Conservatory Should Revamp Recital Booking System

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 Amber (she/her) and Cordelia (she/her) are members of the Oberlin Conservatory Council of Students, serving as vice president and president, respectively.

Early Monday morning, something odd occurred outside Bibbins Hall. Around 3:30 a.m., a student pulled up in their car, waiting for the building to open at 6:30 a.m. Not long after, several more students arrived and a line began to form outside Bibbins’ east door. By 5:00 a.m., more than 10 students had shown up. By 6 a.m., the line was nearly 30 students in length. At 6:30 a.m., when the Conservatory doors opened, the line was more than 50 people long. Finally, at 8 a.m., the line — finally indoors and out of the rain — was an astonishing 65 people in length.

All of these students were Conservatory fourth-years waiting for the Concert Production Office to open at 8:30 a.m., when they would receive slips of paper informing them at what time they could return to the office and officially book a recital slot for their senior recitals. Only 10 of these students — all of whom had arrived by 5:00 a.m. and waited in the rain for two hours — were allowed to book their recital times immediately. The remainder had to return either at 9:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. over the next several days to wait in line once again. It should also be noted that a number of these students have orchestra rehearsal or class at these times. 

To further complicate the system, on Wednesday morning, third-years in the Conservatory preparing for their own recitals went through the same process. Only those willing to split a 90-minute recital with another student were allowed to line up at this time, though none were allowed to sign up until Thursday afternoon, as all of the recital sign-up times through Thursday 9:30 a.m. were occupied by fourth-years. 

Due to a strong student backlash against this sign-up system, as well as a forecast of zero degrees Fahrenheit on Friday morning, the third wave of students were able to fill out Google forms in lieu of a standing in physical line. In an email to all Conservatory students, Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen wrote, “In light of the events on Monday — and given the inclement weather expected tomorrow (morning temperatures in the single digits) — we’re going to try a new system. Instead of requiring individuals to come in person to secure a place in the booking queue, we’re going to move the registration system online.” This temporary solution shows potential for positive change regarding recital booking.

The “recital line” is something of a rite of passage for Conservatory students. The question that these alarming circumstances raises in students’ minds, though, is, “but why?” Why are students required to show up in person, physically compete for a spot in line, lose sleep, sit quite miserably for one to five hours, and often still have to come back and wait in line again? 

The Conservatory Council of Students — an elected student body representing Conservatory student interests — released surveys late Monday morning, asking for suggestions to improve this system. Students responded with ideas such as using Google forms or surveys, requiring third-years to do fall recitals, and adding more recital slots in under-utilized halls, such as Clonick Hall. Most students recommended adding more recital times. The Conservatory removed 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. as options last spring, leaving 1:30 p.m., 3 p.m., 4:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. available, excluding instances of conflict with official school events. Many respondents also mentioned online systems, and in a follow-up survey, 77 percent of respondents felt that an online system would be an improvement.

CCS reached out to students at other music schools, including The Juilliard School, Rice University Shepherd School of Music, Eastman School of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, the Curtis Institute of Music, Mannes School of Music, and the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Students at Rice, Mannes, and Eastman expressed frustration with their school’s recital-booking processes as well, one of which is identical to Oberlin’s Conservatory, while the others were pure lotteries. On the other hand, students at Juilliard, CIM, Curtis, and U-M, were all happy with their school’s systems, all of which gave students a greater degree of convenience via online booking systems. 

“We do all our recital sign-ups online,” Stephen Joven-Lee, OC ’18 and current for our top 5 dates in order of prefJuilliard student, wrote, “They ask erence. They give required recitals priority over non-degree recitals. Other than that, it’s first come first serve.” 

U-M uses a similar system: online booking through a portal that goes live for all students at the same time. Another Oberlin grad, Tiberiu Baicoianu, OC ’18, described the Cleveland Institute of Music’s system thusly, “When doing a recital, you just fill out a form with your top 3 choice slots and most people usually get their top pick.” He added, jokingly, “It’s the one thing [where] I think [CIM] might be more organized with than Oberlin!”

Considering that Oberlin has recently made efforts to revamp its online systems, it seems fitting that our recital booking processes should step into the 21st century and go online as well. As discussed earlier, priority systems are important. Fourth-years ought to have booking priority over third-years, and fourth-years with auditions (who are in their final year) should perhaps have priority over those with fifth years. 

Though no system will be perfect, moving the process online removes the possibility that dozens of people will wake up before 5 a.m. to wait in the rain, most of whom will be turned away to return for yet another line. It may also lessen the burden on Concert Production workers, for whom this is likely the most stressful task of the year. 

Quillen wrote to CCS on Thursday evening, “In response to student concerns — and as part of our ongoing efforts to improve all administrative processes and procedures — we have commenced a thorough review of our recital-booking process. We look forward to working … over the coming months as we put much-needed improvements into place for next semester.”

Truly, these improvements are much-needed. The system that is now in place, as one student stated, “incentivizes unhealthy behavior.” It creates an undue burden for those who cannot, for any reason, miss a night of sleep and stand in the cold for hours, sit on a hard floor for hours more, just to get a recital slot that is purportedly guaranteed by our institution. This is ableist. 

But aside from these moral concerns, this system is plainly unnecessary. The school has a registration system in place (Oberview) that is capable of sorting students by eligibility, seniority, priority, etc. If the school could survey students at the beginning of each year to determine how urgent their need for a specific recital time is and give them a corresponding booking time, then open up online portals to them, the system may be more humane.