Oberlin Blogs

Practicing Performing

May 5, 2023

Ben Smith ’24

There are concerts going on at Oberlin quite literally every day. A quick scan of the Oberlin Events page or a glance at all the programs posted outside the Concert Production Office and you’ll see there is plenty of opportunity for your concert-going needs. 

Recital season is coming to a close right about now, but peak season was filled with recitals. I didn’t attend a concert literally every day, but with the time that I didn’t spend attending a concert as an audience member, I usually spent preparing for other concerts as a performer. Performance opportunities can take shape in a number of ways at Oberlin: departmental recitals, studio recitals, ad hoc recitals, student composer recitals, first- and second-year juries, junior recitals, senior recitals, ChamberFest, opera performances, large ensemble concerts…I think that’s all of them? 

Rather than talk about each of these opportunities, I’ll give a look into what my performance schedule was like during the month of April. 

April 8 – Stephanie’s Senior Recital

Kicking off April, I played alongside my lovely friend Stephanie Manning in her Senior Bassoon Recital. Stephanie, Xinyi Wei, our pianist, and I have been in a chamber group since the beginning of this semester. Stephanie asked us to play in her senior recital back in February, and I was looking forward to it ever since. Our performance was very enjoyable and was one of the highlights of the semester for me, complete with matching red outfits. 

April 14 – Chamber Orchestra Concert

Mid-April brought Oberlin’s Chamber Orchestra performing Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2 and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish.” The rehearsals leading up to this concert were a little stressful, but it was well worth the effort to play these fun orchestral works. Performing in Finney Chapel and looking out at the romantic lanterns adorned across the balcony always makes me smile. 

All of the woodwinds who played in Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 smiling holding instruments in the basement of Finney Chapel.
And so do these people!
Photo credit: Ian McEdwards

April 19 – Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion Departmental Recital

On the opposite end of the stress spectrum we have the Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion Departmental Recital–an incredibly low-stakes event that serves as a good opportunity to get on stage and try some music that is in need of some performance practice. This particular departmental recital featured four performances: a woodwind trio, J.S. Bach’s flute partita on oboe, a movement from Mozart’s Concerto No. 3 for Horn, and J.S. Bach’s flute partita yet again, but this time on flute. With an audience of approximately 3-5 people, this recital made for a good trial run and served as an even better opportunity for post-performance photos.

Myself and oboist Chiara Rackerby on stage in Kulas Recital Hall facing each other menacingly whilst holding our instruments.
"The Bach Battle of the Century"
Photo credit: JY Yuan

April 22 – ChamberFest! 

Next up is the three-day performance marathon of chamber music performances held in Stull Recital Hall from groups of students across all instrumental departments: ChamberFest! As a flutist, I’ve never actually taken part in ChamberFest! until this semester (it’s a requirement for all string chamber groups), so I was curious what the experience would be like. I’d say overall it’s a fun experience, also another one of the “no pressure” sort. If I remember correctly, the recital I played on was met with a nearly full house, which was honestly a little surprising. I didn’t quite know what to expect regarding the turnout, but I ran into some students afterwards who said nice words about our group’s performance. I walked away from ChamberFest! glad that I took part–big thumbs up from me. 

April 25 – Flute Studio Recital 

The semester-annual Flute Studio Recital is an event organized solely by the flute studio and our leader/savior/flute professor, Alexa. These events are usually on the longer side, running from about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half. Totally unbiased here, but I think our studio does a good job of making the time fly by, with this last recital consisting of a self-composed work (with accompaniment), exciting chamber works, and standard repertoire spanning from from Roussel to Zyman. These recitals always give a boost to the studio morale and allow us each the opportunity to see how we have grown so far on our journeys here.

*Bonus* May 5 – Woodwind, Brass, and Percussion Departmental Recital

Okay, so while it was not in April, there’s one last performance that I want to mention. And yes, it is another WBP Departmental Recital. With it being the final departmental recital of the semester, the turnout was on the higher side, but this performance was enjoyable because my group consisted of my friends Sofía Jingxuan Chen and Harry Sneddon. Sofía and I were sitting in Finney Chapel before an Oberlin Orchestra concert when we got the idea to play together before the end of the semester. Later that night we texted each other different repertoire ideas and, a few weeks later...

Sofía, myself, and Harry performing on stage in Kulas Recital Hall.
We were doing the thing :)
Photo credit: Kaiya Noguera

There are a lot of ways to get performance experience at Oberlin, many of which are completely voluntary. Every performance this semester has been a learning opportunity, a chance to reflect on how I can improve going forward and an acknowledgment of how far I've come. I know I’m going to miss Oberlin when I graduate, but the chance to do all these different performances with my friends will be something I cherish. 

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