The Sound of Summer in Oberlin? Same as the Rest of the Year

September 16, 2014
Michael Stenovec
Jazz ensemble including several double basses
A June 12 gala performance, part of the first Hinton Institute for Studio Bass, was an early highlight of summer at Oberlin. Photo credit: Dale Preston

Jazz legend Rufus Reid strolls down College Street, pushing his bass before him. Groups of high school students roam Tappan Square, collecting field recordings. The sound of singing rings throughout Bibbins Hall.

Though Oberlin’s students have mostly departed by June, the music plays on throughout the summer. A new wave of students, young and not-so-young, flock to campus each year for a variety of programs. Here, they learn—and sometimes compete—across a variety of styles in an environment that manages to be intensive without intense pressure. From Baroque to computer music to opera to jazz, summer programs at Oberlin offer unique opportunities to study with world-class faculty and esteemed guests, and to enjoy a sample of life on campus here.

The summer of 2014 kicked off with the inaugural Milt Hinton Institute for Studio Bass, named in honor of the late jazz pioneer, who played with greats from Cab Calloway to Dizzy Gillespie and who chronicled six decades of jazz history through his countless photographs of legendary performers. For a full week, students age 13 through college were invited to attend concerts and master classes, watch lectures and films, and play in ensembles, all led by a range of bass masters of all stripes, including Richard Davis, Jerry Jemmott, Diana Gannett, John Clayton, and Reid.

"I was constantly in awe of the faculty,” says institute attendee James Vitz-Wong ’15, a bass performance major in the conservatory. "There was an incredible amount of talent. And I found it to be very relevant that all of the students learned about studio recording. It was a tribute to the legacy of Milt Hinton, and it's an increasingly important field to learn about as a musician in modern times."

“It was a transformational experience for all who took the time to listen, read, notice, watch, and absorb Milt's spirit through all the performers,” says Oberlin bass professor Peter Dominguez, the driving force behind the institute.

Part of a wide-reaching new relationship between Oberlin and the Hinton estate, the institute will take place every other year, returning to campus in June of 2016.

In addition to an intensive learning environment, the conservatory’s summer programs lead to opportunities for prospective students to sample Oberlin’s curriculum and its culture. The Sonic Arts Workshop, for instance, introduces high school composers of electroacoustic music to Oberlin’s Technology in Music and Related Arts (or TIMARA) program. Guided by TIMARA professor Tom Lopez, students work with audio and video hardware and software, and immerse themselves in composition lessons, history, and repertoire. And sometimes, their experiences lead to further exploration down the road.

“Many of the best applications for TIMARA were attendees of the summer workshop!” says Lopez.

Delving into the other end of the music-history spectrum, the 2014 Baroque Performance Institute focused on the works of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach through a series of master classes, faculty and student concerts, and Baroque dance classes—all of it open to instrumentalists of all ages.

By July, the conservatory bustles with energy from seven different programs taking place throughout the month.

In the Composition Workshop, high school students collaborate with Oberlin composition faculty, performers, and conservatory student mentors.

The Organ Academy takes full advantage of Oberlin’s 21 organs, allowing high school students to participate in daily lessons and master classes in performance, sacred music skills, and improvisation.

Oberlin’s Trumpet Workshop offers technique sessions, master classes, lessons, and performances with instruction by trumpet faculty member Roy Poper and Arto Hoornweg of the Rotterdam Philharmonic.

In the Vocal Academy, high-achieving high school singers refine their performance and audition skills with Oberlin faculty members and guest musicians.

“All of the teachers were extremely helpful,” says 16-year-old attendee Jayne Diliberto of Arlington, Illinois. “I also like how comfortable the master classes were—there was a sort of semi-casual feel to them.”

The Conducting Institute, geared toward conductors 18 and older, focused in 2014 on intensive study of Haydn’s The Creation and culminated in a performance at Cleveland’s historic Severance Hall.

Also in July, Oberlin plays host each year to a highly regarded performance competition for students ages 13 through 18. Now entering its sixth year, the Cooper International Competition alternates each year between violin and piano. In 2014, 28 pianists from nine countries around the world competed for nearly a week on the Oberlin campus for the opportunity to perform in the Concerto Finals at Severance Hall, alongside the world-famous Cleveland Orchestra. Top finishers share a purse of $22,500—including $10,000 for first place—in addition to full-tuition scholarships to attend the Oberlin Conservatory.

This year, 15-year-old Tony Yike Yang of Toronto earned top honors, besting performers from eight other countries around the world.

"Summers here at the conservatory are a blast," says Anna Hoffmann, Oberlin's director of summer programs, who keeps each event running smoothly. "One program ends and the next takes off, each one with its distinct personality, faculty, and guests—I love it!"

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