There is a futuristic, gravity-defying structure that stretches, three stories up, between the Bertram & Judith Kohl Building and the rest of the conservatory. The Sky Bar connects the jazz department, which resides in Kohl, with the buildings that house the classical music faculty. Though undergirded by steel beams, it is welcoming and comfortable, suffused with the sunlight that streams through its glass walls on cloudless days.
Double-degree student Ashley Hale ’16 is a lot like the Sky Bar. She is a bridge between classical and jazz, a student of both styles in a self-designed major that she calls “Versatile Trumpet Performance: A Study Within Multiple Genres.” She is also pursuing an economics degree in the College of Arts & Sciences, a decision she arrived at after considering neuroscience too.
Despite the loaded schedule, Hale’s personality is as sunny as a Sky Bar afternoon—which happens to be where she’s hanging out on a recent fall semester day.
“I really love the trumpet, but I want to dabble in other things as well,” she says. “Economics will definitely come into play in the post-college world. And there’s so much to learn about both jazz and classical, and all the stuff in between.”
Studying disparate subjects also makes Hale more productive, she says. “If I’m in a practice room and really frustrated, I can just bust out some economics homework. Or if I’m getting sleepy when I’m doing my econ reading, I can practice. It’s a relief. If I’m getting too much of one thing, I can pause and work on the other instead of just going on Facebook for hours.”
Yet Hale took a while to settle into this path. She was accepted into the conservatory in her second year at Oberlin, having taken classical lessons on campus as a first-year student. She played in the Oberlin Jazz Ensemble and enjoyed hanging out in the jazz building that first year, but she auditioned only for the classical trumpet studio. “I’ve always played classical music and felt more comfortable with it,” she says. “I had barely improvised before coming to Oberlin.”
Once she was accepted into the conservatory, she worked closely with Associate Professor of Jazz Arranging Jay Ashby and Associate Dean for Student Academic Affairs Mary Gray to create a curriculum that would allow her to study both classical and jazz—and still graduate within the five-year window typical of the double-degree program.
“Ashley possesses one of the most beautiful and natural sounds on the trumpet that I've heard in many years,” Ashby says. “She reflects a level of commitment and focus that is hard to fathom. And to think—she's just getting started!”
Or, in the words of a fellow trumpet player and double-degree student hanging out in the Sky Bar on this day: “Ashley is amazing!”
Hale doesn’t know where it’s all headed, but she knows what she wants to do with her life.
“My main goal is to play trumpet and get paid for it,” she says. And if her degree in economics helps her manage the money, so much the better.