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Wingate influence strong in life of incoming choral student

by Luanne Williams

Despite her parents' lack of hearing, Joni Wagoner has loved music as long as she can remember. A first-year student and self-described "chorus nerd," she is bringing what she learned under the tutelage of Wingate alumni back to the University's growing music program.

Joni Wagoner couldn’t be more thrilled about becoming part of Wingate’s Class of 2022. But without the classes of 2009 and 2012, she might not be a Bulldog.

A talented soprano in the top 10 percent of her high school class, Wagoner fell in love with chorus at Mount Holly Middle, under the direction of 2012 Wingate alumna Amy Burch Carpenter. She went on to East Gaston High School, where she met choir director Peter Haley, a 2009 graduate of Wingate’s music program and the person she considers her greatest influence.

“Mr. Haley has a very good way of making us feel like we’re collaborating. And like we’re on the same level,” Wagoner says. “He asks our opinions on stuff, and he asks what we think we can do to make it better. It makes us really independent, helps us grow as musicians and makes us think for ourselves.”

Wagoner knows a lot about being independent. Even as a young girl, she bore much of the responsibility for helping her deaf parents navigate Gaston County. As a result, Haley says, Wagoner entered high school with a higher level of maturity than most students.

“With both of Joni’s parents having hearing deficiencies, that’s meant that in a lot of ways she’s had to be a little bit more independent and rely on herself,” Haley says. “You see that play out in choir, where she can see and anticipate things coming up. She is very driven, and even as a freshman she was very committed to anything that was put in front of her.”

Wingate connection

Wagoner was just 13 when she told Carpenter she was thinking about becoming a chorus teacher, and Carpenter recommended she look into Wingate. In eighth grade, Wagoner attended a choral clinic at Wingate and met Dr. Kenney Potter, chair of the Music Department.

The next year, she met Haley, and it started to dawn on her that Wingate’s music program was having a big influence on her life.

“As high school started going on and Mr. Haley and I got closer and I started to look up to Mr. Haley as a mentor,” Wagoner says, “I was like, ‘I liked Mrs. Carpenter; she went to Wingate. I like Mr. Haley, and Mr. Haley went to Wingate. I like Dr. Potter; Dr. Potter teaches at Wingate. I think Wingate’s going to probably be the place to go.”

A veteran of Gaston’s All-County Chorus, both the Furman University and Wingate University choral festivals, and the North Carolina Honors Chorus, Wagoner describes herself as “a humongous nerd when it comes to choral music.” She says she can’t wait to start classes and bring what she and her peers learned from Haley back to the program where he trained.

“When I first started freshman year I had no idea how to read music,” she says. “At the end of senior year, all you had to do was give us a piece of sheet music and a starting note and we’d be able to do the whole, entire song.”

Exciting future

A man plays piano while a woman sings.

Haley is thrilled to know Wagoner will experience some of the same things he did at Wingate, with the added benefit of a music department that has tripled in size in terms of enrollment since his days as a Bulldog.

The physical space has also grown. The Cynthia Legette Bullock Center for Music Studies opened in 2015, bringing with it the Payne Vocal Hall, a large space dedicated to group vocal practice.

“She’ll have a vocal rehearsal hall that we knew nothing about in our time at Wingate,” Haley says. “But more than that, she’s going to enjoy a tradition of excellence that I like to think I had a very, very small part in. She’s going to experience some of the same wonderful professors that I had.

“It is a wonderful thing to know that some of the same folks that helped take care of me will help take care of her as well. To know that she is well prepared to be successful at Wingate and to know that Wingate will make her successful and prepared in the classroom is something I look forward to a lot.”

Wagoner jokes that it’s Haley’s classroom she plans to take over when she’s earned her teaching degree.

“I would love to teach at East Gaston if they would have me and if Mr. Haley would literally let me take his job,” she says. “I think it would be awesome to work alongside the people that taught me. Ultimately I want to work somewhere where they need me and where their music program needs some TLC and be able to build it up so that students there get the same opportunities that I was able to get in high school.”

Wagoner insists that it was more than Haley’s musical insight or teaching expertise that drew her to his alma mater.

“I think overall, the thing that I looked towards him for is that he cares about every single student he has,” she says. “I just hope that in the future I am able to care for my students like he does his.”

Aug. 13. 2018

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