How Organs Become Vital
International travel—and Oberlin opportunities—proved pivotal for Fulbright Finalist Celina Kobetitsch ’18.
Oberlin Conservatory experienced a record year in 2019-20 with five students named Fulbright Finalists. We are proud to share their stories in this series.
Celina Kobetitsch’s fascination with organs has been something of a whirlwind romance.
A pianist since age 3, she didn’t attend her first organ concert till she was 18—at a Bach festival in Montreal, during her final year of high school.
“Before then, my only knowledge of the organ came from the small digital organ our church pulled out for Christmas and Easter,” says Kobetitsch, a native of Cleveland. “The dimensions of this concert transported me to another world. The organ was suddenly the most intriguing, beautiful, and unique instrument I could imagine.”
Kobetitsch’s fascination has only grown in the five years since that formative experience. In April she was named a Fulbright Finalist for 2020-21, an opportunity that will place her at the keyboard of some of the world’s finest organs during a year of study in Leipzig, Germany.
Her focus on Germany blossomed during an Oberlin Winter Term project in January 2017: a group tour, led by organ professor Jonathan William Moyer, of more than two dozen organs across Germany and the Netherlands. (Oberlin itself is home to an expansive array of organs—more than 30 of them available to students.)
After earning her piano performance degree in three years under Alvin Chow, Kobetitsch took part in a two-year professional organ and harpsichord training program at the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional in Toulouse, France. That experience ended abruptly in March over growing international concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“In Germany I was struck by the way in which these instruments presented a different soundscape and physicality than any organs I had previously played on,” Kobetitsch, now 23, explained in her Fulbright application. “I understood for the first time how much organ music is also deeply connected to the intricacies of specific instruments, including the architecture and location where they are housed. Unlike other instruments, the construction of each organ varies based on the culture and time period to which it corresponds, and well beyond this, a specific synthesis and knowledge is required to understand German organ repertoire, because composers often had specific soundscapes, specific acoustics, and even specific instruments in mind. Having a thorough knowledge of the context and construction of German organs is thus necessary to attain a clear understanding of the repertoire.”
All of this led Kobetitsch to dream of studies with esteemed organist Martin Schmeding at the Leipzig Hochschule für Musik. Thanks to the Fulbright Program, that dream will come true.
“There is no other city in the world more suited for the study of German organ music than Leipzig,” Kobetitsch says, noting its glut of Romantic organs and its legacy as the nurturing place for many of the world’s greatest organ composers, including Bach, Mendelssohn, Reger, and Schumann.
In addition to her organ studies, Kobetitsch looks forward to playing piano in the hochschule’s chamber ensembles, joining the jazz choir, studying East German history, and volunteering at the city’s famed Bach Festival.
“I am so pleased that Celina will be going to Germany on a Fulbright,” says Nick Petzak, Oberlin’s director of fellowships and awards, noting Kobetitsch’s German heritage and the plentiful opportunities that await her there. “She is a perfect match with this program—a kind of ideal Fulbrighter, if there is such a thing.”
This year, concerns over COVID-19 have led to the cancellation of some students’ Fulbright plans and adjustments to others. Kobetitsch hopes to begin her studies in October, though she knows she might need to be flexible. She waited 18 years to find the organ, after all; she can wait a few more months if necessary.
“I am so blessed that Oberlin gave me that experience and opportunity to take secondary lessons with Jonathan Moyer and get involved in the organ department,” she says. “I realize that it's not always possible at high-level conservatories to experiment outside of your major, try completely new things, or ‘change your mind,’ so to say. So I'm really lucky that at Oberlin, even while getting a top-notch professional education as a piano major under wonderful pianist and teacher Alvin Chow, I was able to start organ from scratch and decide how involved I wanted to be with it.
“The flexibility and the ability to explore my options was really beneficial to my growth while I was an Oberlin student, and I think a lot about how I may have never even started the organ if I had chosen a different school.”