By Angela Oliver, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, November 29, 2011
As noon approached Monday, students jotted down a few last-minute notes from their music history class at Kentucky Wesleyan College. The students, taught by Paul Oakley, then hurried to their rehearsal in the Ralph Center for Fine Arts and Communication Arts hall.
Oakley, a music professor and the director of choral and sacred music studies, started at KWC in August. And though he left Catawba College in North Carolina, there were a few things he couldn’t leave behind.
“I transferred here to continue my study with him,” said Tevin Vincent, a sophomore from Salisbury, N.C.
Vincent is a member of the KWC Chamber Singers, along with 24 other students. And with the change in direction, the Singers will begin a new Christmas tradition with “The Festival of Lessons and Carols” concert.
“We chose this piece because it’s a tradition we all know, and it’s well-loved around the world,” Oakley said. “If you turn on the TV on Christmas Eve, most likely, every choir will be singing it.”
A popular version of “The Festival of Lessons and Carols,” which tells the story of Christ’s birth, began in 1918 at King’s College in Cambridge, according to Oakley. Then, choirs were all-male. The director reasoned that singers would be more at ease if they didn’t know they had a solo part. So, he would thump a singer on the neck as the show started, marking them as the soloist. Oakley said he will keep that method alive.
The students, who hosted madrigal dinners in years past, said they were excited about doing something new. They said they are receptive to Oakley’s ideas and they are happy with what he has done in such a short time.
“I like that he chose this piece because it’s specifically about the meaning of Christmas,” said Kathryn Swanson, a junior from Denver, Co. “It’s special to us since our school is tied to the church.”
The Singers continued to rehearse. Sopranos first, tenors later. Then all together. Oakley waved his white wand and yelled instructions over the sound of the piano. He reminded them of frozen dissonance and less vibrato at some parts. Oakley is a stern director, but the Singers said that makes him effective.
“He’s an awesome teacher and he makes me appreciate singing,” said Concord, N.C. sophomore Drew Taylor, who also transferred with Oakley. “Being in the choir has influenced the way I approach my other courses and life experiences. I use the lessons every where.”
Oakley said his goal at KWC is to “enhance what we already have in the arts.”
A half-hour prelude was added to the concert to do so, he said.
“Our director was great before, of course,” said Becca Evans, a Chicago junior. “But Professor Oakley just came in and took over with more of a focus on the music.”
The prelude, featuring music and no vocals, will begin at 7 p.m. and “The Festival of Lessons and Carols” will follow at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday at the Hocker Family Dining Center, 3000 Frederica St. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students. To buy them, call 852-3104.
The Singers said they hope the community will see this new tradition as the beginning of their journey beyond the classroom and the practice hall.
“Things are about to change in the arts,” Swanson said. “Owensboro will have a music renaissance.”
- More info on Lessons and Carols, including how to buy tickets.
- Watch a preview of Lessons and Carols, featuring the Kentucky Wesleyan Chamber Singers:<>