Oberlin Blogs

A Semester in Review

December 29, 2018

Rachel Gibson ’20

At the beginning of the 2018 spring semester, I officially added TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) as a second major in addition to Percussion Performance. I took 26 credits, and even though I took more credits than I ever did before, I think that was my best semester yet. Having a loaded schedule just means that I have to spend my time wisely and efficiently, which really motivates me. 

This semester, I faced my biggest challenge yet as a fully fledged, double major in the conservatory: 28 credits. Double majors in the conservatory are different from the Double Degree Program. I'll still graduate with one degree (Bachelor of Music), but I'll have two majors listed on my transcript. I think the best part is that I can take up to 28 credits with no extra charge from the school. As a result, I get to explore more classes. I also get to take two private lessons (one for each major) and I am planning on having two recitals.


The beginning of my semester started with orientation for my new job as a residential assistant. I love this job a lot, especially when I get to decorate my bulletin board. At Oberlin, RAs are separated into different housing "clusters," which consist of different dorms on campus. I work in a traditional housing cluster, which includes a mix of people from different majors in both the college and conservatory. I have really liked getting to know new people on my floor. I made a lot of new friends with my fellow RAs, so shoutout to all the hard work that they do on the job. 

A bulletin board with Pac-Man on it.
My first RA bulletin board.

Because of the RA job, I was on campus for first-year orientation this year. Seeing it as a third-year made me realize just how hectic things were when I first moved to Oberlin. I had a blast meeting and helping new Obies, and  it was wonderful to be able to share my love of Oberlin with others. In addition, I met all seven of the first-year percussion majors. This class of percussionists is possibly the biggest incoming class we have seen. They all worked super hard this semester, and it really shined through in all of their performances. 

Lastly, I played theremin and percussion in a free improvisation set in Cleveland with percussionist Justin Gunter (BM ’16, AD ’18) and harpist Stephan Haluska. We opened for an indie band called Emby Alexander. It was a lot of fun. The slow, metal percussion sounds combined with the harp made everything sound like a dream.

A stage with percussion instruments and harp.
All set up for our little show.


Classes started after Labor Day this year, which served for a nice, long weekend to relax and gear up for the semester. I have two lessons every week, one for percussion with Prof. Mike Rosen, and one for TIMARA with Prof. Aurie Hsu. I love both of them dearly, and they really encourage me and push me to be the best I can be. I took Music Composition for Non-Majors with Prof. Jesse Jones, Generative Sound Installations with Prof. Abby Aresty, Introduction to Computer Science with Prof. Cynthia Taylor, and Intro to Peer Helping Skills with Dean Matthew Hayden. 

I also was playing in the Oberlin Orchestra for the first concert cycle of the semester. This year Oberlin Conservatory is taking a tour during winter term to New York City. So all the repertoire on the tour concert was being played in September’s concert. The two pieces we are playing in NYC are Debussy’s La Mer, and Elizabeth Ogonek's All These Lighted Things. It was nice that we were able to learn and play these pieces long before the tour—it gave me a lot of time to learn my part. 


Classes got a bit harder, things started to pick up. My hardest class at this point was probably Intro to Computer Science; it was a lot of work, but extremely rewarding and I loved it.

In my percussion lessons, I began to work on Time for Marimba by Minoru Miki for my junior recital, and I started to dive deep into timpani playing. In my TIMARA lessons, I continued to work on a performance system for theremin, Myo armband (it tracks arm and muscle movements!), and live video. I was working on this project to submit a paper for a conference.

I was cycled out of orchestra and other ensembles, but I did actually end up playing in a choir concert. They are also going on tour with us to NYC, and we are performing Stravinsky's Les Noces, which is for choir, four pianos, and percussion. I was playing two drums, tambourine, and two crotales. This was so much fun to play. I am looking forward to playing this piece with them again. 

A photo of percussionists playing instruments.
Les Noces rehearsal.
Photo Credit: https://www.facebook.com/oberlincon/

I began to work on my generative sound installation for my TIMARA class with Abby Aresty. This project will be continued during the spring semester and will be a part of my junior recital, which will be a performance-installation. It focuses on cultural identity. After the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, came out, I was really inspired to connect with my Asian heritage. I was born in the United States and adopted at birth, so I grew up entirely immersed in American culture. Working on this project has been a very meaningful journey for me. I started to use broken mirror pieces to create a mobile, which is supposed to encourage reflection on identity.

