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Interview with Cathy Oakes, May 2019
Interview with Cathy Oakes, image 1
I recently reviewed Cathy Oakes’ newest album, A Heritage of Faith, her fifth release. She sent me some information about how the album came to be and I was amazed to discover that the last time we did an interview was back in 2013! In this interview, we talk about the new album and update some of her recent activities. If you are interested in knowing more about Cathy’s background, please visit the first interview here.

KP: Hi Cathy! How are things in Tennessee today?

CO: It’s HOT and getting humid.  I think we’ve had our 2-⅓ hours of Spring and we are fully into Summer.

KP: And I thought our spring was short! We’re still having a lot of fog and rain on the Oregon Coast, but I don’t dare complain - it could certainly be a lot worse!

I was really shocked to discover we did our last interview more than six years ago! That one was kind of an introduction before your first of two (so far) house concerts here with Rhonda Mackert back in early 2013. We have some catching up to do!

CO: Yes, we do!  It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long!!  

KP: You recently released your fifth album, A Heritage of Faith, which I made a “Pick” on MainlyPiano.com. Tell us about it.

CO: A Heritage of Faith was truly an accident.  I’ve had people asking me to do a “hymns CD” for several years, but I had just never gotten around to it.  About 5 years ago, I went to Shreveport, LA to record some hymns for my good friend, Greg Bostock. Greg has a music and video ministry and travels all over the world with that.  He and I worked together in music ministry in Ft. Worth, TX almost 20 years ago and have kept in touch and worked together as much as possible over the years. Anyway, Greg asked me to come down to his studio and record some hymns to be used as background for some of his videos.  I went in with a hymnal - that’s it. I had no idea what I was going to record and no plan. Greg and I just flipped through the hymnal. He would say, “Do you know this one?” And off we went. None of this is written down. It was completely in the moment, which is a good thing and a bad thing.  The good part is that it captures the spirit of the moment, which is sometimes really hard to do in a recording studio. However, the bad part is that churches are asking me to come and play these pieces and I can’t. I have NO idea what I played!! Everything was done in one take, straight up. I left all 16 tracks with Greg and came home.  

Fast forward about 5 years.  I went back to Greg’s studio to record 115 hymns straight out of the hymnal, just as they’re written, to be used as accompaniment for congregational singing. I posted something on my Facebook page about a “Hymns Project” and about 50 people responded saying, “Finally!  You did a hymns CD.” My first response was, “OOPS!!!! I don’t have a hymns CD!!!” I called Greg and, thankfully, he still had the WAV files for the tracks. I sent them to Doug Hammer at Dreamworld Productions to see if he thought he could do anything with them.  I wanted orchestration and some “dressing up.” He tried working with one track, just to see what we both thought. And OH, MY, GOSH!!! That man is an absolute genius!!!! It’s like Doug takes a little trip through my heart and my head and inherently knows exactly what I’m trying to convey with my music!  I am still in awe at what he did with those “off the cuff” tracks!!! What you hear on the CD is straight from my heart, in the moment, and the genius of Doug Hammer!
Interview with Cathy Oakes, image 9
Interview with Cathy Oakes, image 10
Interview with Cathy Oakes, image 11
Click on album covers to go to
Kathy's reviews.

KP: I agree that Doug is amazing with his own music as well as with the artists’ music he records and engineers.

I love the album’s cover artwork with the old country church in the middle of a huge field of red tulips and a piano keyboard pathway leading to the church. I know Matt Streiby of Newleaf Design did the actual graphics, but was the cover design your idea or his?

CO:  Speaking of geniuses - Matt is another one!  I told Matt that this CD would be dedicated to my grandmother, who taught me the hymns and instilled my love for them.  I explained that she would rock me in her lap and sing hymns to comfort me when I was small. I would sit next to her in our little country church and she and I would share a hymnal.  And that’s where my love for the hymns of the church was born. He did several mock-ups. This one wasn’t even on my radar. I was thinking about something with a piano keyboard and pink roses (one of Granny’s favorite flowers).  He did a couple like that and then sent me this one. As soon as I saw it, I KNEW it was perfect! The first one he sent me didn’t have the tulips. It was just a field. We tried to work in some pink roses, but it just didn’t work.  It looked forced.

KP: Is there any intentional symbolism in the tulips or the big field? They are so bright and beautiful that they are almost eye-watering! The flowers also make the keyboard pathway jump out. It’s such a great cover!

CO:  Granny’s other favorite flower was red tulips.  She grew tulips in her garden every year. She had 4 children and 13 grandchildren, but I was the ONLY one that was allowed to pick her red tulips!!! So, when the pink roses didn’t work, I mentioned the red tulips to Matt.  He said, “Oh, I can DO tulips!” And what he sent me was PERFECT!!! I LOVE the cover!! It reminds me of Granny every time I see it.

KP: How great that the artwork is so meaningful to you, too!

How did you choose which hymns to arrange?

CO:  I didn’t.  :-) When I walked into that studio, I had NO idea what hymns I would be recording.  It was completely spontaneous.

KP: Did the ideas for the medleys just kind of come to you or was that more intentional?

CO:  Sometimes, I work at it.  I try to choose hymns that have the same (or similar) themes - such as grace or mercy or praise.  Sometimes, I’m just playing a hymn and another one pops into my head and off I go. That’s what happened with “Amazing Grace/Grace Greater Than Our Sin” and “We Gather Together/Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”  I was just playing one hymn and it reminded me of the other one. And off I went. When that happens, the challenge is usually figuring out how to get back into the original hymn - while playing!!! :-)

KP: I can only imagine!

