Wilbert O. Watkins brings a wealth of knowledge to the Sing to Live® Community Chorus. Within its first year, the chorus doubled in size, attracting a diverse and talented group of singers within a forty-mile radius, in support of its mission. Watkins was past director of Unison with the Windy City Performing Arts in Chicago. He was part of the teaching faculties of Northern Illinois University, De Paul University and Benedictine University and previously held the position of Director of Choral Activities at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, where he was the originator of a multicultural choral series. Having taught as both a choral music educator and an applied voice teacher in Texas, Florida, Iowa and Illinois, Dr. Watkins currently serves as a regional adjudicator for vocal and choral events, is a staff member at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park, volunteers for many community efforts and is the Artistic Director for the Lutheran Choir of Chicago.
Watkins studied with Rodney Eichenberger and André Thomas at Florida State University, where he earned a Ph.D. in music education and conducting. He has served as a clinician, adjudicator and guest conductor in the South and Midwest, in Puerto Rico and in the Orient. Watkins has also sung with the Fort Worth Renaissance Consort, Schola Cantorum of Texas and the Ft. Worth and Dallas Opera choruses. His other accolades include: serving as chorus master for Giovanni Bertolani’s opera Matilde, performing in master class with Paul Plishka, performing under the baton of Fiora Contino and the late Robert Shaw, with whom he also served as diction coach for one of Shaw's last performances of Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem. He has guest lectured in music literacy, vocal diction and music education and his professional memberships include the American Choral Directors Association, Chorus America, International Federation of Choral Music, Music Educators National Conference and the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
From Dr. Watkins...
In April of 2000, my sister and I were conversing over the telephone, and she informed me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember encouraging her to get a second opinion, which she did - same results. I hated being so far away: She was in San Antonio, Texas and I had moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where I was completing my first year in a new teaching position. Her life was changing, but she was fortunate to have the love and support of friends and family through the journey. I was part of her journey and wanted to do more than just have my church pray for her.
Eleven years ago, I was a directing a choir in Chicago and brought to the board the idea of having a concert that might benefit breast cancer survivors, inspired by both my sister’s story and her perseverance. This concert never took place, but some several months later I received a telephone call that would soon change my wish into an even better reality. Melinda Harris had left a few telephone messages for me in the summer of 2005, all bearing the phrase I have an opportunity for you. I was suspicious that a salesperson was stalking me at work. Long story made short, I returned Melinda’s call, and we scheduled a meeting to discuss her ideas for starting a choir that would serve the needs of breast cancer survivors and their allies. At first, I think she may have feared that I would not be interested, that I didn’t have a connection to her cause and that I might not have the time. I was quick to respond that I had wanted to present a program for the breast cancer community (and her idea was even better), that I did and do have a connection (as I feel I couldn’t be closer to the cause as my sister is also my twin), and that I had the time since I was no longer working with the aforementioned choir in the city.
I quickly realized that Melinda had an ambitious schedule that would require recruiting a choir and preparing a concert that would take place in time to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness month. There was a sense of urgency, as there was much to be done before this inaugural concert would take place.
Through my career as a choral conductor, I had several connections with singers and thus began the arduous and yet invigorating task of recruitment. I began speaking to people at my church and in my community, as well as sending out emails to singers I knew in the Chicago area, about the prospect of being part of a choir that would celebrate the hope and lives of those touched either directly or indirectly by breast cancer. That experience led to a beautiful relationship that essentially positioned Melinda and me as the parents of a new entity - Sing to Live Community Chorus.
Where are we now? My sister has been in remission for several years now and is living a full, grateful and active life in Texas. I became part of Sing to Live because I wanted to honor my sister and support the breast cancer community the best way I know. I am enjoying my new and ever-growing choral family, as we share our gift of music, our gift of hope and our gift of healing in the Chicago vicinity. The Sing to Live Community Chorus recently celebrated her tenth anniversary and has grown from just over thirty members to almost one hundred singers, each with her/his own captivating and motivating story.