Founded in 1833, the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio has played a crucial role in the nurturing and development of musical talent in North America. As part of our focus on conservatoires this month, we got in touch to ask how Oberlin prepares its students for professional life after graduation.

Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and Eighth Blackbird Ensemble © Roger Mastorianni
Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble and Eighth Blackbird Ensemble
© Roger Mastorianni

1. What percentage of your graduates secure steady employment within the music industry as performers? 

Oberlin were unable to provide answers for this question at the time.

2. How do you prepare your students for a self-employed career in music?

At Oberlin, giving bright students the tools to realize their goals takes the energy and cooperation of the entire college and conservatory. It is the balance of this synergy that has inspired a number of initiatives directed at transforming this noble ideal into reality.

Oberlin is the only major music school in the United States that focuses on educating undergraduate musicians. This means that students play in ensembles large and small from their first week on campus, and are supported in taking risks that prepare them for musical leadership.

At Oberlin, high expectations are the norm. Described by the New York Times as a “rural experimental haven”, Oberlin presents opportunities for intensive study and immersive performance experiences. There is a conscious institutional commitment to taking students from the campus cocoon to U.S. and international arts destinations where they gain realistic, professional performing experience on the world’s respected stages.

Oberlin’s four-week winter term each January emphasizes experimentation, intellectual independence and personal responsibility. Students devise and pursue on- and off-campus programs of independent research, projects, and concert tours, individually or with a group.

Creativity & Leadership: Entrepreneurship at Oberlin offers students the chance to put their innovative ideas into action, in practice and preparation for professional life after Oberlin. A multidisciplinary, cross-campus initiative, Creativity & Leadership fosters a culture of smart risk-taking and provides students with funding, coaching, and other resources to launch ventures, artistic and otherwise. And through our new accelerator program, LaunchU, Oberlin extends that support to our students even after graduation.

Oberlin Conservatory, <i>Lost Highway</i> US première © Roger Mastorianni
Oberlin Conservatory, Lost Highway US première
© Roger Mastorianni

3. What skills do you give your students that might help them if looking for a career outside the music industry?

Sharing a campus with one of the nation’s most renowned liberal arts institutions has distinct benefits. It’s the key reason why Oberlin invented the double degree nearly 100 years ago and why 40 new conservatory students each year elect to pursue studies in musical performance and composition alongside science, humanities, and other disciplines. The double degree opens the door to an enormous array of professional possibilities for life after Oberlin. And, for nearly 100 years, more Oberlin graduates have gone on to earn PhDs than any other American baccalaureate college.

4. To what extent do you advise your students about other roles within the arts sector, such as classical music PR, artist management, publishing, advertising or writing about the arts?

There are enormous possibilities at Oberlin for charting a course for work in arts administration, education, and critical reviewing. Self-designed majors that combine classes in both the college of arts and sciences and the conservatory, aided by attentive and skilled faculty advisors, have resulted in many students moving on to graduate programs and careers throughout the arts sector. There are classes in entrepreneurship, touring, finance, journalism, music criticism, and arts management.

Oberlin Conservatory also developed the inaugural Rubin Institute for Music Criticism. The first program of its kind focusing on music and music criticism, the Rubin Institute brings together, before the public, a roster of national music journalists, renowned musicians, and aspiring young writers, combining the wisdom and insight of today's highly esteemed critics, the artistry and daring of acclaimed musicians, and the energy and promise of tomorrow's music journalists.  The biennial institute comprises a weeklong series of public events including performances, keynote addresses by critics, critical review, and discussion panels. Leading up to the institute, student writers take the conservatory's fall course, Introduction to Music Criticism, taught by a team of local journalists and writers.

5. Teaching ability is almost inevitably an essential skill for self-employed musicians - what emphasis is this given in their academic course?

Oberlin established the first four-year college degree program in music education in the United States nearly 100 years ago. Today, the Master of Music Teaching degree program is a well-established track for students. Outside of that degree program, students taking secondary applied music lessons frequently study with conservatory students who have completed instruction in pedagogy. These young teachers are observed and mentored by conservatory faculty throughout their work with these students. Oberlin’s Community Music School is also an effective laboratory for musicians practicing teaching skills gained in pedagogy classes throughout the conservatory. The Community Music School, comprising nearly 200 students from pre-school through high school ages, is an affiliate of Oberlin Conservatory.

Oberlin Conservatory musicians, Kennedy Center © Jeffrey MacMillan
Oberlin Conservatory musicians, Kennedy Center
© Jeffrey MacMillan

 

If you studied music at university or a conservatoire then we want to hear from you! Click here to answer our questionnaire about what music degrees do to prepare students for the professional world. 

You can also see what the Juilliard School in New York, the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Sydney Conservatorium had to say.