The Power of Electives
Today I’m writing about a class that had a life-changing influence on my time at Oberlin, leaving me with a whole new world of ideas and options to explore. It was registration season in my first year, and I was sitting in my teacher’s office on a rainy November day going through my schedule for the following semester (Conservatory majors have their private instructors as advisors, while double-degree students also have college advisors). Everything seemed straightforward, and I decided I would get a head start on my Conservatory electives. Presto (which is now OberView) had two clearly designated elective options – music criticism and harpsichord tuning. Although harpsichords are very cool, I didn’t see the point in learning to tune one if I couldn’t play it, so I decided on music criticism (now retitled music journalism).
There was a vague conception in my head that writing would be involved when I walked through the door the following February. I had always enjoyed writing, so I was ready for anything and everything. Music journalism is taught by Mike, Dan, and Don. Don has since relocated to New York, but the team is made up of amazingly knowledgeable music critics who are active in a variety of professional music journalism platforms. They essentially teach how to listen to music, and put one’s hearing into words. This is an incredibly valuable skill as a musician, since most of us will probably be asked to write program notes, contribute to an article, or maybe just talk about what we do at some point in our careers.
The class is taught as an introductory class in the fall, and an advanced course in the spring. Since I discovered it in the spring, I asked if I could be consented and jumped in for the advanced course, which worked out really well.
Not only did the class greatly improve my writing, but it also made me expand my horizons musically. Throughout the semester, students attend their choice of a variety of events, write about it, and bring their writings to class for the great dissection. Oberlin has more than 500 concerts a year, which is amazing, but I certainly wasn’t going to all of them, and was perhaps even starting to take this amazing range of performances for granted. In this class I had to go to something every weekend, and I found myself having a blissful evening listening to a classical guitar duo, something as a violin performance major I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.
As the middle of the semester came rolling around I started enjoying myself so much, I began wondering what things I could do with my writing skills. I began to wonder if this is something I could pursue along with my violin playing.
At the end of the class, we celebrated with some wonderful homemade bread Don brought in, and were each awarded personal certificates of accomplishment, celebrating our various personality quirks that surfaced in the many writings we had shared. Mike and Dan later asked me if I would like to continue writing, perhaps contributing occasionally to their website . Of course I jumped at the opportunity, and have since written a number of CD reviews, concert previews, and news articles. I spent a semester learning about their editing process, applied to be a program-book editorial assistant at Aspen, and decided to become an Oberlin blogger.
The class changed how I view my writing, how I listen, how I describe what I hear, and gave me a wealth of knowledge about music at Oberlin and in the greater Cleveland area. In preparation for my CD reviews I have spent many hours listening to the contemporary music ensemble ARS Futura, fallen in love with a saxophone and harp duo, and discovered how expressive piano rags can be. So, as add/drop comes around, don’t be tempted by that beguiling harpsichord, check out music journalism and have some fun writing, editing, and listening to music.