Oberlin Blogs


May 28, 2019

Megan McLaughlin ’22

This past finals week, I found myself in the position of only having final projects and no in-class exams, which is not the first time this has happened to me as a music and English major. It’s a good thing, though, because I love making things, and I feel a lot of accomplishment from creating a finished project. Doing final projects at the end of the semester is a way of taking what I learned from the class during the semester and applying it to something I find intriguing and making my professors, and sometimes fellow students, look at it.

The classes I took this semester were more focused around developing my ideas and ways of thinking over the course of thirteen weeks rather than acquiring cumulative knowledge and understanding, as I think many STEM courses are. Final projects, especially for some of the courses I took this semester, are a much better representation of my thinking and growth than exams could be.

Projects allow me to take concepts I’ve learned about over the course of the semester and use them to create something of my own. They are more about working on something that results in a tangible product than working toward a test that ends with simply being over. I learned a lot of things as I went on and on with my projects, instead of relearning things so that I could take a cumulative final. Finals week this semester wasn’t very stressful, because I was working on things that I was interested in finishing and putting out into the world– or at least my professors’ email inboxes.

Here are some of my final projects from this semester:


Aural Skills IV final project–

The instructions for my aural skills final project were basically “do a final project,” which are the kind of directions I thrive off of, because it means I get to do just about whatever I want. This project was my magnum opus for my two years taking music theory and aural skills; I wrote a blog post earlier in the semester about my triumphs and trials taking it, but this final project was pure joy. I did a recreation of Alvin Lucier’s piece “I Am Sitting in a Room,” in which the composer/narrator records audio of himself performing a short monologue and plays it back into the room while re-recording it. With each additional recording, the resonant frequencies are absorbed into the room and eventually the words are no longer audible, and only sound like white noise.

The idea to do this for my final project came from one of our last aural skills classes of the semester, in which we spent all 50 minutes of class listening to and discussing the original “I Am Sitting in a Room.” At the end, Professor Alegant told everyone “you can do this for your final project if you want,” and so I did.

I recruited two of my friends to help with the project– my friend Sam did the narration so I wouldn’t have to listen to the sound of my voice, and my friend Lily took pictures because I wanted to incorporate more “art” into the genre of “sound art.” We spent about an hour and a half in a South Hall bathroom recording and re-recording the audio and then doing a brief photoshoot. The original “I Am Sitting in a Room” is about 45 minutes long, but ours turned out to be right around ten minutes because the acoustics of the bathroom made the frequencies disperse much faster.

This project was a cool mix of art, music, and science, and I’m excited to hopefully take Musical Acoustics in a future semester so I can more fully understand in retrospect the mechanics behind this project.

This picture depicts me and my friend Sam standing in from of a poster with the "I Am Sitting In A Room Monologue" on it. We are fully clothed and soaking wet.
We took pictures before and after doing the recording,
and strove for as much drama as possible.
This picture depicts me and my friend Sam standing in from of a poster with the "I Am Sitting In A Room Monologue" on it. We are fully clothed and perfectly dry.
The poster behind me and Sam has the "I Am Sitting
In A Room" monologue on it.

Desire and Literature final paper–

The instructions for my English final paper were basically “write a six to eight page research paper,” which I did not mind at all. For my paper, I did research on the abstract artist Mark Rothko and related his paintings to the psychology of viewing art. I spent several days researching information about Rothko and his work, as well as reading journal articles and book chapters about him, art museums, and art psychology before I started writing. The first time I encountered Mark Rothko was a Humanities class I took my senior year of high school, and the brilliant thought I produced then was “these are colors.” Over the course of researching and writing this paper, I learned that his art is much, much more than that.

This paper was a great opportunity to explore areas of study that I don’t get to learn about on a day to day basis. Although this class is called Desire and Literature, I explored desire in art; the paper was mandatory, but the topic was completely up to me to decide, which allowed me to explore something completely new. Overall, this project provided me a great deal of enrichment that I probably wouldn’t have pursued if it hadn’t been for this paper. This class is half of a StudiOC cluster I took this semester, which is all about looking at how certain concepts and topics can be approached multidisciplinarily, and this paper was an even further extension of that. I plan on writing a blog post about my StudiOC cluster, which contained Desire and Literature and Desire and the Diva, very soon.

Desire and the Diva final project–

My final project for my music history course came in two parts: a written portion and a presentation to my small class of twelve people. Over the course of this class, we looked at many different historical and popular divas and examined how they fit into the definition we came up with as a class of what a diva is. I took this in a new direction from operatic divas, and looked at someone I consider a diva in a different field. Sarah Willis is the fourth horn player in the Berlin Philharmonic, and I had a great time doing research about her for my blog post on how she is an untraditional diva.

One of my favorite parts of this project was the in-class presentation aspect; the only people who saw my Desire and Literature and Aural Skills IV projects were my professors, which is often how final projects go. I was also the only wind player in this class, and I really liked presenting to a group of vocalists, pianists, and string players on a person I find very inspiring, and introducing them to someone who they might not learn about otherwise. I highly recommend looking up her Instagram.


I’m happy with how these projects turned out, and I also did some soul-searching along the way which resulted in me switching my signature font from Georgia to EB Garamond. And now my next project is reading four Jane Austen books before I leave for my study abroad trip next week! Happy summer, folks!

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