Oberlin College musician Olivia Fink ’21 finds no shortage of conservatory connections.
A well-rounded education creates well-rounded musicians, and Olivia Fink aims to prove it. Now in her third year at Oberlin College, with majors in musical studies and German studies, Fink has created no shortage of intersections with the conservatory and other music happening on campus.
She served as ensemble manager for the Oberlin College Choir’s 2019 performance at Carnegie Hall; she researched new opera as an assistant dramaturg for Oberlin Opera Theater’s winter-term production of Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up; she sits on the board of the Oberlin Student National Association for the Teachers of Singing; and in January 2020, she will direct Phlox, a winter-term female, trans-, and non-binary chorus, with the Students for Gender Inclusivity in Music.
Oberlin is a home for musicians of diverse identities, from the musical theater buff to the genre-defying improviser to the future opera director, and Fink is no different. Deeply involved in choir before arriving on campus, the New Hampshire native originally applied to Oberlin not for its countless musical opportunities, but for its strong creative writing program. She recalls discussing schools with her uncle, Robert Fink, the chair of the music industry department at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA.
“The first thing he ever showed me was a picture of Tappan Square, with the arch—he knew that music is at the core of Oberlin and that it would permeate throughout all of my studies there,” she says.
In fact, after learning more about how students in the College of Arts and Sciences get involved with music, Fink changed plans, registering for Music History 101, Oberlin College Choir, and Music Theory 101—all in her first semester. She also took up German language studies, spurred by a recommendation from Director of Vocal Ensembles Gregory Ristow, who stressed the importance of German in a choral musician’s education. Ristow was also one of numerous conservatory faculty members who encouraged Fink to take up a musical studies major in the college.
As a tour guide for Oberlin College Admissions, Fink is aptly positioned to share her experiences with prospective students who wonder about the ways music might intersect with their own lives on campus. She’s often asked, “Why Oberlin?” and her answer arrives quickly and surely.
“There’s nothing stopping me from the top music educators,” she says. “Oberlin’s professors are fountains of knowledge, and I can get that just by knocking at their door.”
Fink plans on a career as a choral conductor and—thanks to her combined language and music studies—potentially as a musicologist. She has even intertwined music and German beyond Oberlin, pursuing summer studies in classical voice at NYU Steinhardt and German at the Heidelberg University. Her two passions work together well: “If I ever want to conduct in Germany,” she says, “I can perhaps speak with the people I’m asking to play for me.”
Fink hopes that her work as a conductor will contribute to a more inclusive, compassionate world. She expresses gratitude for the modern programming of Oberlin’s conductors, citing a recent performance by the Oberlin College Choir of Caroline Shaw’s To the Hands, the text of which includes statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
“It’s a conductor’s duty to unite classic and progressive compositions in thoughtful programming,” she says. “With great power comes great responsibility—it sounds silly, but really.”
Above all, the young conductor and German scholar expresses the importance of music as the result of diverse, holistic minds. “If everyone sang in an ensemble just once, perhaps the world could realize the community inherent to music.”
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