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Graduate student earns outstanding teaching award

Wind conducting major enjoys teaching students

What is immediately clear about John Lopez is his ease with people and with himself. He brings to a conversation an equal measure of humility and confidence.

There's a reason for that. While pursuing his Master of Music degree in wind conducting performance at Ohio University, he taught and mentored more than 460 School of Music students. Before coming to OHIO, Lopez taught for four years at Gilmer County High School in Glenville, W.Va., where he served as band director, choir director, general music teacher, and theater director.

This breadth of experience with connecting to and teaching young musicians has earned him one of four Ohio University Graduate Associate Outstanding Teaching Awards for 2011.

"I try to always have the students in mind when I teach," Lopez said. "I keep in mind that I'm not that far removed from being in their shoes when I was a student 10 years ago. I'll make changes in my teaching methods if I see the need. One of the great things about teaching music is that you know instantly if something isn't working."

Lopez credits his mentors and School of Music faculty Andrew Trachsel, director of bands, and Richard Suk, director of The Marching 110, for their guidance and instruction as he continues to perfect his conducting skills.

"They were both vital to my development," Lopez says.

What are Lopez's best memories during his time at OHIO?

At the top of the list is his role in co-conducting The Marching 110 at the 2010 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. Coincidently, he performed at the Rose Parade in 2000 as a high school band student at Fairmont East High School in Fairmont, W.Va.

"The Rose Parade was a surreal experience. Seeing it from an adult perspective, I realized it was just another parade, but with a bunch of cameras pointing at the performers,'' he joked.

Lopez's other two most memorable moments come from a connection he made between music and students at two 2010 performances.

"Last spring I conducted Aaron Copland's 'Variations on a Shaker Melody' and this past winter I conducted Richard Wagner's 'Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral,'" Lopez recalls. "Every performer, I think, has certain performances that simply feel just right, almost as if the music is spontaneous. The performances of these pieces had that impact on me. It felt as if the wind ensemble and I were composing the music in real time. Both performances produced a wonderfully intimate atmosphere between the performers and the audience, and that is a very special feeling to an artist."

But besides the prestigious and memorable performing opportunities and the $500 associated with his teaching award, Lopez finds his connection with the students as his most valuable experience during his time at OHIO.

"The most rewarding thing for me by far is to see students in the band grow as musicians," Lopez reflects. "To know that I had a part in enriching them as young people is very rewarding. My goal as a teacher is to get them to trust me to take them where they need to be, which is to be a success."

Lopez begins the last leg of his academic journey this fall at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Ga., where he will pursue his doctorate of musical arts in wind conducting. Lopez says his day-to-day life will be much the same as it was at OHIO during his master's degree work, just on a larger scale.

Is he nervous?

"No, I'm not nervous," Lopez said. "The real world experience I gained working in the field and at Ohio University has been priceless. I know that standing in front of students and keeping them engaged requires you to be on your game all the time."

To the surprise of no one, Lopez will be ready to play.