Summer at Oberlin: Home Edition

June 17, 2020
Erich Burnett
front entrance of Bibbins Hall in summer
Photo credit: Bryan Rubin '18

The conservatory’s popular summer programs experience a virtual reset for 2020.

The pace of summer at Oberlin differs from the rest of the year, but the song pretty much remains the same.

In a typical year, the conservatory presents a full slate of institutes and academies for musicians young and not so young, beginning in early June and lasting through early August. Together they keep the sweet sounds of music alive on campus while Oberlin’s undergraduates are away.

In a highly atypical year, such as the one the world faces in 2020, quick thinking and deep reserves of flexibility are the order of the day.

Thanks to plenty of both, several of Oberlin’s signature summer programs for flute, organ, and historical performance will continue in a newly developed virtual format. Another longstanding program—Credo Festival, which utilizes Oberlin’s campus and includes members of its faculty—has also made the successful leap into virtual summer. 

Each of these programs have required intensive advance work curating and recording concerts, interviews, and video tours of instrument collections. Online delivery of lessons and master classes are at the center of these summer programs. This aspect has been adjusted to accommodate students participating across time zones, such as submitting recordings to be discussed and analyzed at separate meeting times. 

Social and professional connections define many summer experiences. Making those available in a virtual environment has taken a bit more creativity. 

"Despite the obvious challenges, our virtual Summer Organ Academy has produced some unanticipated benefits," says Oberlin's organ chair Jonathan Moyer. "Our registration is larger than it has ever been. Future on-campus academies will continue to have an online component."

Social components instituted for the organ academy are daily check-ins on Zoom and a mid-week Q&A with faculty, staff, and students that opens the floor to thoughts about auditions and Oberlin student life. 

BPI is handling their social interaction a bit differently.  There will be daily interviews with faculty members that will also provide a forum where they can offer advice to young performers and answer pre-posted questions from students. There is also the online “BPI Rendezvous Lounge” where  students can interact and faculty members can drop in.

Though most programs will begin by the fourth week of June, some still offer last-minute registration options for various levels of participation, including access to free performances.

The Oberlin Organ Academy, which capitalizes on the campus’ access to more than 30 remarkable organs, will take place June 21 through 26, with each registered organist tuning in to a comprehensive slate of events—lessons, master classes, sessions on organ literature and construction—from virtual sunup till virtual sundown. Limited registration is still available for organists of all skill levels. In addition, everyone is welcome to register for the academy’s slate of free events, including a virtual tour of Oberlin’s organ collection and a live-streamed faculty performance that happens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 26, in multiple venues on campus. Learn more and register on the Organ Academy page at oberlin.edu.

The 49th annual Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute, one of the nation’s longest-running celebrations dedicated to the study of historical performance, will proceed from June 22 through 28 with an incredible 170 participants representing 13 nations around the world, including such distant locales as Singapore, Vietnam, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, and Bolivia. Each year's study focuses on a different composer or work; for 2020, BPI will concentrate on the works and life of J. S. Bach.

Last-minute deadlines for full participation in BPI are fast approaching, but free registration is available to experience the institute’s daily concerts by BPI faculty, broadcasts of favorite archival performances from past years, and access to a live-streamed student concert that concludes festivities on Sunday, June 28. Details are available by registering at the BPI page on oberlin.edu.

(Oberlin Stage Left, the conservatory’s outlet for virtual programming in the era of COVID-19, will devote its June 18 program to exploring career paths in historical performance in conjunction with BPI and performances of gamba repertoire by Back and Purcell. The June 25 episode offers a sneak-peek organ tour and short performance on Finney's C. B. Fisk Op. 116 organ in advance of the Organ Academy’s virtual faculty concert available to the public the following day.)

The Summer Flute Academy, led by Associate Professor of Flute Alexa Still, will continue with daily lessons and group discussions in mid-July. The academy reached its full capacity soon after registration opened in early spring.

Another summer tradition that makes use of Oberlin’s facilities and faculty is Credo, an annual festival for string players age 10 through 30 that emphasizes spiritual development alongside musical mastery. Credo’s director, Oberlin viola professor Peter Slowik, moved quickly in March to re-envision the program for a virtual environment. Credo 2020 includes master classes, “fireside chats” with faculty, chamber music coaching, student hangout sessions, lectures, performances, and more—all delivered virtually—from June 22 through July 10.

While registration is closed for levels that include personalized instruction, others are invited to register for Credo’s free tier, which includes two weekly sessions of master classes, lectures, and concerts. Learn more at credomusic.org.

“The circumstances of this summer have certainly led to challenges in convening our programs as we normally would,” says Anna Hoffmann, Oberlin’s manager of summer programs. “But we are thrilled to proceed with the programs that could be reimagined as virtual experiences, and we’re delighted that this new format allows us to welcome participants from all over the world—almost all of whom would not have been able to take part in our programs during a normal year.”

By 2021, Oberlin hopes for a return to its complete schedule of summer programs, a vibrant and varied mix that includes study of trumpet, voice, electronic music, piano, and more—as well as the annual Cooper International Competition, which attracts top young pianists and violinists from around the globe.

In the meantime, innovations that arose out of necessity this year may become fixtures of future summer programming.

“One of the unexpected bright spots of this challenging time has been our ability to create connections with musicians all over the world in ways we never previously even considered,” says Hoffmann. “As our world gradually returns to normal, we want to continue to cultivate these newly discovered opportunities for inclusion.”

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