5 questions with… Ohio’s Outstanding Music Educator Gary Ciepluch

Gary Ciepluch accepts his "Outstanding Music Educator" award
Gary Ciepluch (left) accepts the Outstanding Music Educator award.

When the Ohio Music Education Association sought outstanding teachers and mentors to recognize with its annual honor, Gary Ciepluch’s former students inundated the organization with nominating letters.

In all, 42 letters were submitted in honor of Ciepluch, each one detailing the impact he had on their lives.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ciepluch, associate professor of music and director of bands at CWRU. “They did this without me knowing.”

The letters detail the zeal with which he conducts—which, in turn, motivates them to emulate that passion. One former student was so inspired by Ciepluch that he changed his major to music education.

But it’s not only his sheer love for music that makes him worthy of such an award—it’s also his dedication to his students. That idea was weaved throughout the nominating materials, with his former students reflecting on the personal interest Ciepluch took in them, taking extra time to share resources and opportunities.

In recognition of his dedication to the growth, development and learning of his students, Ciepluch received the Outstanding Music Educator award at the Ohio Music Education Association’s conference in January.

At the award presentation, Ciepluch, a clarinet player by trade, reflected on what—or, rather, who—inspired him to pursue music as a career in the first place:Ciepluch’s seventh grade music teacher’s passion for music had a profound power in his life. And that music class became the pivotal point when he decided to take music seriously.

Since becoming a teacher himself, Ciepluch has worked to instill that same passion into his own lessons. As a faculty member, he teaches conducting and music education courses—so, in many cases, his former students have gone on to lead their own classrooms, carrying with them the lessons they learned from Ciepluch.

His role at the university far exceeds teaching—he also is tasked with conducting the top ensembles at the university and overseeing all administration of the different music groups, including the recruitment, budgets and scheduling the concerts.

However the “Outstanding Music Educator” award is reserved for individuals whose reach is far greater than campus—a requirement for which Ciepluch fits the bill.

In 1989, Ciepluch founded the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony for elite young musicians in the area, which he still directs today. Since its inception, Ciepluch has spent nearly every Saturday morning conducting the symphony, which he founded shortly after coming to Case Western Reserve University. To date, more than 5,000 students have worked with Ciepluch as members of the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony.

His pursuit in providing local youth with opportunities to participate in an elite music program has taken him around the world, with tours everywhere from Germany to Australia. (This summer, he will embark on his 12th international tour as leader of the group.)

Many of the nominating letters for the “Outstanding Music Educator” award came from former members of the youth symphony—some of whom even went on to obtain degrees from CWRU.

“I can’t begin to thank all of the people involved with this,” he said. “My heart and soul goes out to my students.”

Get to know the well-loved director better in this week’s five questions.

1. What is your proudest accomplishment?

Professionally, it’s been my work with the Cleveland Youth Wind Symphony. We started in 1989 with 45 players and today’s count is 330. This group has developed beyond my wildest imagination.

2. If you could do anything you wanted for a day, what would you do?

I have so many things I’d love to do. I would want to spend the day with my family.

3. Who would you want to play you in a movie of your life?

I have too many students—they’d never let me live it down if I answered this.

4. If you could go back in time to tell your childhood self something, what would you say?

Practice more. I thought I practiced a lot, but I could have been even better if I practiced more.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The people. University Circle is a synergy of art.