Playing to Win: OSU junior plans to use music education to give back to others
Monday, December 2, 2019
Focused. Persistent. Grateful.
Those describe Oklahoma State University junior music education major Abraham Nuñez. The talented saxophonist with dark hair and a bright smile — who plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax — plans to earn a master’s degree in music theory and become a band director.
“I feel it is my duty to give back to others because I was given so much growing up,” said the 21-year-old from Cypress, Texas. “I was fortunate to have really good teachers who saw lots of drive in me and understood I couldn’t afford private lessons and decided to support me beyond band class.”
Nuñez began learning the alto saxophone in sixth grade with help from Hopper Middle School band director Todd Hearn.
“He was very impactful in my life because he gave up a lot of his own personal time to help me grow musically,” Nuñez said.
Hearn remembers Nuñez as an intelligent and driven student. "He was musically adept and really eager to learn,” Hearn said. “Any piece of music that I put in front of him he would take to right away. He was always willing to be challenged on the next level. In fact, I think he is the only saxophone player that I’ve had do as difficult a solo as he did in the eighth grade. I know that wherever he ends up he’s going to do great things, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
Nuñez describes his playing using the analogy of a duck smoothly gliding atop the water while its webbed feet kick like crazy below.
“Everything is going at once,” he said. “I’m thinking about my breathing, the notes, the phrase that is coming next and how I’m feeling.”
Nuñez plays in the OSU wind ensemble, jazz orchestra and the Cowboy Marching Band. He has also performed at the World Saxophone Congress in Zagreb, Croatia, and the Cortona Saxophone Sessions in Cortona, Italy. Earlier this semester, he played in a saxophone quartet at The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University.
“I’m very appreciative for the opportunities music students have to perform in the brand new McKnight Center,” he said. “It is a great venue to present the hard work that we put in throughout the school year.
“I also really enjoy chamber music because I feel like I contribute to something greater than just myself. I’m collaborating with other musicians, and it feels great to be making music with others.”
Adjacent to The McKnight Center is the Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music, which is scheduled to open the fall semester of 2021. It will include 38 faculty teaching studios, three ensemble rehearsal spaces, two classrooms, a music industry suite and a keyboard lab. It will be a substantial upgrade from the Seretean Center for the Performing Arts, where a shortage of practice rooms sometimes forced students to practice in hallways, stairwells and even outside.
“The quality of the music making and the art ... in the Seretean Center has always been much, much higher than the facilities,” said Kaylee Christensen, who earned bachelor’s (2012) and master’s (2016) music degrees at OSU before becoming band director at Cypress Springs High School, where she worked with Nuñez his senior year. “The new space is going to open so many doors for students, and I think it will be a big draw for future students,” she said.
She encouraged Nuñez to apply to OSU.
“There are a lot of places Abraham could have gone, but he chose Oklahoma State because of the people there,” Christensen said.
Nuñez agreed, saying that Dr. Jeffrey Loeffert, professor and director of the Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music, was the primary reason he chose Oklahoma State.
“I chose OSU solely because I wanted to be a better human. Not musician, human,” Nuñez said. “I knew that OSU’s music program was full of great mentors and educators, but Dr. Loeffert was the one person that I wanted to surround myself with. I knew he would help me grow to unbelievable levels of musicianship but I also knew the wonderful values that he has. He is a great educator and advocate for his students, and I have always believed that I want to extend that to my future students.”
Loeffert thinks Nuñez will make a great band director.
“Abraham is one of the hardest working students that I have ever met,” he said. “He is inquisitive, driven and he consistently inspires the very best from his peers.”
Nuñez is grateful to Christensen for all she did for him in high school and for encouraging him to work with Loeffert at OSU.
“She saw a lot of potential in me so she invested her time in me as well,” Nuñez said.
The long nights of practicing were how Nuñez dealt with difficulties at home that included extreme fighting between his parents and a father who initially didn’t support music as a career option.
Music was his outlet.
“Having a rough home life does not make Abraham unique at our school,” Christensen said. “That’s the status quo. What separates Abraham is that he understood there was a way out. We have a lot of struggles at our school (a suburb in northwest Houston), and one of the things that Abraham helped us with was turning the tide in the way students see themselves. We have a saying here, ‘Why not us?' and Abraham was one of the first kids who really embodied that. He was the first person who grabbed onto that mentality and showcased that for our band. Slowly and surely ... we are starting to push that positive message throughout the school. I will forever credit Abraham with that.”