Drury Alumni Spotlight: Celka Ojakangas

For 2015 Drury Graduate Celka Ojakangas, continuing her education at the University of Southern Californa has provided a world of new opportunities to engage with her passion for music. Ojakangas is pursuing a Masters in Music Composition at USC, one of the top schools in the nation for music composition, and has even earned a position as a graduate Teaching Assistant there.

“The academia here is incredibly connected,” says Ojakangas. “To new music, to film and television, and also to the LA Philharmonic, which his arguably the best orchestra in America. I wanted to become connected to that. That was my reason for coming out here.”

Ojakangas says her Drury experience helped prepare her for graduate school.

“My experience at Drury was incredibly musical in a lot of ways,” she says. “It provided the foundation.”

“Dr. Koch, Dr. Sharpe, Mr. Barnes – all of those people came from really great places and they were all willing to help me one on one. Drury faculty members aren’t going to treat you like a number.”

Ojakangas advises current Drury students to take advantage of this fact by tapping into the wealth of knowledge and experience of their professors.

“Don’t just take the class,” she says. “If you go out of your way to ask for their input on something, they are going to go out of their way to give it to you.”

For Ojakangas, music has often been something of a family matter. There is no better example of this than a recent collaboration between Celka and her father, Drury physics professor Dr. Greg Ojakangas. With the help of her family, Celka created a musical accompaniment to a rare and fantastic natural phenomenon: a total solar eclipse, which occurred across Missouri and the United States on August 24.

“The idea first came to me about a month before the eclipse,” says Ojakangas, who traveled back home to witness the event with her family. “I knew I was going to be missing the first day of classes in order to be there [Missouri] for it. So I asked myself, ‘What can I do to make this applicable to my education?’”

Her answer: write a piece for it.

Ojakangas’ idea was met by eager support from her father.

“He developed a computerized a tone that would represent the percentage of coverage of the sun starting from the beginning of partial eclipse, to totality, to the end of partial eclipse,” she says.

The family involvement in the piece didn’t stop there. Ojakangas recruited her two brothers to help play the piece. The three, accompanied by the tone generated by their father, performed Celka’s composition to coincide with the eclipse itself.

The piece, which is based on a Greek Orthodox chant, acted as a mirror for the event.

“An eclipse is basically a palindrome,” says Ojakangas. “You have the moon come in and cover the sun for some amount of time and then, afterwards, it leaves in the same amount of time that it took to arrive.”

In the same way, Ojakanas’ piece was written so that the music is played forward and then backwards, capturing the symmetry of the eclipse.

What’s next for Celka? Several music faculty members whom she looks up to have encouraged her to consider taking her education even further. She currently hopes to continue on to USC’s Doctor of Musical Arts program.

When it comes to her future plans, Ojakangas knows that she will be well-prepared for a multitude of possibilities. 

“I basically came here with the intention of fulfilling whatever role was needed,” she says. “People need orchestrators in the studio. People need conductors in the studio. I might become a professor.”

“But we’ll just see what happens. I’m content with just being able to apply what I’ve learned as a composer to whatever needs to be done around here, and L.A. is definitely the place to be doing that.”


Written By: Bryan Haynes