Sam Ocampo Shines in a Whirlwind Performance

Sam Ocampo Shines in a Whirlwind Performance

    The Howard Performing Arts Center (HPAC) buzzed with anticipation on Sunday, Sept. 24.  A drum set, a bass guitar and a grand piano awaited their musicians on the expansive stage. Almost every section of the HPAC sported its own eager group of audience members, while golden lights blinked above the darkened stage. Then all the lights dimmed and Lisa Mitchell, the assistant manager of the HPAC, walked on stage to introduce Sam Ocampo.

Twenty years ago, Ocampo graduated from Andrews University with an undergraduate degree in music and a Masters in Business Administration to start a career as a health administrator—but also as a professional pianist, arranger and producer.

Acknowledging his alma mater, Ocampo opened by saying warmly, “So good to be home.”

His fingers glided over the keys, releasing a soft, ethereal melody as he dedicated the first song to his “lovely wife Gwen.”  

Playing the piano animated Ocampo’s whole body: from his foot tapping the pedals to his shoulders hunched in focus as his fingers pounded out a particularly passionate group of chords. His face especially revealed his dedication—lips drawn in, forehead pursed in concentration, at times raising his eyebrows or throwing his head back, shaking it slightly during intense moments in the music. The effort was not lost, as he transformed the piano at intervals into a lilting instrument almost harp-like in quality, to the loudly majestic instrument  associated with the title of a grand piano.

The most notable part of Ocampo’s performance was his affinity for audience participation. He encouraged the audience to sing along throughout the concert, commenting on their enthusiasm, “Beautiful choir. Let’s go on the road together.”

The audience acted as a part of the ensemble, articulating the lyrics, because, as Ocampo explained, “I try not to play notes;  I try to play for the message of the song, especially with sacred music.”

Even when soloists Scott Reed and Sarah Lynn Wasserman sang the lyrics, the rationale was “the more the merrier” as the soloists themselves invited the audience to join.

The repertoire varied from the Broadway tune “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, to the 1970’s ballad “Alone Again, Naturally”, to many religious songs such as Andrae Crouch’s “Through It All” and John W. Peterson’s “It Took a Miracle.” All of the tunes struck a nostalgic chord with the audience. One of the highlights of the night, Ocampo played “America the Beautiful,” first recalling his family’s move from Peru to the United States in 1973 as a “blessing.” He invited saxophonist Bill Wolf to the stage, performing a jazzed up version of the tune. The audience joined in spontaneously, and Wolf finished the song with a rich, trilling final chorus.

Veering slightly away from the songs on the program, the audience enjoyed the personal nature of Ocampo’s song choices, as he described songs he felt moved to play in the moment. The audience’s reception was best represented by the standing ovation Ocampo received after the last big song, “The Lord’s Prayer,” starring a select group of Andrews students, faculty and staff, as well as both soloists.

One attendee from the community said, “It was a lot of nostalgia for me, because I grew up with those songs. The way he plays them…you sing them and you feel the Spirit of God with you.”

Sam Ocampo’s concert was a huge success—from the energetic audience participation and the passion of the performers to the raucous applause at the end as Ocampo, Stephen Zork, the instrumentalists and the vocalists, smiling, linked hands and took a bow.


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