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Raymund Ocampo talks about an anonymous donation that will make a new piano lab possible at Linn-Benton Community College for the first time in years.

Music students at Linn-Benton Community College will soon have access to their first piano lab in years, reducing their costs for education and boosting university transfer possibilities.

Raymund Ocampo, chairman of the college's music program and director of choral studies, received a $20,000 donation, made anonymously through the LBCC Foundation. Ocampo had asked for $18,700 to fund a piano lab and will use the money to purchase nine electronic keyboards.

"They're going to be these beautiful new Roland keyboards, and they're built for piano labs," Ocampo said. 

Right now, students at LBCC who are planning a four-year music study program are required to take piano, but without a lab they have to sign up for private lessons, Ocampo said. That can run $600 a term, compared with about $200 for an LBCC class.

"There's an incredible benefit to having the lab here. It's going to save them money," he said. 

LBCC once had a piano lab, but it was long ago and Ocampo doesn't know anyone who remembers exactly when, where or what happened to it. 

The new electronic keyboards can be hooked up to computers with writing software so students can use them for composing, Ocampo said.

"Currently, they have to just type it in note for note; each rest, each note," he said. With the keyboard-software connection: "They can just play whatever they want to play and it just writes it for them."

The piano lab will share space with an existing computer lab downstairs from the practice room. Ocampo said the pianos will be delivered in the next few months and a cappella arrangers should be able to start using them during open lab hours by May.

As for classes, "Students should be able to use them starting next year for sure," he said.

Once the classes begin, three courses of the new class should be able to be offered each term, he said, benefiting students studying piano, music theory and aural skills training.

The music department is boosting its aural skills classes from two to five and its theory classes from two to six. Adding the piano class on top of those means for the first time in the college's history, LBCC will be able to offer the first two years of a basic musicianship course, transferable to any four-year university. 

Right now, Ocampo said, "It was almost like when they did transfer, they were just a little behind. But now they'll be even with everyone else." 

Ocampo said he was shocked, but excited, by the donation.

"We had expected to do a significant campaign that involved both the school and private donors," he said. "To have it come from one anonymous donor, to do that, was just so shocking." 

On the other hand, he said, donors have long been very generous to LBCC programs: He estimates the program has received $45,000 in donations through the foundation in the past three years.

Forty choir students toured Germany this past July, competing against some of the finest choirs in the world in the 10th annual Johannes Brahms International Choral Competition in Wernigerode, Germany.

LBCC came away with gold medals in the Musica Sacra and Chamber Choir divisions, and its choirs were tapped to compete in the champion's competition, Ocampo said. And much of that effort was funded by donations: Students had been slated to pay $3,500 each to make the trip, but donations covered all but $1,700 each.

LBCC's a cappella choirs also have earned honors recently. On the last weekend in February, Blue Light Special, the college's men's a cappella choir, placed third in Salem at a regional division of the International Championship of College A Cappella competition. Ian Nyquist won an award for best solo during that performance.

It's the first time LBCC has placed at the show. And while more regional competitions are coming, so far, it's the only community college to have placed and won an award.

Now in his third year with LBCC, Ocampo has lined up several opportunities for his students to work with world-class musicians this year.

They include opportunities for clinics with conductor Paul Smith of England and with composer Paul John Rudio of the University of Oregon.

Ocampo said he's also planning to fly in internationally renowned vocal composer Jake Runestad for a joint concert with a choral arts ensemble in Portland, which Runestad will conduct in Portland on April 20. And LBCC graduate John Rist, now a composer, has been commissioned to write a piece for performance this May and to lead a two-day residency with all the middle, high school and college choirs in town. Donors helped make that possible, too, Ocampo said.

The work is exhausting, but makes him proud, he said. And he stressed, it's possible "mainly because of the support of our administration, the excitement and engagement of our students, and our generous benefactors."

"We can't do this without community," he went on. "Our mission is to develop musicianship and engage community through outreach and performance. By sharing with our community, they are sharing with us, and I think it's an amazing relationship right now." 

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