The 254

Dr. Isaiah Odajima

By Kevin Tankersley

March forever down the years

Last October, the Baylor football team played two consecutive games at McLane Stadium. The Bears hosted the West Virginia Mountaineers on October 9, and the Brigham Young Cougars on October 16. Those back-to-back home games meant that the Baylor Golden Wave Band learned a completely new halftime show in just a few hours.

The marching band presents a different performance every home game. In the 2021 season, Baylor played seven games at home, thus director Dr. Isaiah Odajima had to design seven halftime shows. In addition to being the director of the Golden Wave Band, Odajima oversees all the athletic bands, conducts the Baylor Symphonic Band and is an associate professor of ensembles in the School of Music. He’s held those positions since 2009.

“It’s challenging, because we only rehearse Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 4 to 6 [p.m.],” Odajima said. “We talk a lot about being the smartest and most efficient group out there. And we put on different shows. We did the show this year in honor of the [men’s basketball] national championship. We did one for the 15th anniversary of ‘High School Musical.’ We did a Foo Fighters show to honor them and our love for that style of music, but also because they were inducted into the [Rock & Roll] Hall of Fame this year. That makes it challenging, but also, it keeps the excitement in it for the group. I think they enjoy the challenge of trying to learn a new drill and new music in an extremely short amount of time.”

Odajima has designed probably 200 halftime shows for high school and college bands, and while he can put together a performance package in a couple of weeks, if need be, the tribute to the basketball national championship took much longer. “I’d been thinking about that and working on that for months,” he said.

In mid-December of last year, Odajima was busy preparing the band for its New Year’s Day performance at the Sugar Bowl. But he was doing much more than getting ready for the halftime show. He had to ensure that all 300-plus band members had transportation to New Orleans. He had to reserve charter buses and hotels and find restaurants that could feed that many people at once, all while staying within a budget. He also has to make sure that the band and its instruments get to events that are required by the Sugar Bowl, or Baylor-specific events, such as a pep rally.

Odajima got his start in marching band as a trumpet player at DeSoto High School. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Michigan State University as well as degrees from Baylor and Stephen F. Austin State University. He and his wife, Becky — who is director of innovation and learning at Midway ISD — have three children. Grayson is a freshman at Baylor and a trumpet player in the Golden Wave Band. Katelyn is a freshman at Midway High School, and Trenton is a sixth grader at Woodgate Intermediate School.

Around the World

Odajima is constantly listening for music he can incorporate into halftime shows.

His musical taste “is super eclectic, because I’m always on the prowl, as I like to say, for music that will work for my needs,” he said. “I like to visit Grammy nominations of all kinds, not just American, but European and Spanish or other cultural equivalents. You can just look that up online and then you can discover new music.

“I listen to jazz. I listen to world music a lot, even though I don’t necessarily understand the words. I listen to all kinds.”