Oberlin's Attitude Towards Basic Musicians?

I want to apply to Oberlin for computer science/psychology. I was psyched about its huge music presence on campus because I am a choir junkie and I want to stay involved in music because I love it. However, I’m no expert by far. If I wanted to get involved with music on campus, would people brush me off or judge me because I’m not majoring in it and/or because I don’t have much knowledge? How hard would it be for me to get involved in a vocal group that isn’t super hardcore but more for the fun of it?

When my daughter was doing a similar search, the impression I got was that Lawrence U and St. Olaf had more inclusive music programs, for non-majors, that Oberlin, while still offering the huge music presence that you’re looking for. Don’t take my word for it, certainly, but those would be good schools to compare.

Agreed that, in the past, Lawrence and St Olaf were more welcoming to non-Con (Lawrence) or non-majors (St Olaf). However, Oberlin’s recent strategic plan outlines a move to shrink the Con and expand music opportunities to College (as opposed to Con) students. So, on balance, I would say this is a work in progress/moving target and really hard to know how the changes will impact non-Con students at Oberlin. The beauty of Oberlin is that it is a music-rich community, so there is much to savor. For an applicant, I’d encourage detailed questions to get a clear picture of what the experience will look like going forward.

I was undergrad at Oberlin and sang in a voice studio and the Oberlin College Choir. So from personal experience (as opposed to tons of hearsay I won’t relate here), I can only speak for the voice and choral dynamics. Being able to continue with music was one of the main reasons I chose Oberlin. I think I would say that while conservatory students are extremely competitive among themselves, college students aren’t really included in that infighting (which is too strong a word - maybe wrangling for position?).

I would say the OCC was made up of 1/3 to 1/2 students from the college when I was in it. Without the participation of non-Con students, it wouldn’t have been what it was. I also personally knew two voice majors who auditioned but were turned down because their voices couldn’t blend. Time constraints also kept some voice majors (and instrumentalists) out. You have to pass the audition hurdle, but once you’re in the choir, everyone is equal. That was my experience, at any rate. The OCC was for college AND Con. There are also, of course, a number of other choral groups, and there are the Gilbert & Sullivan players and musicals and a capella ensembles − and OF COURSE, the Musical Union, which is inclusive of everybody, including nonstudents. And which gets to perform in the fabulous Finney Chapel, which is an experience not to be missed. As Midwestmomofboys put it above, it’s a music-rich environment and there will be other people with similar interests. If the formal ensembles are not for you, why not help start a new group? That would be the Oberlin thing to do.

My experience with private lessons was this: I auditioned for private lessons as a freshman and was assigned a senior voice major as a teacher. I was disappointed at first. The truth is, Conservatory musicians student-teaching need someone to teach. Who else but the students in the college? So we were indispensable to them. And as part of my lessons, I performed twice (with accompanist) for my teacher’s teacher, who was a highly regarded member of the voice faculty, and got her notes and critiques. The next semester, my audition landed me a spot in a the studio of another teacher on the voice faculty. This meant one lesson a week + participating in her weekly two-hour studio class, which was held in the recital hall (Kulas). It was nerve-wracking to perform on stage for an audience of all voice majors (I was also a choir junkie, but not much of a performer. I really enjoyed singing for myself and rehearsing choral pieces more than anything). But it was a great boon being privy to the other singers’ works-in-progress and the master-class-style critiques. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

I hope this helps a little. Even though my personal information is not current (now my son is gearing up to apply), I’ve been back to Oberlin and the atmosphere has not changed. A lot of it is also what you make of it.

I went to Oberlin (in the 80s) as a non-music student, loving to sing and having been in my high school’s “select choir” (albeit the worst person in it). I was pretty much out-classed in even the no- cut choir at Oberlin. I sang for one semester and then it stopped being fun. My daughter applied and got into Oberlin. She is a passionate viola player, but did not want to major in music. We learned from the experiences of other students in her situation that it IS, in fact, harder to access music at Oberlin than it is at St Olaf or Lawrence. Our daughter ended up at St Olaf and is playing in the St Olaf Orchestra and taking private lessons. The religion thing at Olaf is not an issue. Lawrence seemed way to isolated for her. While Olaf ranks lower than Oberlin on the US News, we did SO much research and worked with a college counselor and have zero reason to think that the quality of education is any less. That said, I understand that Oberlin recently stepped it up and is now offering an orchestra for non Conservatory students.

I did want to add that when I said Lawrence was too isolated, it’s because Appleton is ALL there is. It’s a mid-size city, but that’s all she wrote. Nothing else nearby. Even Oberlin is close to Cleveland, and you can get from St Olaf to the Twin Cities in 35-60 minutes, easy drive. So that’s what I meant by isolated.