Choir Director Vic Oakes Strikes a Chord with Students

By: Eddie Davis

When nearly 200 members of the Baylor Middle School Choir and the Upper School’s Concert Choir crowded onto the Alumni Chapel stage for the finale of the annual holiday concert last December, it was hard to miss the joyful presence of Vic Oakes, Baylor’s director of choral music and the 2015 recipient of the Glenn Ireland II Chair for Distinguished Teaching.

Oakes first arrived on Baylor’s campus in the spring of 2006 as a substitute for choral director Ed Huey, who was on medical leave. After a 25-year Baylor career, Huey retired a few months later, and at the age of 25, Oakes was offered what would become his dream job.

Growing up in central Florida, Oakes began singing in his high school chorus and grew to love the camaraderie and diversity of the group. “We had the starting quarterback, the chess club president, the kids in the drama program, the valedictorian, the lower achieving students…it was where anybody could feel safe and comfortable. Really, it was the only place on campus where everybody was working together toward a common goal. I thought that was really special.”

Today, Oakes sees his own students having a similarly special experience and humbly attributes the popularity of choir at Baylor to its social aspects, a sense of pride in group success, community support, and the students’ enjoyment of hard work. “Choir is a great equalizer. Students from all different types of backgrounds come into the choir room, and we all work our tails off for the common good. All the differences just melt away.”

Along with those personal differences, students also bring varying degrees of talent to the program. “Every student already has the instrument needed to make music. Anyone can breathe in and out and get sound to come out,” laughs Oakes. “Sadly, the ‘American Idol’ and ‘America’s Got Talent’ phenomena have made kids think they’re not good enough, quickly and permanently identifying singers as either good or bad. I don’t want all ‘good’ singers. Granted, the choir may sound great right away, but my greatest joy comes in watching the student who would barely open her mouth in August, but is really singing out in March because she feels like she’s grown and developed, both as a singer and a person.”

According to Oakes, who earned his bachelor’s degree in music education at the University of Florida and a master’s in sacred music from Emory University, the choir can play an important role in a college preparatory education. “Working hard with other people for unselfish gain is a learned skill. All of the popular concepts of education and business such as creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking, are happening every second of every choir class. During rehearsal, I may ask half the choir to sing while asking the other half to listen, to see what needs to be improved. They’re making quality judgments and feeding them back into the process. The learning is immediate, interactive, and cumulative.”

He explains that the choir also helps students prepare for the emotional and social aspects of going to college. “I know many Baylor alums who were singers here are now singing in college. They may not be music majors, but because of their experience in the Baylor choir, they enjoy singing and they know they can be part of a group at a new place, miles from their home, if they choose. And I am confident each student who went through this program is prepared for any college choir experience.”

Oakes also serves as executive director of the Chattanooga Boys Choir and feels strongly about the importance of Baylor’s choral program to the school community and the community at large. “First, as a recruiting tool, it shows another dimension of Baylor that some would never see,” he says. “The media reports perfect SAT scores, national merit scholars, and athletic success. All of those are good things, but our choir shows the community, on a deeper level, the full mix of the student body: day and boarding, athletes and artists, different races and ethnicities. We send a larger version of the Baylor message that not only do we offer diverse opportunities, but we offer them to a diverse student body. It is a reflection of how wellrounded and full the Baylor experience is.”

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For alumni and friends of Baylor School | SUMMER 2015

Tuesday Jul 7, 2015

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