When you combine music and the broader liberal arts, amazing things can happen.

College and Conservatory, One Campus

At Oberlin, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music share one campus. College and conservatory students take classes together, live together, eat together, and even perform together.

Interdisciplinary coursework and cross-campus experiences are a hallmark of an Oberlin education. Both the Conservatory of Music and College of Arts and Sciences provide opportunities for students who are interested in pursuits that combine music and the broader liberal arts. Students regularly engage in coursework, projects, and co-curricular activities around themes such as music and cognition, arts and technology, music and culture, arts administration, and interdisciplinary performance practices.

Taking Classes in the Conservatory

You can be a serious musician in the College of Arts and Sciences. In a typical semester, more than 300 Arts & Sciences students enroll for credit in Conservatory classes.

Many of these classes are open to all students, while some, such as music theory and aural skills, require a placement test.

Students seated in a bright classroom. The professor is by a grand piano.
Associate Professor of Music Theory Jan Miyake teaches a class in iconic Bibbins Hall. Photo credit: Tanya Rosen-Jones ’97

Sample conservatory classes:

Musicology

  • Intro to Western Art Music
  • Intro to Musics of the World
  • Intro to African-American Music
  • Intro to Ethnomusicology
  • Music As Social Life

Topics in Music

  • Pop Music and Media
  • Practicing Music Criticism
  • Philosophy of Music
  • Intro to Entrepreneurship
  • Arts Behind Bars

Theory

  • Internalizing Rhythms
  • Music Theory
  • Aural Skills
  • Jazz Aural Skills
  • Analysis of World Music

Practice

  • Voice Class for Non-Majors
  • Piano Class for Non-Majors
  • Beginning Improvisation
  • Historical Performance: Gamba class, Baroque violin class
  • Composition for Non-Majors
  • Intro to Technology in Music & Related Arts

Oberlin Bloggers on Music

Music-Related Courses in the College of Arts and Sciences

At Oberlin, you can approach the study of music from almost any direction. Here are a few you can try:

  • AAST 072 – Blues Aesthetic: Continuity and TransformationThe emphasis of this course is upon the thesis that the Black or `Blues Aesthetic’ is a cultural perspective that emerges from within the experiences of Black people, facing the socio-political and economic conditions of modern and contemporary America. Our focus will be upon the traditions of African American music, literature, theater/film, and specifically the visual arts.
  • CINE 301 – Sound for Moving PictureThis course explores the relationship between sound and its affect on visual perception in relation to moving images. By practicing the creative application of audio post-production techniques (foley, ADR, sound design, surround mixing) the class will learn about various conceptual elements of sound (diegetic, non-diegetic, on and off screen, visual magnetism). Students will learn to approach sound in film with a better understanding in both theory and application.
  • MATH 357 – Harmonic AnalysisThe class explores the influence of music on the development of mathematics, specifically the sub-discipline of analysis. From Pythagoras’s tuning problem, an early evidence for the existence of irrational numbers, to finding precise descriptions for pitch and musical timbre, questions from music inspired important developments in mathematics, giving rise to the flourishing subfield known as harmonic analysis. By exploring the influence of music on mathematics, the class will provide an introduction to harmonic analysis, reaching from classical results on the convergence of Fourier series to the theory of the Fourier transform and distributions, and their applications to acoustics.
  • CMUS 103 – Music As Social LifeUsing different case studies from around the world, this course examines the power of music in social life. We will explore the meanings and uses of music, such as the way music is used to heighten and ensure spiritual efficacy, to comment on and contribute to social movements, or to make sense of “natural” disasters. Rather than diving deep into musical structures, we will explore music in its cultural, political, religious, economic, historical, and/or ecological contexts. Ultimately, the course gives you critical tools and frames to apply to your own case students.
  • SOCI 386 – Nightlife: Place and the Politics of Feeling AliveThis course explores interactions of sensory experience, time, and place in which music is an integral part, drawing on texts from performance studies, music history, ethnomusicology, the sociology of culture, media studies, and anthropology, with in-class active listening from music indexed in the texts used to analyze the ways in which music from a variety of genres and time periods structures the intentions and affect of places and the practices they facilitate. (future course)
  • HISP 440 – Music, Orality, and Literature in Hispanic TraditionsThis course explores the long-standing relationship between verbal art and music in high art, popular, and folk traditions. We will consider: how musical paradigms shape literary aesthetics, song and identity, improvisation in music and verbal art, Romanticism and the dissonance of Modernity in literature and music, the relationship between popular song and poetry, tradition and innovation in oraliture, models of performance in literature and music. Examples drawn from Spanish, Latin American, and U.S. Latino/a traditions. Taught in Spanish.
  • DANC 107 – SambaThis course is an introduction to Samba. Deeply enmeshed with Brazil’s colonial history Samba has arisen as a symbol of its cultural and national identity. With dance as our foci, this course will offer an embodied exploration of the racial and cultural mixing at Samba’s root through a study of physical techniques, aesthetics, rhythms and ideology. We will also study the music, history, traditions and socio-cultural context surrounding the dance through readings, videos and discussions.
  • CRWR 332 – Song and BookThe lyric poem has always had a close but mysterious relationship to music and song. In the domain of literature, term lyric has designated a type of poem distinct from dramatic or narrative poetry, but in the domain of music, particularly opera, the distinction breaks down, and lyric, drama, and narrative work hand in hand. This course will investigate these relationships by reading and writing the lyrics, both in the poetic and musical sense of the word. Students enrolled in this learning community will work in close collaboration with composers and singers to develop a new opera.
  • PHYS 054 – Musical AcousticsThe basic principles of physics (mechanics, wave motion, and sound) that influence the design and performance characteristics of musical instruments will be studied. The major groups of modern orchestral and keyboard instruments will be discussed, and the physics of hearing, singing, harmony, tuning temperaments, and room acoustics will be included. Group projects will be required.
  • HIST 288 – Weimar BerlinThe German city of Berlin has long been a city of fascination and transformation. During the short years between WWI and the Nazi takeover, it was the center of a cultural efflorescence that has rarely been matched since, including the music of Kurt Weill, the art of Dada and Neue Sachlichkeit, and the designs of the Bauhaus, among others. This course will examine the culture of Weimar Berlin and situate it within the turbulent social life and politics of those years. Required course for the From Berlin to Broadway: The Music of Kurt Weill StudiOC Learning Community.