A mobile that has pieces of broken mirror hanging from it.
My sound mobile.

By chance, I happened to find my biological mother on Facebook. This was really a wonderful moment for me and was something that came completely out of the project. We have been in contact via text ever since. She sent me video footage from the province where she lived in China, and I was able to incorporate the sounds from the videos into my project. 


This was the final push to get a video of my performance system for theremin and get my paper written for the conference. Thankfully, I was able to submit it on time. I feel like through my last conference paper and my research fellowship I have become a stronger and more confident writer. This paper took less time to revise, and I am happy with how it came together.

Next up was the Percussive Arts Society International Convention. This took place in Indianapolis, Indiana, and every year, Oberlin Conservatory has a booth there to attract prospective students. With a convention center sprawling with percussionists, you can just imagine how loud it was. I was able to network with other percussionists and see incredible performances. This year, all seven of our first-years performed in piece with the University of Illinois. I was able to buy a few new small percussion instruments as well. We also have dinner with Oberlin percussion alumni and Prof. Rosen. It is so fun to meet other Obies who studied under Prof. Rosen. I've learned that our alumni network is vast and extensive, it's truly unlike anywhere else and extremely supportive. 

A conference badge with the name Rachel Gibson on it.
My conference badge.
Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.
Indianapolis is beautiful.
Three people in front of a small booth that is advertising Oberlin Conservatory.
I found some funny first-years at our Oberlin booth.

During Thanksgiving break, I began working on a composition that will be on our Oberlin Percussion Group concert. It is called No Freedom Without Groceries // No Groceries Without Freedom, and it is scored for percussion quartet and video. The footage is all taken from a Walmart I usually shop at when I am home in Pennsylvania. The work is ultimately supposed to capture the essence of grocery shopping: How grocery stores cannot survive without us, and how we cannot survive without grocery stores. In a way, these stores connect Americans every day across the United States. I used objects like paper, plastic bags, forks, cans, and bowls for my instrumentation. I was also thinking about how we can make experimental music more accessible to those outside of music in general. I’m mostly thinking about people like my parents, who support me in anything I do, but sometimes don't quite understand exactly what I'm doing. As a result, by composing a piece about something so familiar to many people, I’m hoping this will give them something to latch onto when listening and watching. There is something so beautiful and simple in the act of grocery shopping, yet the stores can be very overwhelming, cold, and sterile. 


This has to be the busiest month for any Obie. 

The first big event I had was my installation for my Generative Sound Installations class. I’d say it was a success. I am so happy about how it turned out! I am continuing this project for my junior TIMARA recital.

The next event was my in-class performance for my composition class. I think the performance was the best we’ve ever played it, and my classmates seemed to like it. Overall, everyone had really cool pieces. I can’t wait to perform it again on the Oberlin Percussion Group concert.

I had my final orchestra performance in Finney Chapel, too, under conductor Robert Spano ’84. He was so wonderful to work with. We played Jennifer Higdon's Concerto for Orchestra. The percussion section and harp had a whole movement to ourselves, and it was challenging. We pulled it off well though, and I think the audience enjoyed it.

A vibraphone and other small percussion instruments on a stage.
Getting ready for Jennifer Higdon’s Concerto for Orchestra.

We also had our annual Marimba Christmas in the conservatory lounge, which is always a blast. We performed for the old folks at Kendal as well.

A bunch of percussionists playing marimbas. Holiday decorations.
Marimba Christmas in the Conservatory Lounge.

I found out that my paper was accepted to the International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (TEI), which is partnered with the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The conference focuses on human-computer interaction, new tools and technologies, interactive art, and performance. This was probably a big highlight of my semester and a huge honor.

My last final was for my Intro to Computer Science class. I was able to study really hard for it because I presented all my other final projects earlier. I came out of the test feeling good about my work in the class. 

Finally, I completed my little side project with the Allen Memorial Art Museum too. It turns out that Oberlin owns a few of John Cage’s (21st century composer) drawings based on the Ryoanji rock garden in Kyoto, Japan. Since I did research over the summer on Cage, the museum asked me if I could get a few recording clips of his composition, also titled Ryoanji, which grew out of the drawings we have. I collaborated with a few other conservatory students, and the recordings will be on an iPad so people can listen to them. I wrote a label that will be up beside the drawings too. The little exhibition goes up during January and will be there during the spring semester.

That's it for now.

Stay tuned for my next blog about the Oberlin in NYC tour. Stay warm if you are in cold temperatures!

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