Alumni: Wayne Oquin

Grad gives back through annual performance collaboration

By David King

Wayne Oquin

Wayne Oquin directs students at Texas State.

The sound of teenage musicians, rehearsing as part of a summer orchestra camp, creeps through the walls of Gaila Raymer’s office in Evans Auditorium.

The air conditioner hums a white noise in the cavernous, cinderblock-walled room. The office of the production manager is home to everything from event posters to random theatrical props to odd pieces of who-knows-what.

There’s also an overstuffed couch, fronted with a cluttered coffee table. This summer afternoon, Wayne Oquin is resting on the couch, wearing a T-shirt and shorts and talking softly about topics ranging from his days of 30-credit-hour semesters to hearing Reverie, his composition for the organ, performed on National Public Radio.

The Teacher

Oquin, who graduated from Texas State in 1999, is someone who prompts people to superlatives, usually unprompted: Gifted. Generous. Determined, disciplined and driven. A Renaissance man. Prodigy. Genius.

From Texas State, Oquin moved to The Juilliard School, where his life’s journey in music continued with a master’s degree, a teaching fellowship, a doctorate and a lifetime appointment to the faculty, which at the time was the first full-time hire in a dozen years at New York’s famous college for the arts.

He works impossible hours, teaching music seemingly all day and half the night. He also finds time to bring a piece of the New York institution home to Texas every year, coordinating an arts collaboration each spring on the Texas State campus.

When it comes to the process of teaching, of passing along what he was born with and what he’s learned, Oquin has a deep understanding of how it works.

“You know, I was watching a band camp out here — I don’t know who was teaching it — and it was a rhythm class,” he says. “It was probably a college student from Texas State, teaching some junior high people how to count. And I thought, ‘You know, he is probably doing a better job at that than I could get up there and do, because he knows what those students know.

“And I don’t know what they know.”

The whirlwind

Oquin’s musical abilities became evident early in his life. He was playing the piano at the age of 3. At 5, he would go home from pre-kindergarten and perform the nursery rhymes the class had sung that day on the piano. By the time he was a teenager, he was an accomplished pianist.

He also played percussion in the high school band, sang in the choir and took music lessons of all stripes. He attracted the attention of former Texas State faculty member John Paul Johnson, who put on a full-court-press recruiting effort to get the prodigy to come to school in San Marcos. Oquin enrolled in 1996.

“When I arrived on campus, I couldn’t have been happier, because I was getting college credit to do what I really loved to do,” he says. “And the biggest thing Texas State gave me, the No. 1 asset, was its faculty. For the price of an education here, we give our students an enormous asset — the people it affords.”

A dozen or more faculty members mentored him, from music to philosophy to the Honors Program. John Schmidt gave the young Oquin the key to his office, which meant access to the professor’s sheet music and compact discs and his piano. That led to the oft-told story of the University Police Department responding to a call about a prowler in the Music Building in the wee hours of the morning, but instead finding Oquin practicing the piano. (Subsequently, he played with the lights off to attract less attention.)

He slept rarely. He took what is considered a school-record 30 credit hours in a semester — twice. He was part of the University Honors program, now the Honors College. He found time to compose and perform original works alongside faculty members. He earned a bachelor’s in three years with a 4.0 grade-point average.

And he has never forgotten the experience.

The Collaboration

“He wants to give back,” says Nico Schüler, a music professor who works with Oquin on Juilliard Joins Texas State for a Common Experience in the Arts, the collaboration that Oquin and philosophy professor Jeff Gordon launched in 2007.

“He’s very close to our school, although he graduated years ago,” Schüler adds. “He wants to come back and help current students. It has happened numerous times that students heard about him or they have met him at the concert or before or after the event, and then they contacted him later for some advice. And he’s always willing to give advice, always willing to look at music that one of our students composed and give some feedback. And that’s invaluable because most composers of his stature would not even spend time doing that.”

Schüler praises Oquin as his generation’s most-prolific composer. His works, for everything from string quartet to the pipe organ, have been played on three continents, and in 2007, Juilliard commissioned him to produce music to be played in accompaniment with the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

The 2012 event

Texas State students perform.

Texas State students perform in a prior staging of Juilliard Joins Texas State.

Juilliard Joins Texas State is Oquin’s ongoing connection to the university. He brings Juilliard students, alumni and faculty to San Marcos during spring break, and they collaborate with Texas State students to put on a show that features music, dance, acting and art.

“It’s a unique opportunity we wouldn’t otherwise have here,” Raymer says. “A lot of our students — probably 99 percent of them — would never be exposed to this kind of music and dramatic performance and dance without having it right here on campus.”

This year’s Juilliard Joins Texas State, “Let Freedom Ring,” will feature professional actors Barbara Chisholm and Eugene Lee in a tribute to Molly Ivins and the First Amendment. The event is at 7:30 p.m. March 8, 2012, in Evans Auditorium, and is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7 p.m., and seating is limited.

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