There are a variety of questions tour guides get from prospective students interested in pursuing music through the conservatory, but planning on applying to the college: can I take jazz voice lessons? can I use the practice rooms? can I play in an orchestra? can I store my upright bass in a conservatory locker? etc. The specific conservatory-related questions vary, but they all come down to the same thing: how involved can I be in the conservatory and music more generally as a college student? The answer is complicated and it varies based on what style of music you're interested in, what instrument you play, how well you play, the availability of conservatory faculty members, and how creative and determined you're willing to be. Because of that I decided to reach out to some of my friends and ask them about their experiences with music while at Oberlin. Those friends are Ambre (she/her/hers, fourth year, Musical Studies/Religion/Africana Studies major) and Zoë (she/her/hers, fourth year, East Asian Studies major and Anthropology minor). I hope you find their answers helpful!
How have you been involved with music while at Oberlin?
EMILY: In my first year I took Intro to Western Music History, did private voice lessons for credit with a student, and sang in Treble Ensemble, a women's choir made up of voice majors and college students. I've also sung with Collegium Musicum since my fourth semester at Oberlin and outside of the conservatory I've sung with Nothing But Treble, Oberlin's oldest all-female a cappella group, since my first semester.
AMBRE: I am a musical studies major. I have taken private voice lessons, several music theory and aural skills classes, and several music history classes. I have participated in Treble Ensemble. I am also involved in Nothing But Treble, and am the chair of Voices for Christ and the co-chair of the Umoja Steppers.
ZOË: I've been in a choir all my semesters save for one: I started out in Treble Ensemble then joined Musical Union for a semester, and since my spring semester of sophomore year I've been in Collegium Musicum, which has been my favorite choir I've ever sung in. I took piano lessons my freshman year because I'd been playing since I was 3 but kind of fell off the wagon, unfortunately. I play more accordion than piano nowadays, and I like playing solo and with people quite a lot. I usually play Irish and Quebecois folk on the accordion but I'm looking to learn some tango. I also DJ on WOBC - I've done shows focused on female and trans* musicians, living composers, and music made of human voices.
When you were looking at colleges, what were you looking for in terms of musical involvement? Have you found what you were looking for at Oberlin?
E: It's pretty well-documented on the blogs that I applied to Oberlin as a double-degree student, so it makes sense that I was looking for an environment that would help me to become an opera singer. During my first year at Oberlin, however, my goals changed, and I decided that I still wanted to sing and to sing seriously while pursuing a liberal arts degree. I have certainly been able to do that. However I have occasionally found the con to be frustratingly inaccessible for college students. For example, I've never been able to register for music theory and aural skills after trying to do so twice.
A: I was looking for musical opportunities in my college search and I have found that I have had to create spaces for myself instead of just readily finding them here. I study music in the Africana Church Tradition and have had to string courses together in an attempt to get a comprehensive view of this topic. I have also revived Voices for Christ, a gospel group, because I don't just study Gospel music, I sing it as well.
Z: I was looking for a place where I could be involved in music without necessarily studying to become a performer, and that's exactly what I found. Oberlin has so many opportunities for college students to have active musical lives while majoring in something outside music.
Describe a standout musical experience from your time at Oberlin.
E: One of the most exciting and overwhelming days of my musical life at Oberlin was my first day singing with Collegium. After taking our spots at the front of the chapel and warming up, our conductor told us what key we were in, gave us a chord progression, and expected us to follow it in four parts - with no parallels! Not having perfect pitch or any theory education past the AP exam I was pretty taken aback by this and I barely made it through the exercise without embarrassing myself. Then we started sight-reading music that seemed like it would take much longer than a semester to learn, but that I was performing with joy by the time of our final concert. That first day in Collegium, a day I simultaneously felt so overwhelmed and so excited for what was to come, was the start of what I think has been my best musical experience at Oberlin and one of the best of my life.
A: My most meaningful musical experience is when Voices for Christ held a concert in the Conservatory lounge. There were so many different types of people there, and they all responded to gospel/Africana church music. It showed me that the arts have the ability to cross cultures and that they can be appreciated by everyone. Oberlin (conservatory specifically) values Western music traditions over any other forms and it was nice to see this art form appreciated by other students when it is not commonly seen as such.
Z: Singular experience - so far, that's been participating in Christian James's senior composition recital. We were in Collegium together so knew each other, and I also sing Sacred Harp, which is a very raw and old American hymn-singing style with lots of power behind the voice. He wanted some of that for his piece, which blended Christian devotional and ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) devotional musical styles. It was like nothing I'd ever sung before, and singing such an inherently spiritual text, in English, with people of so many differing spiritual backgrounds was an experience all its own.
Thanks to Ambre and Zoë for their help with this post, and if you have any more specific questions I encourage you to ask them in the comments.
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