Tree Traditions

Tree Traditions

November 1st, 2012 Interview by Kelsie Bowman in Local Regional News

Name: VIC OAKES • Age: 34 • Bio: As executive director of the Chattanooga Boys Choir, Vic Oakes is gearing up for the 50th anniversary performance of the Singing Christmas Tree, an annual holiday favorite for Chattanooga featuring a tower of choir members serenading the audience from above. Having been with the Chattanooga Boys Choir for 10 years, Oakes strives to brings fresh ideas and opportunities for his young and talented choir members, from commissioning brand new pieces of music to performing in other countries and cultures.

The Singing Christmas Tree has been around for 50 years. It has been typically and traditionally the start to the holiday season for all of Chattanooga since it was started in the 1960s. The program now has a theme every year. We'd never pretend that if you go once you never need to go again because every year is different. In my time with the choir, we've had an Appalachian Christmas tree, Christmas carols from around the world and music from the "Polar Express."

This year our theme is our 50th anniversary. Through social media and a couple of other outlets, we've harkened back to alumni from years past and asked for favorite memories. We got responses about some of their favorite songs and pieces from the tree, so we are going to do several of those. Alumni who come this year will definitely find something from their past.

Vic Oakes

While we are looking into the past, at the same time we will also certainly keep our eye looking forward. We have actually commissioned a piece this year. It's a cool thing - to sing a piece of music that is written just for the choir, that's never been sung or recorded before. About every other year we are doing something like that and the boys really seem to get that it is a huge deal to get to perform a piece of music that's never been sung before.

I've been glad to look back on the history that they've already had long before me and see what I can do to shake things up going forward, kind of making it more applicable to current times yet also respecting the traditions that got them this far. We have, over the course of 10 years that I've been with the Chattanooga Boys Choir, been able to do a lot of great things, from innovative programming to concert tours to commissioning new pieces - lots of things that are representative of a choir that's really current, really trying to keep up with the way that things are going with children and singing today.

I think the principle in our mission is that we are an education organization. We are teaching the boys about music from the classical and renaissance periods, but we are also doing arrangements of South African freedom songs, and we're doing everything from bluegrass hymns, themed concerts on music of the Civil War, music of the Holocaust and music of Mozart. It's bringing history to life. They are transformed by that experience. Besides just singing some really incredible music, they become different people as a result.

I think Chattanooga has one of those really unique and wonderful opportunities to say that you have a boys choir that does things at the level at which we do. It's just one of those indicators of a community that supports the arts. The arts have been one of those things that people have quickly said this is what separates our area from a lot of others. I think the Chattanooga Boys Choir and other efforts like it are vital and crucial to that. It creates a better place to live and work and play.

Part of what's so great about the Singing Christmas Tree is what has always been the same about it - that exact same physical tree. I've had fathers who have walked on stage with their sons and pointed and said, "That's where I stood when I was your age." There's not a better testimony to that kind of activity.

Choir is a way to be in community with each other. I know the word noncompetitive is usually used to say "wimpy" or that kind of thing, but we need to have areas like the boys choir where you are together with quite literally kids from 40 different schools - public, private, homeschool and parochial. But no one's there to beat up on each other; no one's there to win. Everyone's there to work toward a common goal. What else in society works that way? For very little individual glory, if any, we were a part of something far much greater than the sum of our parts.

Singing Christmas Tree

Performance dates and times:

December 1 ? 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Tivoli Theater

December 15 ? 6 p.m. at the Garden of Enchanted Lights in Rock City

December 19 ? 12:05 p.m. as a part of the Advent Concert Series at St. Paul's Episcopal Church

December 21 ? 7 p.m. as a part of the Sunset Concert Series at the North River Civic Center in Hixson