Oberlin College and Conservatory unequally distribute musical opportunities for their students. Oberlin has a renowned music program, yet accessing those resources is actually quite difficult for students in the college — like myself. While the college and conservatory are separate entities, the lines that separate them are often blurry. They share a campus, mailing list, and many students. This gives the illusion that the institution provides similar musical opportunities for all, but to access these resources, one must first be accepted into the conservatory. The college itself does not actually offer many musical opportunities for its students. The nature of this problem mostly relates to restricted use of facilities and low availability of music courses. For students like myself not trained in classical or jazz, there are surprisingly few opportunities for participation. College should allow young people to explore different interests, but Oberlin does not make this easily accessible to all students.
The difference in facility access makes it far more difficult for college students to have a space to practice music. Jazz students are able to use three newly-built rehearsal rooms in the Kohl building, while college students only have access to the Gear Co-op, a small windowless room on the 4th floor of Wilder with often broken equipment. This single room is shared amongst the entire college. While it makes sense for conservatory students to have more rehearsal spaces, college students do not have sufficient resources.
Oberlin’s course registration system is outdated and confusing for any student, but it is particularly hard for those interested in music classes. Conservatory students get priority for music classes and many college students are unable to enroll in them because passing a music theory is often a prerequisite. Students without a music theory background would likely not pass, preventing them from taking any actual music classes. For those that do, the classes available mostly focus on jazz or classical music. If a student is not interested in those genres, there are not really any courses to take.
Other liberal arts colleges have courses such as “Pop Music Songwriting” (Temple University) or “Music, Recording, and Sound Design” (Wesleyan University) or “Introduction to Musicianship” (St. Olaf College). St. Olaf College also has a course that is “Designed for students with little or no background in music. This hands-on course presents the fundamental materials of music through creative keyboard experiences, music listening, music reading, and aural and visual analysis.”
Oberlin’s Technology in Music and Related Arts (TIMARA) is a department of the conservatory more open to students, but access is also limited. Though music theory is not a prerequisite for TIMARA courses, it is still very difficult to actually get into one of these classes. To register, all students are placed on a waitlist until the second week of classes the following semester. This means that students must always enroll in other courses in the meantime, which makes those courses unavailable to students who actually want to take them. This is frustrating for students trying to get into the TIMARA program or merely solidify their schedule. The courses offered only cater to a small percentage of students with content heavily focusing on technology and mechanics of sound. That appears to leave out studio recording, which seems to be of interest to a wider range of students. There are two courses that relate to that, but one is reserved for TIMARA majors.
“One Oberlin” is a plan to better align Oberlin’s institutional resources with its mission, but its goals have yet to be fully realized. The webpage states “One Oberlin is a bold vision that builds on Oberlin’s powerful legacy and ensures Oberlin’s reach and relevancy for its third century and beyond. The plan’s recommendations focus on enhancing student learning outcomes and supporting academic and artistic excellence, while developing a roadmap to financial resiliency.” It seems like that is something that Oberlin is interested in, but is not actually doing anything to realize.
One accessible part of Oberlin’s music scene is Concert Sound, which provides audio engineering for any student wanting to put on a show. Although this is not heavily advertised, after sending a few emails, students are put in touch with people that can help. Concert Sound does a phenomenal job and are very helpful people.
While Oberlin has a deep reputation for music, its resources are not widely spread throughout the college, but favor the top tier of musicians in the conservatory. This leaves many college students wondering what is available to them. Perhaps sharing more resources would result in Oberlin becoming the egalitarian institution that it strives to be.