Although Oberlin is well-known for the Conservatory’s music, the musicality of College students is sometimes overlooked. The majority of people I have met at Oberlin play an instrument — with varying levels of skill and frequency, of course. Some students are more serious and have bands, whereas others make it a hobby of picking up a guitar once a month. I was initially shocked at how music is such a natural part of Oberlin’s campus.
I used to play piano and flute, and I loved it. I loved creating musical sounds and hearing tunes come from my own fingers. Flute and piano took two different skill sets to play, and I enjoyed the challenge of switching between them, pleasantly satisfied when music came from both.
For me, playing music can be a way to relieve stress, find a group of like-minded peers, and express myself. Making music can also be a therapeutic break from a busy day and a great way to care for your mental health. However you relate to music, it can be an enriching part of your life, and it is wonderful that Oberlin students value this practice.
In high school, however, I gave up both flute and piano. I told myself I did not have time. I was studying or writing essays, working for the school papers, attending club meetings, and trying to make time for friends. It didn’t help that my piano lessons were on Sunday mornings, and I hated waking up early. At the time, I was secure in my reasoning for giving up music: If music is not my career focus, why would I spend my time practicing my instruments?
Despite those four years being extremely busy and stressful, I never once thought to use music as a breather. It wasn’t until I arrived at Oberlin that I began to realize the true value of playing music. Obies allow music to engulf them, letting tunes carry them away from everyday stress. Being surrounded by musical geeks inspired me to pick up my flute again.
Oberlin students don’t always have time for hobbies. We have crazy busy schedules that are perpetually overbooked. But what’s special about Oberlin is that music isn’t really a hobby — it’s a way of life, a part of the air here in Oberlin. Music is a collaborative art form to bond over, and it brings Obies closer together.
Over the course of my first year at Oberlin I learned about the numerous resources the College has to support students’ interest in music, such as renting out instruments, providing secondary lessons, and allowing access to the Conservatory Annex. However, I was nervous to reach out to a Conservatory professor about getting secondary lessons. The level of talent in the Conservatory can be intimidating. I only recently started playing my flute again, and I am still working on making consistent sounds. Certainly professors would laugh me out of my audition.
But I realized that Oberlin’s music culture is not really elite or about being perfect — or at least it isn’t for College students. The focus here is caring about music and committing yourself to your instrument. Auditions are simply just to see your level, even if all you can manage are a few notes. No shame, no pressure, just fun. And when I finally did reach out to the professor who coordinates secondary lessons for flute, I felt reassured that there is no judgement, and that professors really just want to help us strengthen our connection to music. The ultimate goal is to bring music into the world.
At Oberlin, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from some of the greatest musicians in the country. I don’t want to waste this four-year chance by being ashamed of my skills. I want to accept this challenge as a way to grow.
That being said, it did take me a year to recommit myself to my flute. It is a difficult choice, and I will have to find time next semester to set aside for secondary lessons. Maybe I only agreed because my schedule feels light in the fall. But the core of my decision is being in Oberlin, surrounded by musical Obies, walking the sidewalks paved with the low hum of music.