A Spotlight on Professor Ogechi Ukazu

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of Miami, FL

 

I met Professor Ukazu at a summer conducting symposium a few years ago. She is ambitious, humorous, and well-spoken.

 

Professor Ogechi Ukazu, originally from Houston, TX, has most recently served as the Associate Director of Instrumental Studies at the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor. Professor Ukazu holds a degree in Music from the University of Houston (2008), a Master’s in Conducting from Sam Houston State University (2014), and has been accepted as a doctoral candidate for the Wind Conducting program at the University of Texas at Austin. Ukazu knew that she wanted to pursue education as early as the eighth grade. “In my band classes,” she shared, “I was always asked for help by my peers. I was always good at explaining things […] Everyone is born with certain innate talents, and music was mine.” She credits this initial attraction to the craft to her middle school director, Mr. Clyde Daniel, “who always supported [her] and started [her] on the path” towards becoming a music educator. “In every part of my career,” she said, “I have been lucky to work with people who are an inspiration. My work is dedicated to my past teachers.”

After graduating from the University of Houston in 2008, Professor Ukazu accepted a position as the Head Band Director for Claughton Middle School in Spring ISD. During the following three years, she worked to discover herself as an educator and to continue the program’s history of success. In 2011, Ukazu accepted an invitation to travel with the Claughton Middle School Symphonic Band to perform at the Midwest International Orchestra and Band Clinic. One individual in particular, who provided valuable mentoring during her time at Spring ISD, was Richard C. Crain who had just retired from the district in 2000 and currently serves as the president of The Midwest Clinic.

In the fall of 2012, Ukazu began her graduate studies at the University of Sam Houston State University, under the guidance of Dr. Matthew McInturf, where she also served as a graduate teaching assistant. It was during this stage in her career that Professor Ukazu began to take notice of the power of conducting as an artform as well as a functional tool in rehearsals. She began to set aside time to study performances by people at the top of the field including Professor Eddie Green (University of Houston), Professor Jerry Junkin (University of Texas at Austin), Professor H. Robert Reynolds (University of Southern California), and others. It was these men’s ability to “show the most heart-wrenchingly-beautiful lines” in one moment and then to fill the room with boisterous laughter in the next that really caught her attention; this was a whole different level of musician and educator. Ukazu decided that she might like to become a director of bands at the university level in order to impact a larger number of students and explore a wider range of musical styles.

From 2014-2016, Professor Ukazu served as the Director of Bands for Clear Creek High School in League City, TX and then accepted a position as the Associate Director of Bands for Cypress Ridge High School in Houston, TX in 2016. It was during this period, that Professor Ukazu was beginning to seriously investigate applying for her DMA in wind conducting and decided to contact Professor Jerry Junkin (University of Texas at Austin) about future openings and thoughts on her shortcomings as a candidate.

Opportunity presented itself in early 2018, when an interim position as the Associate Director of Instrumental Studies was posted by the University of Mary Hardin Baylor (UMHB). Ukazu, who had not yet intended on leaving her current position at Cypress Ridge High School, saw a chance to break into the collegiate level of education and to gain experience with more advanced music. With Professor Junkin’s blessing, she applied and was selected to fill the position for the 2018-2019 school year. “I quickly realized how special the place is,” Ukazu shared, “it has definitely been my favorite year of teaching so far.” In addition to directing the wind ensemble at UMHB, Professor Ukazu’s other duties included leading the pep band and jazz band, and teaching academic courses in conducting and literature (for wind band and orchestra).

When asked about her teaching philosophy, Professor Ukazu shared her two main pillars of education; empowerment of the students and maintaining a growth-mindset. She firmly believes in almost equal involvement in the rehearsal process between director and musician and encourages educators to help students “realize their own abilities and equip them with the tools to succeed (not just the answers).” Ukazu’s students are expected to prepare not only the technical side of their parts, but to also attend rehearsals with their own musical ideas and interpretations. “They get so much more out of the experience when they do it themselves,” she elaborated, “and it allows us to have more than one brain (the director’s) solving problems.” Professor Ukazu also reminds educators to take time periodically to determine where their own shortcomings are and to devise a plan to improve in that area. She admitted that selecting appropriate music for her ensembles is one of the things she is the worst at and has made efforts to explore the available literature more in depth.

To beginning or struggling music educators, Professor Ukazu advises, “Be prepared, be knowledgeable […] and ask a lot of questions.” She encourages brand new teachers to “get in there and get your hands dirty” and to resist the urge to give up when met with small failures. “It’s the only time you get to be a first year teacher,” she said, “so just try things and make mistakes and learn from it all.” She advises Texas educators particularly to take advantage of the enormous number of resources and mentors available through TMEA and local school programs, saying, “This is not a profession where you have to be isolated.”

Currently, Professor Ukazu is excited to begin her studies at the University of Texas and hopes to, through her future contributions to the field, “positively influence the next generation of teachers and to make (instrumental) music a more present part of society.”

Follow Professor Ukazu and the University of Texas Bands Here

Enroll in the TMEA Mentoring Program Here  

 

Lecture suggestion from Professor Ukazu:

“The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard” Leonard Bernstein

  

 

Sources

Interview on May 28, 2019.

 

Ukazu, Ogechi. (2019). Linkedin Profile. Web. 5 June 2019. <https://www.linkedin.com/in/ogechi-ukazu-

128a2451>

 

Ruthven, Emily. (2014). “Ukazu Welcomed into the CCHS Band Program.” The Hilife. Around the

Creek. Web. 5 June 2019. <https://creekhilife.com/623/around-creek/ukazu-welcomed-into-the-cchs-

band-program/>