Ogo-Oluwa Sobukola image via Facebook
HALIFAX, CANADA (THE CHRONICLE HERALD) -- 'Wired for music’
Ogo-Oluwa Sobukola is a 25-year-old Nigerian flutist wrapping up his second year of studies at Dalhousie University’s Fountain School of Performing Arts.
As hard as he’s been working on his studies, he’s been working even harder to cover the enormous expenses he incurs as an international student. His fees are upwards of $22,000 a year, not including living expenses.
When he picked up the flute back in 2010 just for fun, Sobukola had no intention of making a career out of it. After being accepted into the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) a few years later, fully funded due to his impressive talent, he began to take it a little more seriously and saw a future in music for himself.
After graduating as the top woodwind student at MUSON, he began to dream of studying abroad.
“Classical music in Nigeria is just developing,” says Sobukola. “There isn’t any flute teacher or classically trained flute players there.”
He set his sights on Dalhousie, and more significantly, Patricia Creighton, principal flautist of Symphony Nova Scotia and flute instructor at the Fountain School.
“I was very particular about who to study with,” says Sobukola. “I didn’t have a teacher prior to this. All through the time I was in MUSON, I didn’t have an actual flute teacher. It was YouTube. So, I wanted a good flute teacher. I read Patty’s profile and then I was very interested.”
Creighton says she was in contact with Sobukola for about a year before his arrival in Canada in September 2017. She received an email from Sobukola asking if he could audition for the music program at Dalhousie.
“He did, and he got in, but he didn’t receive enough money to come,” says Creighton.
Sobukola couldn't raise enough money to come on his own. But the next year he applied again, and this time he got a large, one-time grant from Dalhousie, which triggered a Canadian study visa.
Along with once-a-week private lessons with Creighton, Sobukola also takes a woodwind repertoire class and other courses in theory, history, and harmony. He’s had several prestigious performances with Symphony Nova Scotia and is playing in the Dalhousie student orchestra and is the principal flautist with the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra.
“It’s a very rigorous program,” says Creighton. “He’s made the Dean’s list, with very high marks. Obviously, he’s wired for music.”
Creighton believes in his musical talent and has been paying it forward by helping him raise the money he needs for his hefty tuition fees and living expenses so he can excel. She’s built online crowdfunding campaigns and organized performance fundraisers with special guests from Symphony Nova Scotia and the music community performing alongside herself and, of course, Sobukola.
“He has a following now, people are very interested to see how he is progressing,” she says. “People are invested. They want to support excellence. Ultimately, it would be great to find a patron. Or even somebody who could help with accommodation. Someone altruistic. It’s a constant struggle, and I’m sure for Ogo-Oluwa, it’s extremely stressful. Which also does impact on his studying.”
Sobukola admits it’s always top of mind.
“I’ve always had to just push through, and tell myself it will be fine. But it’s been very difficult honestly. Many times I’ve been in the practice room, I’ll be practicing for a recital or something and the thought just comes to my head, ‘OK, yeah, you have to pay rent for the following month’ and I just...” he takes a deep breath.
“It makes it difficult to practice.”
Along with the crowdfunding and concerts, he receives some support from the local Nigerian community. He is the youth coordinator of his church, Winners Chapel International Halifax, where he also plays the piano. He’s worked in the school’s music office as a stagehand and assistant receptionist and spent a summer working on a farm.
“I feel very blessed, I feel very happy to get that support,” says Sobukola. "It wasn’t something I foresaw. It’s been a very great opportunity, and it means a lot to me. It means I can go to school, it means I can pay my rent, live a life. I do not take it for granted at all."
He says he came into this with eyes wide open.
“The thing is, I knew what I was up for,” says Sobukola. “I could see what I wanted to become, and I could see it was going to be hard, but I still don’t mind the struggle. At the end of it all, I can have a story and I can see myself as an encouragement for people who are not privileged.”
Sobukola dreams of having an international performance career and making the flute popular back home in Nigeria. “Western classical music is not the music you grow up with in Nigeria. As soon as I was introduced to it, I fell in love with it immediately. I just wanted to pursue it. I want to go back home and because of my playing or because of the things that I have to give, they can fall in love with the flute.”
For more information, follow ‘Ogo-Oluwa in Halifax’ on Facebook.