You mentioned that none of these hymn arrangements were written down and that it’s almost impossible to figure out what you did. Do you plan to have the songs transcribed? Then we can all play them!
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Cathy and Ginger

CO:  I hope to have Donovan Johnson transcribe these in the near future.  My husband never really sees the need to have my music written down. But he and I are having “discussions” about this one.  :-)

KP: Are you planning to do a concert tour for A Heritage of Faith?

CO:  I hope to - after I have them transcribed.  I have to figure out what I played first. I would like to do a tour that combines On the Other Side (released in 2018) and A Heritage of Faith.  I released them so close together that I never had time to do a tour for On the Other Side.

KP: You recorded On the Other Side at Dreamworld Productions, too. I just love Doug Hammer’s music, and he did a wonderful job of orchestrating both of your recent albums. How did you hook up with him?

CO:  I’ve known Doug almost since I first started writing music.  I first met him at a Whisperings gathering. He’s always been one of my favorite folks.  I knew I wanted to include orchestration in my next CD and I LOVED what Doug did with Philip Wesley’s CD.  I contacted him and asked about working with him. It took me a few months to be ready to record. But Doug was patient.  Working with him has been such an incredible joy! As I said, it’s like he takes a trip through my heart and my mind and just knows what I’m trying to say.  He GETS my music. When we work on the orchestrations, we barely have to talk. We both just FEEL it. That is a priceless connection!

KP: No kidding!

Are you still very active with the Enlightened Piano Radio group?

CO: Very much so.  I am the Vice President and Director of Artist Relations for EPR.  I work with Donovan Johnson (the founder), the Board of Directors and the more than 200 artists almost every day in some way.

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Donovan Johnson, Cathy, and Rhonda Mackert in Florence, OR 3/14
KP: EPR has had their annual Awards Concerts in some very interesting places! Where and when will the next one be?

CO: It will be on September 19, 2019 at the Place des Arts in Montreal.  I cannot wait to perform there and to gather with the other AMAZING artists!!  I’m so thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had to perform with EPR in so many wonderful venues, including Carnegie Hall, a Carnival cruise ship, The Grand Ole Opry and others.

KP: In addition to your musical life, you used to pastor three churches at the same time, which still amazes me! Are you now more focused on a music ministry role?

CO:  I’ve pretty much stepped away from ministry for a season.  I am still involved with some aspects - such as recording the 115 hymns for congregational singing.  But I’m not involved in ministry in a local church right now. I’m more focused on writing and recording, teaching and working with our local community theater as the music director for many of their shows.

KP: It doesn't sound like we need to worry about you getting bored!

Last week, you mentioned that you were getting ready for a student piano recital. How did that go?

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CO: The recital went GREAT!  I’m always SO proud of my students!

KP: I had to laugh because you said you were so stressed out. I always hate to see students get super-nervous, but I don’t think many students have a clue about how recitals affect their teachers!

CO:  Exactly!!!  When I perform, I don’t really get nervous.  I KNOW what I’m going to do! But students are sometimes loose cannons!!!  :-)

KP: We both should write books about our teaching experiences! I think they'd make a lot of people laugh!

How many students do you have now? Age range?

CO: This past year, I had 12 students ranging in age from 5 (at the beginning of the year) to mid 50’s.  I finished the year with 10 students - 8 piano and 2 voice.

KP: Do you do most of your teaching in your home studio or do you go out to students’ homes?

CO:  I’ve taught exclusively from my home the past couple of years.  I used to teach at the church where I served as the music director and at a local studio.  Teaching from my home is just so much easier.

KP: Do you still take occasional lessons from Joseph Akins?

CO:  I haven’t for a few years. Our schedules have just never worked.  I am talking to Eric Bikales about taking some lessons from him. He is a wonderful jazz pianist and is the keyboardist for Neil Sedaka.  I would LOVE to learn more about jazz and be able to incorporate just a bit of it in my music.

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KP: Eric is an amazing musician, too!

What kinds of projects are coming up for you?

CO:  I am working on several projects right now.  I want to do another hymns CD. I am also writing new music for an upcoming original CD and I really want to re-record and orchestrate some of my older stuff.

KP: All of those should be very interesting!

You and your husband, Buddy, were talking about moving to the West Coast for retirement. Is that still in the works?

CO: Who knows?  We have tossed around so many ideas.  At one time, we were absolutely sold on moving to the west coast.  Now, I’m trying to talk him into selling the house, buying an RV big enough for my digital piano and our puppies and just taking off!  Our kids and grandkids are spread all over the country, so it would be nice to spend a few years just being able to visit with them whenever we want.

KP: That sounds like fun!

Is there anything else you’d like to “talk” about?

CO: As you know, I had a recent health issue that was pretty life-changing for me.  I’m still dealing with some of that. I am SO thankful for the wonderful healthcare providers that have been there for me.  I’d like to find a way to “give back” through my music. I’m working with a few of those healthcare providers to explore some ideas.  I’m really looking forward to seeing where this path may take me. . I think it may be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.  The longer I live, the more I learn that life is a blessed journey. I’m thankful for each day of mine!

Many thanks to Cathy Oakes for taking the time to chat! For info about Cathy and her music, be sure to visit her website and her Artist Page here at MainlyPiano.com.
Kathy Parsons
May 2019