Conservatory-Athletes Share Their Stories

At one practice, they’re stretching their legs, shooting goals, or running laps. At another, they’re tuning instruments, perfecting scales, or studying music theory. Oberlin has a unique population of Conservatory and double-degree students who also compete as varsity athletes, polishing both their sport and art while balancing the time commitments that come with both.

Double-degree second-year Ethan Long is currently a right-back defender for the men’s soccer team. He first started playing the sport when he was five years old, later playing for his high school in the fall as well as with a club team year-round. At the age of eight, he was introduced to the guitar and dabbled in upright bass and piano. However, it wasn’t until freshman year of high school that Long began producing music, starting with his own instrumental album.

After soccer practice, Long can be found producing songs in the TIMARA studios. Though undecided in the College, he is interested in Sociology or Africana Studies. Although Long has to be on top of time management, he enjoys what he studies and performs.

“I’m doing stuff that I like to do already … it just always feels like free time,” Long said. “I enjoy my major in the Conservatory, and I just enjoy what I like. This is the first semester where I have to deal with all three at the same time. Everything … is just more efficient. I’m studying when I’m supposed to, and it’s like I have everything mapped out. Because of the season, I was just so strict with what time I get everything done. There’s no procrastination; I try to get all my homework done before practice and stuff, so I’m not cramming up late at night.”

Lately, Long has been turning jazz samples into cinematic pieces and producing R&B music. He also regularly collaborates with fellow teammates, making beats with fourth-year midfielder AJ Gembala as well as jamming with second-year goalkeeper Colvin Iorio.

Conservatory second-year Emily Bergin has played the upright bass since second grade. In high school, Bergin played in the Metropolitan Youth and Long Island Orchestras, as well as All-State and All-Eastern Ensembles. Growing up in an Irish household, she played in an Irish music group for years and learned a variety of instruments including the accordion, harmonica, tin whistle, Irish flute, and mandolin. In congruence to her music education, Bergin has also been swimming since she was eight years old and currently competes the 50-, 100-, and 200-yard freestyle.

As both a swimmer and a double bassist taking part in the large ensemble on campus, Bergin has a lot of events that overlap, splitting most of her time in the Conservatory and Phillips Gym.

“It’s definitely really hard, and sometimes there’s a lot of things that the schedules overlap with for swim and all of the different music things I have,” Bergin said. “So on a Tuesday, it’s the worst day of that because I’ll usually have to go to swim at 12 right after my class. I can’t make the practice later because I have my studio class. If I’m in the rotation for orchestra, I would have to go to rehearsal right after swimming. But usually I manage to push it all together, and my coaches work with me to let me go in [to the pool] on my own time if I can’t make the team stuff.”

Sam Goetz is a double-degree fourth-year on the cross country and track team. He plays Jazz Percussion in the Conservatory and studies Environmental Studies in the College. Although he initially started playing violin, Goetz convinced his parents to let him switch to drums in fifth grade. In between practices and performances with the Minnesota Youth Jazz Band and the concert and pep bands offered at school, he played school and club soccer and ran track throughout high school. Initially recruited for the track team, Goetz first started running cross country in college, and currently runs the 8-kilometer event, a far cry from the 800-meter and mile track and field events he normally runs.

This adaptivity and flexibility has pushed him to pursue other musical endeavors — for one Winter Term, he learned and practiced marimba. Goetz has played everything from classical to rock, but he’s gravitated toward jazz.

“As I started listening to and playing more music, jazz became the most fun for me to learn,” Goetz said. “And as I got more serious with [drumming] in high school, I was like, [ jazz] is the music I want to study.”

There are also a number of other Conservatory students on the cross country team, including fourth-years Matthew Walton, and Kenny Schafer, third-year, and second-year Marisa Tayal. Goetz also plays in a New Orleans brass band with his fourth-year teammate Sam Russ, a double-degree Tuba Performance and Classics student.

Despite the challenges of balancing meets, performances, practices, and everything in between, Conservatory and double-degree musician-athletes have found ways to creatively blend both of their passions together. And for those like Goetz, the physical demand for his sport gives him confidence for his academic and musical studies.

“If I can run the 8K, then I can do anything else,” he said.