Music is an integral part of daily life at both Oberlin College and Oberlin Conservatory. Whether you’re jamming in the lounge of your dormitory, practicing away at the conservatory, or listening to organ music at midnight in Finney Chapel, it is hard for you to escape the omnipresence of music at Oberlin. Although there are a plethora of ways to approach the process surrounding the sonorities at Oberlin, our research focuses on three aspects that we found to be fundamental to music making: practice, improvisation, and performance. These three manifestations of music encompass musical sounds produced by the spectrum of people at Oberlin: from the world renowned professors and conservatory students, who practice multiple hours a day and give monumental recital performances, to the jazz musicians shedding alone and together, and even to the guy down your hall singing in the shower.
No matter where you stand in any of the three main Oberlin Conservatory buildings, if you listen very closely, you can hear someone practicing. Our field recordings explore how the architecture and ambience of rehearsal spaces at Oberlin influence and are influenced by the music they house. These cellular, isolated rooms are the places in which musicians of all genres refine their sounds and prepare for performances in much larger, public spaces. We were interested in how the size and configuration of these rooms made them more conducive to practicing and less suitable for performance.
As one of the most spontaneous aspects of music, improvisation is found everywhere in the world and is especially common in a place as musically charged as Oberlin College.The Cat in the Cream cafe, a dormitory lounge, or the middle of Tappan Square are just some of the places that one can find improvised music on the campus of Oberlin. In this part of the exhibit, we listen to recordings of different instruments at different places, such as a person scat singing in a dorm room, to see how improvisation manifests throughout Oberlin.
Performances are the most visible parts of music on Oberlin’s campus. Through many hours of practice and preparation ensembles at Oberlin consistently perform exciting concerts for the community. There is a wide variety of settings and styles in which performances can take place. Be it sitting in the front row at a formal piano duo recital in Warner Concert Hall, or lying on stage with over a hundred other students in an amorphous blob at a spooky “Organ Pump” at midnight on Halloween in Finney Chapel, profound performances are abound at Oberlin, no matter how late.
On a college campus that houses one of the finest conservatories and some of the most creative and spontaneous students in the country, the three aspects of music which we explored are apparent in everyday life. Practice, improvisation and performance are as regular to most Oberlin students as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Through our recordings, we hope that the attentive listener will be able to take a aural glimpse of the musical soundscapes of Oberlin.