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What's the deal with double degree?

February 16, 2009

Chris Gollmar ’10

I have always had mixed feelings about composition. I suppose that’s why I am a double degree student: I just can’t see myself only studying music. Usually I just let it slide and get by running on autopilot, but after two lighter semesters taking far more electives than usual, I am back to the rigorous environment of Oberlin’s Conservatory, and I am confronted with my own composition habits.

The principal challenge of being a double degree student, as I see it, is that you are expected to commit yourself to both degrees just as much as would a student studying in only one of the divisions. For example, I can’t walk into a lesson and say, “I am going to write half as many compositions because I’m also in the College.” That wouldn’t fly.

[On the Arts and Sciences side, things are a little more relaxed. Pretty much all of my College credits are related to my Hispanic Studies major (though I am able to take electives from time to time).]

If you’re not a Conservatory student yourself, it is a bit hard to describe the atmosphere in such an institution. First of all, everything is geared toward training the professional musician. Artistry, musicianship, and craft are perhaps the three pillars of our education. There is also a hint of competitiveness to many things. Everything is individually motivated—you practice or compose on your own time, hours at a time.

In striving to keep up in the Con, I keep asking myself, “Am I composing enough? What could I be doing better?” Then there’s the other side of it: “Why am I doing this anyway?” and “Do I actually like what I am composing?”

When it comes down to it, though, it is absolutely amazing to be studying something so creative and get a world-class education at the same time. I am about 94 percent certain that I am not going to continue studying composition after Oberlin, but I am still glad to be devoting so much time and energy to it now. As I become more and more certain that I am not going to grad school for music, I have noticed that the final question above—do I like my own music—has become more and more important to me. I still have to play by the Con’s rules, fulfilling major requirements and composing for my teachers’ deadlines not my own, but I am more focused on my own style.

Tonight’s agenda: finish composing a short piece for bassoon employing extended techniques, do my species counterpoint homework, and study for a linguistics test.

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