Where Heart and Mind Meet

Annemarie Schubert ’21 chose Oberlin for violin and neuroscience. Then early music chose her.

March 23, 2021

Erich Burnett

Baroque violinists performing onstage.
Annemarie Schubert performs with the Oberlin Baroque Orchestra early in spring semester 2021.
Photo credit: courtesy Oberlin Stage Left

Looking back on it now, Annemarie Schubert can’t believe it took so long to gravitate toward historical performance.

After all, she was raised on the masses of Bach in her native Leipzig, Germany, before relocating with her family to Nebraska at age 10, already three years into her violin studies.

“It was beautiful, but I don’t think I appreciated it as a 6-year-old so much,” she says of her earliest exposure to early music.

Like many Oberlin violinists, Schubert was a sophomore when her teacher, Professor of Violin Marilyn McDonald, encouraged her to explore sounds of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Annemarie Schubert.
“Oberlin was absolutely the best fit for me,” says Annemarie Schubert. “It’s a small campus where you can quickly move between the college and conservatory. I definitely got to experience both sides fully.”

“It felt like a completely different language,” she remembers thinking. “But I really like the soundscape the instruments give, with the gut strings and narrower bows. It’s warmer and much more resonant than our modern strings are.” Plus, as Schubert puts it, “You can’t get away with all the bad technical things you can get away with on a modern violin.”

“I kind of fell into the HP community here—which is a little dorky! They love to discuss treatises. They love to discuss trills and ornaments! But it isn’t dorky in a negative way. It has always been very warm and welcoming. We debate trills for a half-hour, and it’s fun. At Oberlin, everybody is really passionate about actually playing in historically informed ways, and that’s really unique. I feel very lucky to have experienced that so early on.”

Schubert’s cross-training proved especially useful in a spring 2021 performance of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Concerto Grosso 1985, an homage to Handel based on thematic material from his D major violin sonata that requires its musicians to alternate between Baroque and modern playing styles. Schubert was concertmaster for the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra performance that is slated to appear on Oberlin Stage Left, the conservatory’s broadcast platform, on Saturday, April 3.

“We are in a privileged position to be a conservatory with a very strong new music program and to have students who are very well informed in historical performance,” says Professor Raphael Jiménez, who conducted the Zwilich concerto. “We have players who know exactly what to do when we switch between Baroque and modern styles.”

“Many Baroque players are also attracted to contemporary music,” says McDonald. “It’s kind of fascinating: There tend to be experimental aspects to contemporary music, and you could say that the 18th century was also quite experimental in terms of the development of instruments and the development of high-flying virtuosic technique. To play that way, you not only need to musically appreciate it, but you have to give yourself over to how things operate physically—and Annemarie is very, very good at that.”

McDonald attributes that flexibility, in part, to Schubert’s double-degree path. “Our double-degree students, no matter whatever else they do, develop a sense of discipline that is amazing.”

When it came time for her college search, Schubert knew she wanted a place where she could immerse herself equally in music and science.

“Oberlin was absolutely the best fit for me,” she says. “It’s a small campus where you can quickly move between the college and conservatory. I definitely got to experience both sides fully.”

She transitioned into the Double Degree Program in her second year, when her growing love of psychology swayed her toward neuroscience. Since then, she has engaged in research on tone deafness and the use of music therapy to treat cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease. Her study of neuroscience has also informed her approach to music-making.

“I’m constantly talking about the brain in rehearsal,” she says. “I’ll say things like Our speech-processing paths and our music-processing paths are complete polar opposites, but they’re in communication all the time. I’m sure it’s so annoying!”

(Oberlin students interested in blending conservatory studies with neuroscience can pursue an interdisciplinary minor in Music and Cognition, one of five new minor courses of study that unite coursework in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music.)

Schubert has also found herself fascinated by the ways in which music seems to permeate every corner of Oberlin’s campus. She has served as a teaching assistant for conductor Tiffany Chang and the Arts and Sciences Orchestra, the Oberlin ensemble made up of college musicians.

“Working with people for whom music is not the most important thing on this campus is so enlightening,” she says. “They’re playing simply because they love it. The musical community here, and the way they think and talk about music, is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life.”

After graduating in May, Schubert intends to continue her violin studies, either at the San Francisco Conservatory or in Europe, where graduate school auditions don’t happen until June—much later than in the U.S.

Her love of science remains, but her musical aspirations earn top billing for now.

“My theory is that science is something that you can come back to. You can take time off and read papers on your own time and stay informed. But to come back to the conservatory after spending a couple of years in a research lab or going to medical school is not as feasible. So I’m looking to pursue performance for now. And then, if my path eventually takes me to music therapy and music cognition, then that’s how life goes.”

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