If you’ve ever strolled through Wilder Bowl — maybe to get to Mudd, maybe to leave Mudd, maybe to stare at Mudd’s ominous face only to turn around and go back to bed— you’ve probably heard the rumbles of bass and drums bleeding through the thin walls of Wilder 404, Oberlin’s only practice room for College bands. Yes, it’s true: Oberlin has one rehearsal space for nonacademic ensembles. While Oberlin loves to flaunt impressive statistics about its booming music scene — the number of Steinways, (Conservatory) practice rooms and shows on campus — the fact that there’s only one measly space for College bands is omitted from all of its websites, brochures and tours. So let’s take a tour, shall we?
Way up on the fourth floor of Wilder Hall and down one of its dark hallways, you’ll find a solitary white door marked by rusted numbers reading “404.” Assuming you’re one of the handful of people granted access — only the nine bands that wake up the earliest on the first day of each semester to sign up can use the room — and have therefore been vouchsafed the key, you can try your hand at the door’s timeworn lock. If you manage to get through, your eyes will instantly stick to the room’s windowless walls. If you can peel them from the patchy paint job, you’ll then be struck by the carpet’s age-old filth: possible bloodstains, vomit and who knows what else. You’ll see a curious stump of what once was a full-grown metal pipe jutting out from the ground, ready to impale an unsuspecting rocker. You’ll notice three closets just big enough to store equipment — instruments and speakers hauled all the way from home — for six of the nine bands. Your eyes will suddenly lose focus, and you’ll imagine with envy the endless halls of Conservatory practice rooms.
On an architectural scale of one to ten — ten being the niceness of the new football complex — Wilder 404 can be considered a one. But it is at least on the scale because it does exist; Oberlin does provide non-academic bands with something, and for that we’re thankful. And just to make things clear, most people don’t mind the ramshackle condition of the room; if anything, it probably complements the grungy aesthetic of many of its users. But its condition is telling: Oberlin undeniably neglects non-academic musicians. And this neglect becomes ever more distressing when put in the context of Oberlin’s reputation as a mecca for musicians. Indeed, many College musicians both literally and figuratively buy into the hype every year, only to be painfully disillusioned by the lack of resources available for their kind of musical expression.
If Oberlin wants to uphold its mostly sound reputation as a destination for musicians, it should work to patch up its holes. For starters, the College could offer students an additional practice space so that more than just nine early-bird bands can have a place to play. If the institution really wants to get serious, it could also equip the rooms with a used drum set or two, and maybe some speakers; this would mean that in the future, students won’t have to lug their own drums or speakers from home, and those without access to a storage closet won’t have to schlep their equipment to and from Wilder and up and down its four flights of stairs every time they want to rehearse. If Oberlin really is a supporter of music, then it should show non-academic bands more respect and help foster an environment conducive to expression for all its student musicians, academic and non-academic alike.
If you share any of these grievances or would like more information, you can contact College sophomore Julian Geltman of the up-and-coming Oberlin Gear Co-op. The Gear Co-op is working to give non-academic musicians a voice and to build them a more accommodating musical environment.