The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) has designated March as Music in Our Schools Month. To celebrate, the jsquared music performance center will be highlighting people who played instruments in grade school and the impact it made on their lives. Today, we will highlight Benjamin Osoba, a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.
What instrument do you play?
Percussion, Saxophone, Clarinet
At what age did you begin to play your first instrument?
Why did you start playing?
I always wanted to play the drums and we finally got a drum set at my church that year (i.e. 2000).
What was your experience with music during your elementary, middle and high school years?
During elementary school, I took drum lessons at a local music school. When I was in 5th grade, the movie "Drumline" was released. I loved it so much that I began watching my VHS copy of it and learning the cadences.
This practice eventually paid off, as I was recruited to play in the Eastside High School drumline as a 7th grader. After school, I would travel to the high school to learn and play with the older students.
As I continued learning, my music interests expanded. In 8th grade, I played clarinet and eventually graduated to playing tenor saxophone. The experience of learning woodwind instruments helped me to understand music theory.
While in high school, I played snare drum in the marching band, drum set in gospel choir, and saxophone in concert band. Throughout these years, I attended numerous band camps, including the FAMU Marching 100 summer band camp, the BCU Marching Wildcats summer band camp, and the NSU Spartan Legion high school band camp. I also took to arranging music using Finale software. This eventually led to my participation in the NAACP ACT-SO competition for music composition, which I did on a national level my senior year.
Who was your favorite music teacher? What made them your favorite?
My favorite music teacher was my first drum set teacher, Mr. Rick Cameron. His teaching style made it very fun to learn and play the drums. I always looked forward to attending the lessons for this reason!
What is your favorite band memory from grade school?
My favorite band memory was putting on the Eastside High School band uniform in 7th grade. I still remember the feeling of pride and excitement at that very moment and I'm sure I'll never forget it!
Did you play an instrument in college? Did music impact your college choice?
Although I did not play in an organized ensemble, music did in fact impact my college choice. When I applied to my now alma mater, Norfolk State University, I did so as a music education major. I wanted to play in the NSU drumline, the "Million Dollar Funk $quad", which I still consider to be the best HBCU percussion section in the nation. As a Florida native, I auditioned for this drumline by way of a recorded DVD (which I still have to this day).
During my freshmen year, I switched my major to electrical engineering so that I could attend NSU on a full ride scholarship via the Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Sciences (DNIMAS). I ultimately decided not to play in the band so that I could focus on my academics and thus keep my scholarship.
What is your current occupation?
I am currently a PhD student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. My research focuses on the design and configuration of Micro/Nano-Electro-Mechanical (M/NEM) relays for ultra low power digital logic applications. I am supported through the following academic fellowships: the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Ford Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, the National GEM Consortium University Fellowship, and the UC Berkeley Chancellor's Fellowship.
How has music helped you in your current occupation?
Music is still my passion and I use it to keep myself motivated when graduate school gets very tough. For example, after running microfabrication processes, conducting device measurements, attending research talks, and/or going to class, music is what I use to unwind and relax.
Since beginning graduate school, I have started collecting vinyl records. I have learned so much about the history of recorded music from doing so! I also meet with other graduate students during weekends to play drums for our unofficial jazz ensemble.
How has music played a part in your adult life?
In addition to my academic endeavors, I am also studying audio engineering and production. Particularly, I was inspired to start learning how to produce after being introduced to A Tribe Called Quest when I was in high school.
For these reasons, I spend the majority of my free time studying music equipment, listening to records, and practicing on my MPC5000. I hope to eventually collaborate with some of my favorite artists, including (but not limited to) Talib Kweli, Joey Bada$$, and Black Milk.
What advice do you have for young musicians?
Practice, practice, practice! I didn't understand the importance of practice until I was an adult. The process of learning to play an instrument is analogous to the process of learning anything, be it mathematics, art, science, etc. You have to learn the fundamentals and then build from there. So, developing the discipline to do so at an early age will help you throughout your life!
More importantly, always remember to have fun with what you're doing. Music is a beautiful thing, so enjoy it to the fullest.
The link to my current beat tape is as follows:
Additionally, if you have any interest in collaborating, I can be reached at DiracProductions@gmail.com.