Music All Around Us

Extraordinary Performers

You might already know about the incredible number of concerts on campus: faculty performances, student recitals, ensemble concerts, and visiting artists like opera superstar Joyce DiDonato, jazz legend Terence Blanchard, and Grammy-winning Apollo’s Fire. But did you know that the Student Union and other groups also bring performers to campus?

Recent performers include Lizzo, Maxo Kream & UNiiQU3, Snail Mail, Haley Heynderickx, Ari Lennox, Madison McFerrin, Mwenso & the Shakes, and Lucki.

Madison McFerrin on stage
Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Madison McFerrin at the Cat in the Cream. Photo credit: Audrey Tran ’22

Gear and Spaces

Before you start rehearsing for Battle of the Bands at the ’Sco, you should check out the Gear Co-op in Wilder 404. This student-run organization aims to provide the space, equipment, and educational resources needed to allow anyone to practice, perform, and record whatever they please.

If all you really need is a quiet space with good acoustics and perhaps a Steinway piano, any Oberlin student can use the practice rooms in the Conservatory – you don't need permission or a key.

You Can Major in Music as an A&S Student

Musical studies is a major in the College of Arts and Sciences. Its requirements span Conservatory and College classes, providing a rigorous foundation in music theory, music history, and ethnomusicology, with opportunities to perform and explore music-related topics in a wide range of fields. Top students in the major can apply for the honors program. With careful planning, the musical studies major can also be part of a double major for the bachelor of arts degree.

Research, Internships, Study Away, and Experiential Learning for Musical Studies Majors 

Oberlin Stories: Music in the College

Group of choral singers

On the common language of music

Claire Coleman ’17
“In trying to redefine myself in a new place and establish my new identity as an Oberlin student, I soon realized that what had once made me stand out instead now connected me to everyone around me.”
Mariko practices violin.

On being a college violinist

Mariko Meyer ’11
“I never made it out of the back of the orchestra, but even so, my growth as a musician was immediately noticeable once I went to play in any other ensemble.”
Brenna in front of a rose bush

On choosing an Oberlin path

Brenna Larson ’14
“My Oberlin career, like many, has been far from linear, and I am glad that I have strayed from my plan. A planner at heart, changing gears, changing life goals, was a rocky and emotional process, and one I would not undo.”

Ensembles and Lessons

Many A&S students perform in credit-bearing ensembles or participate without registering for credit. 

Instrumental:
  • Oberlin Arts & Sciences Orchestra
  • Arts & Sciences Chamber Music
  • Baroque Ensembles
  • Performance & Improvisation (PI) Ensemble
  • Small Jazz Ensembles
  • Oberlin Improvisation and New Music Collective (OINC)
Vocal:
  • Oberlin College Choir
  • Musical Union
  • Collegium Musicum
  • Gospel Chorus
World Music:
  • Javanese Gamelan
  • Brazilian Ensemble
  • Sumatran Talempong

Clubs add a whole other dimension to the music you can perform at Oberlin.

  • Oberlin College Taiko
  • Oberlin Steel - steel drum ensemble
  • A capella groups

The secondary lesson program—one-on-one lessons taught by a Conservatory faculty member or advanced student—enrolls 170 A&S students.

Need an instrument?

A&S students enrolled in secondary lessons and performance-based classes are eligible to borrow an instrument for the semester/year from the instrument depot.

Music After Oberlin

As with most fields, Oberlin alumni—from both the College and the Conservatory—have done great things in the music business. Performers such as Josh Ritter, Liz Phair, Rhiannon Giddens, Karen O, Chris Eldridge, Beach House, and Deerhoof once called Oberlin home.

What's more, many of them like to come back and perform.

Josh Ritter playing acoustic guitar
Josh Ritter in Finney. Photo credit: John Seyfried
Rhiannon Giddens playing violin
Rhiannon Giddens ’00 at Finney. Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko
Greg Saunier playing drums
Greg Saunier ’91 of Deerhoof at the ’Sco. Photo credit: Chris Schmucki ’22
Chris Eldridge holds an acoustic guitar while teaching a class.
Chris Eldridge ’04 of Punch Brothers teaches a master class. Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko.

Planning for a Music Career

In addition to being immersed in music through academics and campus life, all Oberlin musicians have access to unparalleled career resources through the Career Development Center and the Conservatory’s arts-focused Office of Professional Development.

These resources include workshops and individual advising on résumés, cover letters, bios, electronic press kits, graduate school applications, job searches, and topics involving artist-run organizations. Guidance is available for identifying, creating, and/or applying for internship and winter-term opportunities. We’ll also connect you to internal and external funding sources such as the XARTS fund and competitive fellowship and award programs including Fulbright and Watson.

The Career Communities program for juniors and seniors adds another level of support, offering two communities of interest to musicians: Music Leadership and Arts & Creative Professions. These communities are a way for students to connect with other students, alumni, parents, and faculty who share an interest or expertise. Each community works with a team of designated mentors, and all participants are guaranteed a financially supported summer internship.

Learn More about Music at Oberlin

If you love music and want to embrace it as part of a liberal arts education, there is no better place to be. Come to Oberlin.