A course of study in historical performance requires students to not only study and perfect their chosen instrument, but also understand the cultural and musical history behind the pieces they perform. The program offers intense study of period instruments and a range of opportunities to perform on them.

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Our faculty is comprised of outstanding teacher-performers who are devoted primarily to undergraduate education. These highly skilled musicians maintain rigorous performance schedules yet provide individual instruction and spend generous amounts of time with their students via lessons, coaching, mentoring, and more.

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Programs Offered


Historical Performance is a way of looking at music, one in which the performer takes on some of the responsibilities of a scholar. Our aim is to provide students with the tools needed to make historically informed decisions about the pieces they perform. This requires an understanding of the music’s cultural context, familiarity with the practical aspects of historical instruments and performing conventions, and an appreciation of how performance styles and traditions have changed over time. 

Oberlin offers degree programs leading to the BM, MM, or Artist Diploma in performance on historical instruments. Master’s students may elect to pursue a program combining the study of multiple historical keyboards. The program also offers a minor, as well as a five-year program combining the BM in a traditional conservatory major with an MM in Historical Performance.

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Curriculum Overview

Coursework includes applied study on historical instruments, music history, music theory, continuo realization at the keyboard, and courses in performance practice, as well as historical performance ensembles. Students are exposed to the latest thinking in the field and take advantage of Oberlin’s extensive music library to pursue their own research. The college’s broad range of courses in history, theater, dance, and the visual arts complement and enrich the historical performance program’s offerings.

Private instruction, principal or secondary, is available in harpsichord, fortepiano, clavichord, organ, baroque violin, viola da gamba, baroque cello, historical flutes, recorder, and historical oboes. Although some students come to Oberlin already specializing in an early instrument, others come with more traditional musical backgrounds and begin their study of an early instrument in the conservatory.

Winter term is traditionally rich in events of interest to early music students. Such events have included an early piano workshop and introductory courses in baroque violin, viola da gamba, recorder, hurdy-gurdy, crumhorn, portative organ, and lute.

Students also participate in off-campus tours, including engagements in New York City, at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and at the Boston Early Music Festival. They may also perform in the Baroque Performance Institute, an intensive two-week program that takes place on campus every summer. The program also invites some of the world’s foremost artists to campus as performers and teachers to augment the resident faculty.

Upcoming Historical Performance Events

Historical Performance News

Two women posing

Four Days in Portugal

December 9, 2016
Oberlin flute students join their mentor at an international music conference.