Chelsea and Chloe DeSouza have a relationship unlike that of most sisters. The Mumbai, India, natives are not just siblings who study at Oberlin; they also perform together. Chelsea ’16, a double-degree student with majors in piano performance, vocal accompanying, and politics, accompanies Chloe ’18, a singer majoring in voice and piano. Other times, they join together as a piano duo.
“We have very similar ideas musically, so when we perform it really seems like one, like I’m accompanying myself or she’s singing,” Chloe says.
“We’ve collaborated so much that it feels like a natural thing,” Chelsea adds.
The DeSouza sisters’ multiple areas of study distinguish their musicianship. “The thing that’s really interesting accompanying Chloe is that she’s a pianist, so she knows exactly how she wants my part to sound,” Chelsea says. “I do secondary voice as well, so I understand what it’s like to be singing things.” (Chelsea also sings in and arranges for the all-female campus a cappella group Nothing But Treble.)
Chloe’s pianistic studies draw her attention to the piano parts of art song, so that she can “color the music according to the harmonies,” she says. “And a lot of people say I sing at the piano.”
“Chloe inclines more toward the sensuous, expressive side of interpretation,” says Professor of Piano Peter Takács, who teaches both DeSouzas. “Chelsea is cerebral, focused, analytical, and multi-dimensional.”
For Chelsea, who plans to study piano with Boris Slutsky at the Peabody Institute, Oberlin was appealing for its wide variety of majors on both sides of campus. “I realized it was way too early for me to stop studying other things beyond music,” she says. “Oberlin seemed like a really cool place because it has the college and conservatory on the same campus. I think it’s really important to have those other perspectives, and it informs your playing even if not in an obvious way.”
Oberlin also provided a strong international community for support. Chelsea says that the friends she made during her first-year international student orientation have ended up being her closest friends. The sisters have each other as well, and they try to have a weekly dinner together in addition to a shared class and Chloe’s voice lessons, in which Chelsea takes part.
The DeSouzas’ many majors have not diminished their multifarious talents. Chelsea will perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Oberlin Orchestra in May, her prize for being one of four winners of the conservatory’s annual Concerto Competition. Both sisters have won the Con Brio piano competition in India, where they played Rhapsody in Blue as a piano duo last summer.
The DeSouzas have presented many other performances together in India, including two tours funded by Oberlin’s Creativity & Leadership Project and the Bonner Center for Service and Learning. Though they usually perform when they go home, those tours provided more structure than most, with each sister leading master classes, teaching concerts, and playing at a festival in addition to giving concerts.
Performing together has been successful enough that the sisters are considering it as a career. “It’s such a fun idea to do a concert that combines both our talents,” Chelsea says. “There are lots of permutations and combinations: voice and piano, solo piano, piano duo. It’s less stressful since we’re not playing all solo music; it’s interesting for us and very interesting for the audience.”
Variety, musicality, multiple perspectives, a sisterly bond. As Takács says: “Two different personalities, both compelling and highly gifted.”