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Now Playing: Oberlin Music: the Conservatory's New Commercial Record Label

Oct. 15, 2007

At a time when digital downloading has silenced a number of major music retailers, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music is facing the music with its own new, commercial label.

Oberlin Music, which features select recordings made by the talented students and faculty members at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, debuts with two releases that capture the Conservatory’s sense of innovation, spirit, and universality. The recordings are available on traditional CD as well as on digital music channels worldwide, including Apple’s iTunes.

Beauty Surrounds Us

This recording is the Oberlin Conservatory jazz faculty’s gift to the world, and features original compositions and performances by award-winning musicians who not only teach, but who also maintain active performing careers. Compositions by renowned Professor of African American Music Wendell Logan, chair of Oberlin’s Jazz Studies Program, open and close the album, forming bookends to works and performances by his faculty colleagues: saxophonist Gary Bartz, trumpeters Marcus Belgrave and Kenny Davis, bassist Peter Dominguez, trombonist RobinEubanks, guitarist Bob Ferrazza, drummer Billy Hart, and pianist Dan Wall. From buoyant to funky to tender, the compositions include Logan’s “Shoefly” and “Remembrances,” Gary Bartz’s “GM3,” Eubanks’s “Back in the Day,” Belgrave’s “All My Love,” Ferrazza’s “Beauty Surrounds Us” and Wall’s “Carol’s Carol.”

Dan Wall’s performance of a duel composition, “Dark Feelings/A Little Love Remains,” by the late pianist Neal Creque, pays homage to the prolific composer, who wrote more than 3,000 compositions. Creque taught at Oberlin from 1988 until the time of his death in December 2000.

The album was recorded in January 2006 at the Leon Lee Dorsey Recording Studio in New York City, and produced by Dorsey (a 1981 Oberlin graduate) and engineered by Anthony Ruotolo.

The Oberlin Orchestra in China

The second masterful Oberlin Music album is The Oberlin Orchestra in China, recorded live at Beijing’s Poly Theater during the Conservatory’s ambitious recent tour of China. The exciting performances, under the baton of Bridget-Michaele Reischl, Music Director of the Oberlin Orchestras, include Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, featuring pianist Thomas Rosenkranz, a 1999 Oberlin graduate; Bizet’s Carmen Suite; Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances; familiar movie themes by John Williams (violinist John Freivogel ’06 is the soloist for the theme from Schindler’s List); and other beloved works by Johann Strauss (senior and junior) and John Philip Sousa. Three popular Chinese folks songs are a delightful addition to the recording, which was engineered by the Conservatory’s Director of Conservatory Audio Services Paul Eachus.

Facing the Music

“Oberlin is perhaps the most innovative conservatory in the nation, and we are greatly excited by this new endeavor,” says Dean of the Conservatory David H. Stull. “The Oberlin Music label provides us with an extraordinary opportunity to educate our students in topics associated with the music industry. It sets an example that students can later emulate, inspiring them to go on and produce their own label after they graduate, when they will be able to assume complete artistic and financial control over their work.”

Stull also points to the factors of convenience and durability that a recording label such as Oberlin Music provides. “With music distributed throughout the Internet, consumers can sample and really get to know a product before they purchase it. And, in a digital universe, where one can have access to music in perpetuity, Oberlin graduates returning to campus 50 years hence will find that their recordings are still available to the public online. This is by far more appealing than the traditional methods of manufacturing and retailing, where inventory eventually runs out.”

Associate Dean of Technology and Facilities Michael Lynn, the producer of Oberlin Music, believes that the timing is right for a new label. “The Conservatory generates so many concerts and produces so much material that it makes absolute sense to do a continuing label. And while many in the music world are familiar with the Oberlin Conservatory, for them to fully comprehend the quality and excellence of our work they need to hear us. Oberlin Music is a big way in which people will be able to hear what we really do,” he says. “The label allows us to be dynamic with the huge range of music that is performed here and on tour, from opera to jazz to classical to historical performance.”

World-class Recording Facilities

Although the Oberlin Music debut releases were recorded off-site, future recordings on the label will benefit from Oberlin’s superlative recording facilities. “We have state-of-the-art equipment, including microphones that are on par with those used in the best commercial studios,” says Lynn. In the past eight to 10 years, Oberlin has completely revamped the electronics in its principal performance venues—Finney Chapel, Warner Concert Hall, and Kulas Recital Hall. “In Finney, where our orchestra performs, we have just completed a technologically advanced control room for live web casts and radio broadcasts. Our new, high-definition cameras will allow us to do web streaming with high-quality video,” he adds.

There’s more to look forward to. When Oberlin’s Phyllis Litoff Building becomes a reality, the recording studio housed there will be one of the finest of its kind in the nation. “Many recording facilities are designed to record a very small number of instruments at one time,” says Lynn. “This studio will be large enough that it will offer a genuine acoustical environment and allow for high-quality recording of many types of music and many sizes of ensemble. The acoustics will also be adjustable to suit the particular musical situation.”

The Future of Sound

Dean Stull notes that the future of recording will be quite different from what we’ve been familiar with. “The liability is that everything will be retained and distributed, and in this proliferation, people will seek a reliable and efficient means of navigating a chaotic environment. I believe that the key to the next phase of the recording industry will be to establish quality for the label itself, because the capacity for an individual to search the web for music based on qualitative reputation will be the most important factor in music distribution.Because the projects undertaken by the Oberlin Music record label will always be of the highest quality, audiophiles will have no trouble finding us in the labyrinth that is becoming music on the web.”

CDs of Beauty Surrounds Us and The Oberlin Orchestra in China are available for purchase from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music for $15 each, plus shipping and handling, and may be ordered by calling Conservatory Audio at 440-775-8272, or by e-mailing Mary Sutorius at mary.sutorius@oberlin.edu.

An agreement entered into by the Conservatory with the Independent Online Distribution Alliance (IODA) is distributing Oberlin Music recordings digitally throughout the world. As a result, The Oberlin Orchestra in China is available for download from many distribution sources, including Apple’s iTunes.

Editor’s Note - Effective April 22, 2010: Since this article originally appeared, the Litoff Building has been renamed. Oberlin's new home for jazz studies, music history, and music theory is now the Bertram and Judith Kohl Building.


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