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By Daniel Hathaway

Oberlin, OH — January 24, 2012. At a Sunday morning ceremony in Klonick Hall of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music on January 22, Dean David Stull and donor Stephen Rubin announced the winners of the grand prize and public prize in the first bi-annual Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, which began on January 18.

Rubin Winner

The $10,000 prize went to Jacob Street (above, with Rubin and Stull), a master’s candidate in historical performance from North Reading, MA. In a surprise development, the panel awarded honorable mention to Megan Emberton, a senior piano major from Chelsea, MI, along with a cash award of $2,500. Read the rest of this entry »


By Susan Lee

LeeLady Gaga’s meat dress is now on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What a shame that the matching headpiece, clutch, and heels (also made of raw meat) to the sirloin sensation that the pop singer wore to an awards ceremony in 2010 didn’t make it to the exhibit. I guess a morals-challenging raw meat concoction is what it takes to get people talking in the 21st century. It also appears that not everyone hated it because people are actually making their way to the museum to get a look at the newly taxidermied dress, which now, in effect, looks nothing like what the idiosyncratic singer actually wore that day.

This is the type of century we live in, whether you find it revolting or intriguing. Social networks define human interaction; it is the age of digital media and a booming pop culture. It is a time where people aren’t afraid to express themselves and controversy is no longer an element of surprise. How, then, does a world-renowned classical pianist wearing a mini skirt on stage fit into all of this? Read the rest of this entry »

By Chad Putka

PutkaThe culture of barbershop music is in peril. Many readers may be puzzled by the notion of any kind of modern barbershop culture, let alone one that’s seen better days, but trust me, it’s out there.

Today, about 30,000 people across the world make up the men’s barbershop community alone, including representation in New Zealand, Sweden, Great Britain, Japan, and many other countries, and even more women sing barbershop music than men do. But as the men and women who participate in barbershop music-making have gotten older and begun to die off, barbershop music organizations have begun to make recruitment of new and particularly young “barbershoppers” a top priority.

One job that some barbershoppers feel is related to this recruitment work is the responsibility to preserve the barbershop style in its purest form. As the early Barbershop Harmony Society grew, preservation of its musical style quickly became one of its chief goals. But what exactly is barbershop? What isn’t it? Read the rest of this entry »

By Matthew Young

YoungC.P.E. Bach’s Solfeggio in C Minor is not a difficult piece for the classical pianist. During my middle school years, it was both technically and musically challenging, but now, with more developed technique, I find the piece is easily playable at the composer’s fast tempo markings. As an experiment, I played the piece for my friend, an occasional classical music listener who mainly listens to music of the non-classical genre. He listened intently to my purposefully obscene performance of the piece — faster than Bach’s demands and replete with missing notes and ignored editorial marks. The music made almost no sense, but he was amazed.

Later, I sent him a recording of Georgian pianist Eliso Virsaladze’s dark and sensitive performance of the second movement of Prokofiev’s second piano sonata. “It sounds like she is playing wrong notes…but she isn’t,” he remarked, reacting to the movement’s dissonance. After explaining to him that it was both technically and musically difficult, he said, “I still think Solfeggio sounds harder.” In a moment, all the years of work at the piano since I studied Bach’s piece flashed through my mind. Are notes all that people hear? Read the rest of this entry »

By Megan Emberton

EmbertonIt was destiny. I was a weary piano student, disenchanted with life at a music school, home for an entire summer because I had felt far too wretched to land myself a spot at any summer festivals. And then we met. The accordion was waiting for me, behind the jewelry counter at a local junk shop. It was very 1960s, gold accents, ridiculous, smelled like mildew, and it was the answer to all of my problems. I hemmed and hawed for a couple of hours, then blew three hundred bucks on an instrument I couldn’t really play. My visiting aunt chipped in because when I strapped that box on my shoulders, my gloomy face lit up for the first time all summer. We were made for each other, the accordion and me.

My instrument and I were relegated to playing outside for the first few weeks. With every push and pull, the bellows would billow a musty plume of dust. My mother said that sunlight exposure is key for getting rid of mold and mildew — oh, and accordions are loud instruments whether or not you can play them properly. I spent a lot of time sitting on a stool in the driveway, getting used to playing a keyboard sideways and negotiating the mysteries of the 120 bass buttons my left hand had to contend with. I am still not sure what the neighbors thought. Read the rest of this entry »

Rubin Fellows

Rubin Institute Fellows. Front Row, L-R: Jacob Street, Sam Rosenberg, Mandy Hogan & Chad Putka. Second Row, L-R: Meghan Farnsworth, Susan Lee, Megan Emberton, Gabe Kanengiser, Matthew Young & Charlotte Dutton.

As part of Cleveland’s continuing coverage of Oberlin’s Stephen and Cynthia Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, we feature the Rubin Institute Fellows who were selected to participate in the January 18-22 institute by the teaching panel leading the Oberlin Conservatory’s new fall course, Introduction to Music Criticism. The panel included Brian Alegant, Professor and Director of the Music Theory Division at the Oberlin Conservatory; Mike Telin and Daniel Hathaway of ClevelandClassical, and Donald Rosenberg, Plain Dealer Music Critic and President of the Music Critics’ Association of North America. The fellows also spent two class sessions with guest speaker Charles Michener, author and former senior editor of The New Yorker.

As the final assignment for the class, each student was asked to write a “Think Piece” on a topic of their choice. The ten essays will appear in subsequent posts.

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Daniel Hathaway
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