When I first arrived at Oberlin, I wasn’t sure how to feel about Winter Term as a conservatory student. The only thing that I felt I could do over Winter Term was practice the piano, because piano was my major. However, as I’ve aged as a student, I’ve truly come to appreciate this special month that we have here. It’s a chance to explore different interests, get a sense of your career options, and put what you’re learning in school into perspective and context. Having just completed my final Winter Term, I’d like to reflect back on the different experiences I had in all three.
Year One: Practice Intensive
Like I said, freshman year I was very committed to becoming the best pianist that I could. I still am, but back then I thought that staying on campus and doing nothing but practicing would be best for me. While I did get a lot of practice done, I also didn’t do it in the healthiest way. There were some days when I spent seven or eight hours in a practice room, because I had nothing else to do and felt under pressure to fill all of my free time. However, many of my practice habits were not good. Personally, practicing any more than four hours of piano in one day gets me nowhere. There’s only so much that the brain can focus, and when it loses that focus, it’s easy to end up repeating passages over and over and merely reinforcing mistakes and bad habits. Although my practice wasn’t as healthy and efficient as it should have been during my first Winter Term, I did learn a lot of music and it was nice to take a bit of a break and have time to relax.
Tips for those who are considering staying on campus for Winter Term:
1. You need something to do! And you need someone telling you to do it!
I learned that it is extremely hard to find self-motivation during Winter Term, due to the gray skies and freezing weather. It’s definitely easier to stay in bed until noon than walk out into that. Having no structured schedule was difficult for me that year.
2. Make sure you have friends on campus.
Winter Term can be isolating. If you’re doing a program or a class, it might be easier to meet new people, but otherwise you’re on your own. Friends are important during this month!
3. Find a way to get out of Oberlin for a bit.
During Winter Term, there aren’t many social events or activities going on on campus. If there’s any opportunity to get off campus and go to Cleveland or Crocker Park, do it! Find fun things to do! Also, keep in mind: during Winter Term, only one dining hall is open and serves less options, and it is not part of your meal plan. You may want to go grocery shopping or find places to eat.
Year 2: Organ Department Trip to the Netherlands/Germany
This was an extremely exciting trip. I had never been outside of North America before, so just the idea of travelling to Europe was exciting enough to me. Getting to play some of the world’s finest organs? Now, that was a treat on top of a treat! At the time that I signed up to go on this trip, I was extremely intimidated. I was an organ minor with only one year of organ experience, about to travel with a department of organ majors. However, it ended up being an incredible experience, and I learned so much about historical organs and got to explore so many. We travelled to what seemed like a billion different large and small cities in the Netherlands and Northern Germany, with some of our stops being: Amsterdam, Haarlem, Groningen, Lubeck, Hamburg, Leipzig, Erfurt, Waltershausen, Merseburg, Stade, Rothe. We studied THIRTY-TWO different organs in total. After the trip, I went to Berlin with a couple of friends to stay with one of the Oberlin organists whose family actually lives there!
I came back feeling different about the organ. Before going on the trip, I had an interest in the organ, but I didn’t truly understand how beautiful the instrument was. Seeing some of the oldest instruments really opened my ears to new sounds. It was not only ear-opening but also so eye-opening just to see how much more appreciation there was in Germany for early music. I also made some of my best friends on this trip.
Year 3: LaunchU Business Start-up Program
If you had told me two years ago that I would be doing a business start-up program, I would have laughed. Starting a business is not something I ever envisioned doing. I’ve always loved coming up with new ideas and solutions and had a whole “invention” sketch-book when I was in 4th grade, but I never actually saw myself starting something. Lately I’ve been looking for ways to use music to help people in new ways, which is why I decided I wanted to start engaging in entrepreneurship. My friend Jenny Huang and I have been partnering on a project, determined to start our own business centered around using music to fundraise and create long-term relationships with charitable organizations in our surrounding communities. The LaunchU program was an intensive 2-week bootcamp from 9am to 9pm daily. We had different speakers come in to teach us about accounting, business law, creating a good business model, advertising and marketing, pitching your idea, nonprofits and for-profits, finding funding, and so forth. We were assigned individual mentors and were always given support when we needed it. It was an incredible experience; I learned so much in those two weeks and feel so much more equipped to move forward with my idea.
Now, we are preparing for the LaunchU Pitch Competition, which will be an incredible experience to practice pitching our idea. The first round of the LaunchU pitch competition occurs one month after the LaunchU bootcamp, and all LaunchU participants are invited to compete. Then nine groups advance to the second round, which takes place at the Apollo Theatre two weeks later. The award? $50,000 in investment capital to be distributed among a few groups! In the first round, we have 5 minutes to pitch our idea, and then 10 minutes to answer questions from the panel. In the second round, the question-answer session is something more like 30 minutes, which is quite frightening to even think about! I’m very excited to have the experience to just be a part of this, and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in the LaunchU bootcamp.
Altogether, I learned so much from my three Winter Terms: things that I would not have otherwise learned sitting in a classroom. I got to explore three very different subjects and all three of these experiences have influenced what I’m doing right now and the different directions I’m thinking about taking after graduation.