Oberlin Blogs

Pursuing Music for College Students: An Interview

April 26, 2021

Ryan Dearon ’18

I don’t think there’s a liberal arts college in this country that offers as much music on its campus as Oberlin. But don't take it from me. 

Together with my wonderful colleague, Cora Hasegawa '19 (a musician in her own right who performed with Oberlin College Taiko, our Japanese drumming group), we reached out to a few current students to see if my hunch was correct. Below are their stories!

Note: “college student” refers to students in Oberlin’s College of Arts & Sciences. 

What musical activities are you a part of at Oberlin?

Emi Abe ‘24
Areas of Study: Neuroscience, Pre-Medicine Program

Right now I’m involved in WOBC-FM, our student-run radio station, and I take secondary lessons in piano. I’ve also played in the pit orchestra with the Oberlin Musical Theater Association (OMTA).

Olivia Fink ‘21
Areas of Study: German, Musical Studies

A group of students singing are being conducted by young woman
Fink conducting a group of singers. Courtesy of Olivia Fink '21.

Some of the things I’ve done include conducting, managing, and performing in the Oberlin College Choir; completing the Conservatory's conducting cycle; serving as the assistant dramaturg for the contemporary opera Proving Up by Missy Mazzoli that was performed for the 2020 Winter Term opera project; and working as the chorus master last semester on the Oberlin Arts & Sciences Orchestra’s Beethoven's Choral Fantasy. I have also conducted two ad-hoc ensembles of my own, including the PHLOX choir as part of the Oberlin Students for Gender Inclusivity in Music's (OSGIM) PHLOX 2020 Winter Term ensembles.

Isabel Ratner ‘22
Areas of Study: Psychology, Education Studies Concentration

A group of students are sight-reading music on a stage
A photo from a 'Round Midnight performance. 
Courtesy of Isabel Ratner '22.

I sing in the Oberlin Gospel Choir, which is made up of conservatory students (jazz singers, classical singers, TIMARA majors, and other instrumentalists) and college students. It’s easily the best part of my week. I've taken General Music Theory and Beginning Voice classes, as well as secondary lessons in Jazz Voice – all of these classes happen in the Conservatory, but are geared more towards college students. I’m also a part of ‘Round Midnight, Oberlin's jazz and folk a capella group. 

What's been your favorite concert on campus thus far?

OF: I've seen concerts by Joyce DiDonato, The Spring Quartet, The Punch Brothers, and organ students performing as part of a beloved Oberlin tradition, Organ Pump, in Finney Chapel. I enjoyed Folk Fest where I was able to see Y La Bamba perform in Tappan Square. I've also loved watching the recitals of my friends!

IR: The best concert I’ve attended would probably be when Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner performed during my freshman year. It’s hard to even describe in words how incredible it was. Everyone was squeezed into the Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse, witnessing utter magic and brilliance. 

How would you describe the musical culture at Oberlin?

EA: There are definitely tons of opportunities spanning all kinds of music at Oberlin.

A girl is sitting playing piano
Emi performing on the piano.
Courtesy of Emi Abe '24.

For example, our a cappella clubs sing pop, classical, and jazz music, and there are also organizations based around specific unique instruments like steelpan or taiko. As a college student, it’s also really easy to be involved in music in the Conservatory through things like chamber music or secondary lessons. 

IR: I would say that it’s pretty vast! In the Conservatory, there’s classical and jazz music. In the College, there are tons of student bands (rock, folk, indie, etc.) that perform around campus, and there's just a general interest in and passion for music. There are also concerts happening pretty much every weekend. I’ve seen Lizzo, Snail Mail, and Esperanza Spalding, and a lot of people just play music together casually! I feel like the range of genres is pretty big, and there are so many ways to get involved, like the Coverband Showcase, a semesterly event that features student bands from across campus, or [the Gear Co-op’s] Rando Bando (similar to the Showcase, but this event has people sign up that are then grouped together into "random" bands and they get to perform in the Dionysus Disco aka "the 'Sco"). 

Could you share some tips for A&S students interested in getting involved in music on campus?

OF: Trust yourself. As long as you bring energy and dedication to all music you learn and perform, professors will give you endless support. Learning never stops for any artist, and Oberlin manifests the perfect environment to explore music in an incredibly thoughtful and encouraging way. 

EA: Keep an eye out for flyers on campus or ask your musically-inclined friends and classmates what kinds of things they’re currently working on!

IR: Go to concerts whenever you can because you won’t always have this easy access to things. The Artist Recital Series concerts feature world-class musicians brought to campus, and we get cheap tickets as students. Introduce yourself to people at concerts, reach out to faculty, and talk to other students who are involved in music that interests you. People here are more than willing to help you. 

Musicians stand on stage in a concert with a packed audience
The College Choir performing in Finney Chapel.
Courtesy of Olivia Fink '21.


Take it from them! Through their stories, hopefully it's clear that Oberlin's music scene truly offers a wide, diverse range of opportunities. And there's even more to explore – you can learn about Oberlin's other musical opportunities on our college music webpage or by watching this short YouTube video. A huge thanks to each of these students for sharing their experiences! 

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