because OMTA is entirely student-run, all of the cast, crew, and production was headed by students. The pit orchestra was led by a student music director, and met once or twice a week until tech week, when we met just about every day. Given that the only Conservatory students who were on campus were individuals who elected to stay over the summer, the pit was almost entirely composed of College musicians. Some of them were students I’d worked with before, and it was really great to see everyone again and to meet new people. I am of the opinion that College music majors are one of the most special aspects of Oberlin, and I really enjoyed playing with new musicians in a different setting than I usually perform in the Conservatory.
In addition to meeting new people in the pit, just about everyone in the cast were individuals I hadn’t met before. I didn’t end up interacting with them too much, because the pit didn’t rehearse with the cast until shortly before tech week, but I find myself constantly astounded by all of the talented musicians in the show. There are so many incredible musicians who aren’t enrolled in the Conservatory! And they are so talented! I am a very easy crier but there were numerous occasions when their performances in the show brought tears to my eyes.
Musical theater is special— it’s not like other music. I think musical theater may be the most collaborative art form there is. Of course I like playing symphonies and other entirely instrumental works in my Conservatory ensembles, but the energy of playing a musical is like nothing else. The dynamic between the performers and the audience is so lively and intimate. Every performance of a musical is a little bit different than the last one; there’s a wardrobe malfunction, or an actor skips a line and the pit has to jump in early, or the audience finds a joke especially funny. Musicals feel alive and interactive in a way other performances simply don’t. I love being a part of something bigger, and I certainly got that feeling being in this production.
It was a great experience. I’m actively trying to make my fifth year my best year, and I can safely say that I got a good start by being a part of AGentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.