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Meet the Musicians: Dana Oakes

February 20, 2013

Dana Oakes began playing the trumpet at the age of nine. According to Oakes, beginning at that age is pretty standard, but since then his musical career has been anything but “standard”. He wasn’t crazy about his first teacher. It was the teacher he worked with in junior high that really began to shape his career.

Oakes speaks of Roger fondly. “He was fresh out of school and this was his first teaching gig so he was closer to me in age. He sort of took me under his wing,” Oakes says, “I remember one day he pulled me aside, it must’ve been around 8th grade, and he said ‘Why don’t you come by after school, and we’ll have a lesson every now and then’. So I did that. It was $3 a lesson at the time, I guess I’m dating myself a bit.”

Oakes comes from a small town in upstate New York where there was no real orchestra, just a band. He didn’t have his first orchestral experience until he was a junior in high school as part of the All State competition in New York. After that experience Dana knew it was what he wanted to do with his life. He went on to study at the New England Conservatory where he ended up in the top Orchestra in just his second year at the institution.

He recalls playing at the opening of the JFK Library, “I was a bit in awe of the heavy hitters there. I was a little farm kid who didn’t know anything about politics and yet, here I was.” After completing his studies, Oakes began playing for Opera Company Boston, under Director Sarah Caldewell.

“Caldwell was responsible for the largest-scale productions I have ever been a part of,” says Oakes, “In fact, she created some of the largest-scale productions this city has ever seen.” That was when Oakes discovered his love of opera. He described his first time performing in an opera,

I remember in rehearsal, we get through out little fan fare and I’m relieved that it all went well. We’re standing on stage and Shirley Verrett takes over. She was this amazing soprano and she was standing right next to me. I had never done an opera before, I was not ready for what happened next, she starts and just belts out. It was so loud it almost scared me, but my god what a beautiful voice she had, it was just gorgeous.

Since then Dana has done a wide array of work ranging from performances with international orchestras, to gigs with Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. His first performance at the DCR Hatch Shell, home of the Landmarks Orchestra, was actually as part of a Pavarotti movie. “The name was ‘Yes Giorgio’….it’s probably one of the top ten worst movies of all time,” says Oakes. Musicians were at the Hatch Shell for a week shooting footage of a live concert along with scenes from rehearsal at the Hatch Shell. Dana recalls the experience as being rather silly, “most of the time we were eating catered food and playing frisbee between sets. They didn’t really need us that often.” But the week culminated in a live performance with Pavarotti which was really something amazing. There were about 300,000 people present for this performance and actual clips from it are featured in the film. Oakes says that. hearing and working with Pavarotti for a week solidified his love of opera.

Now when he’s at the Hatch Shell Oakes plays a lot more music and a lot less frisbee than he did on the set of ‘Yes Georgio’. You can see him there this summer on Wednesdays in July and August.

Dana sums up his career in one sentence, “I’ve done a lot of weird stuff but I’ve also enjoyed a lot great music through that career”.

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