Raymund Ocampo had one slot left on the program for the chamber choir at Linn-Benton Community College's 2015 winter program. He knew just how to fill it.
Ocampo, 30, is the new music director for the community college, succeeding James Reddan, who took a job at Frostburg State University in Maryland.
Reddan, who had been at LBCC for six years, had overseen a chorale program that grew 300 percent during his tenure. He toughened the standards for the program, helped build a partnership with Oregon State University and actively pursued opportunities to take his groups overseas.
It's hard to be the next guy in line after a track record like that, Ocampo acknowledged. That last piece he chose for the Dec. 3 concert, "Flight Song," is a vocal affirmation of the new bridge he's building for himself and the college's music department.
Written as a gift for Anton Armstrong and the St. Olaf Choir of Northfield, Minnesota, "Flight Song" talks about the "fierce compassion" of music and explores the relationships between music and those who make it — including the conductor.
"This song," Ocampo told the chamber choir, "it's about us. It's about my relationship to you and your relationship to one another."
For a department taking a new direction, it's a powerful message, he said in a later interview.
"I think it's a good song for us. A call to action," Ocampo said.
He plans to continue and build on Reddan's signature programs, especially the partnership with OSU, the performances at large conferences and the international travel. So far, he's looking into opportunities in South Korea, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom.
"We as educational institutions need to show our students the world around us," he said. "We live now in a global culture. At any moment, we can Skype into Japan. That's the world we live in. If we don't understand the culture around us, it's hard to keep up with the world."
Ocampo grew up in Las Vegas, where he attended a magnet school meant for students looking for a career in advertising and marketing. His job focus changed his freshman year, when he made Nevada's all-state choir and spent three days working with a dynamic guest conductor.
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"I loved the energy he brought to making music," Ocampo recalled. "I wanted to do that for the rest of my life."
The same kind of coincidental synergy has marked much of the rest of his career.
As a senior, Ocampo applied to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, sight unseen, after hearing a recorded piece by its choir that his own choir had done as well. Shortly afterward, the piece got caught up in a legal battle over copyright and hasn't been recorded since.
A few months after he applied to Concordia, Ocampa was invited to visit Minnesota with a different Las Vegas high school that needed an extra voice. The choir performed a concert at a Minnesota high school, where he saw — but didn't actually meet — a girl who also ended up at Concordia, a soprano named Elizabeth. Ocampa and she were married in 2007, a year after both graduated, and the two just had a baby son, William Theodore.
The couple lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, while Elizabeth studied for her master's degree. While there, Ocampa attended a professional workshop at the University of South Florida under the direction of James Bass. After two weeks of intense work, he said, he felt so much improved as a conductor himself that he began wondering what a two-year program there might do.
After a conversation with the university, he received its first — and thus far, only — Bonita L. Bass Memorial Scholarship, a full-ride assistanceship named for Bass's late mother. "I cherish that opportunity," he said.
In Florida, Ocampo was able to work with a 160-voice symphonic chorus. Coming to Linn-Benton Community College, where the concert choir doesn't even top four dozen, is a change, but one that brings challenges of its own, he said.
Reddan had built such a strong program at LBCC that the opportunity to teach there was very attractive, Ocampo said. He's looking forward to getting to know that new world.
He might do things differently than Reddan, Ocampo acknowledged, but in the end, the goal is the same.
"What I can do is be who I am, care for the students as he did, make music as he did and expect so much of the students, as he did."