Member Spotlight: Frederick Waggoner

Member Spotlight: Frederick Waggoner

“Music in church should exalt, uplift, and convict.”
~Frederick Waggoner, Charter member of Knoxville Handel Society

Frederick, a bass and charter member of the Knoxville Handel Society, was certainly on point when he predicted that the above quote would set the theme for our interview. His respect and passion for sacred choral music was evident.

Frederick spent the first third of our time together telling me about many of the people who have mentored and supported him. He even spelled each name in hopes that I would mention them all. The middle of the interview was me coaxing him to please talk about his own studies, awards and career goals. He could not stay on that topic long before he verged into contemplating which educational and professional paths would offer him the greatest potential to give back to the younger generations in his local community.

For as long as he can remember, Frederick has been singing. He simply describes his voice as ” big.” As a tiny child, he enjoyed duplicating operatic music that he heard on PBS television. Frederick grew up in Payne Avenue Missionary Baptist Church. Their director of music, Murphy Strong, was the first to recognize and nurture Frederick’s talent. Frederick sang his first solo when he was six years old. He soon was touring with a gospel group. At age ten, he was invited into the adult chancel choir at his church to sing tenor. Mr. Strong was the first to recognize that Frederick has a voice that is more suited for classical than for gospel music.

When he graduated from high school, he accepted a job with the City of Knoxville and never gave a thought to pursuing more education or to singing anywhere other than in church. He did not have the most rudimentary musical education and his focus was supporting himself financially.

The choir director of Fountain City Presbyterian Church, Bob Eubanks, asked him to sing a solo for a funeral in 2014. This was the catalyst for Frederick’s foray into classical music. In 2015 Frederick was visiting First Baptist Church Knoxville when the congregation sang one of his favorite hymns. Since he was seated in the back balcony, he relaxed and sang full voice. To his shock, Wendell Boertje, the choir director, found him after the service and persuasively encouraged him to immediately join the choir. Frederick was hesitant, not only because he could not sight read, but also because he knew that he had no experience blending his massive voice with a group. He explained, “When you sing gospel, you can sing how you feel, it’s not just note-for- note.” Nonetheless, Frederick was at the next rehearsal and his relationship with Dr. Boertje and First Baptist Church continues to this day.

Frederick began to be recognized due, in part, to the fact that the worship services of First Baptist Church are televised. The first time he sang a solo, he received a standing ovation. People he did not know called the church and asked him to sing at funerals. He began to realize that sharing his voice could be a ministry.

At age 29 Frederick quit his job and enrolled in Carson-Newman University in a vocal track. It has been a struggle in every sense, even with exceedingly generous financial support from a benefactor at First Baptist Church. Frederick is grateful for all the teachers and professors and friends who patiently mentored him through sight-reading and ear training. Today, while managing his studies, Frederick is a paid section leader in the choir at First Presbyterian Church, a charter member of Knoxville Handel Society, and a soloist for major productions at Carson Newman University and in Knoxville operas. In both his freshman and junior years, he won the regional competition of National Association of Teachers of Singing.

As he contemplates his graduation from Carson Newman University this December, Frederick wonders about his future. It is evident that he has two powerful passions. The first is choral church music. His second motivation is to improve the futures of the young people in his neighborhood in East Knoxville. He sees their talent and their energy, and he yearns to provide them with the same encouragement that he has so gratefully received. Frederick aspires to fulfill the challenge offered by Maya Angelou, ” When you learn, teach, when you get, give.”

Whatever the future holds, it is evident that Frederick has the talent and dedication to make a powerful impact.

Member Spotlight: Katherine Braman

Member Spotlight: Katherine Braman

“Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s a day you’ve had everything to do and you’ve done it.”
~Margaret Thatcher

The goal of the Knoxville Handel Society (KHS) is to promote and preserve sacred music – with a primary focus to encourage participation by young students. My delightful visit with 15-year-old Katherine and her mother Maria and brother, Karl, corrected my misunderstanding of that purpose. It is not necessary to push young musicians to enjoy the great composers. It is simply our job to offer them an opportunity to respond to the joy that is already within them.

Katherine enthusiastically explained that she has been participating in choirs since she was a young girl. When she was seven, she attended a musical workshop for adults in Manchester, England. The director recommended her for membership in the North West Honour choir. Her time with that group, under the direction of Bob Chilcott, reinforced Katherine’s enthusiasm for singing choral music. From then on, as her family frequently relocated, she connected with classical choirs wherever they lived.

Katherine and her family believe that all children have special gifts. They are grateful that they have the opportunity to homeschool so that Katherine and Karl can follow their unique passions. When she was only two, Katherine sang, “God Bless America.” This prompted her mother to inquire about vocal lessons, only to learn that the teacher accepted students at a minimum age of 5. When the teacher heard a recording of Katherine singing, she accepted her as a student.

No one had to tell Katherine that she should enjoy classical choral music. When she was eight years old, she was playing hangman with her family and she chose the quote from J. S. Bach, “The chief end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

Katherine first learned about the Handel Society after seeing a concert announcement in a church bulletin. Knowing that Handel was a baroque composer, she was eager to check it out. Katherine exuded that baroque music is the genre that evokes the most passion for her, saying, “With Bach, when the choir is mentally present, it is so amazing. You live and breathe it!” She further explained that a choir should be experienced as only one voice for each musical part. Her cross-cultural experience taught her that choirs are welcoming, saying that they are confident as individuals, “but they don’t try to stick out.”

Like our co-founder, Dr. Don King, Katherine hopes to have a medical career, in her case, as a veterinarian. She expects to always include choral singing as a means of refreshment. She does not resent the time required to rehearse both on her own and with the group because she credits the challenge as being a means for providing discipline in her schedule and a sense of freedom in her soul. Her life reflects the admonition of Mrs. Thatcher that satisfaction comes from accomplishment.

Even though Katherine’s preferred choral music is baroque, she is enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn American spirituals for the KHS concert in the summer of 2020.
As her younger brother Karl explained, it is fun to learn the culture of an area from the music.