Remembering Vic Hubbard
Victor Hubbard was a wonderful man and an exceptional teacher. I first met him in 1997, when he came out of retirement to teach singing for the college again. Sometimes he would tell me about the path by which God had led him, and I always enjoyed hearing his stories. As he was growing up in California, he was active in music at school and at church, but I think his real passion was race cars. Working with his father and brothers, he became a skillful race car mechanic. Today his father’s business, the Vic Hubbard Speed & Marine Shop, is still operated by Vic’s nephews in Hayward, CA. Vic attended Western Baptist Bible College in the late 40s, while it was located in Oakland, CA. Then he was called to Grace Baptist in Chico, California, as Associate Pastor and Music Director. He studied music for a year at Chico State College. In 1954 the Army called, and he was assigned to the Sixth Army Band stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. He was a tenor soloist and a bass clarinetist in the band.
As he told me the story, the San Francisco Opera was producing an opera soon afterward that required several extras playing the role of soldiers. Thinking that real soldiers would make good operatic soldiers, the director came to the Army band to recruit some help. I think Vic was one of the first to volunteer. As the chorus master trained these extras for their performance, he noticed Vic’s beautiful lyric tenor voice. The chorus master was Maestro Gianni Lazzeri, and he invited Vic to study privately with him. In addition to studying with him for two years, he also took operatic acting lessons. He began to be offered small solo roles, and soon he was singing the lead for some smaller opera companies in the bay area, including Ernesto in Don Pasquale, the Duke in Rigoletto, and Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly. Maestro Lazzeri continued to be impressed with Vic’s singing, so he invited him to come to Italy to continue his studies and to pursue a career in European opera. However, Vic had become aware that the world of opera was full of licentiousness. He believed that becoming more deeply involved in opera would be detrimental to his relationship with his family. He loved his wife and his children very much, so he decided not to accept the maestro’s invitation.
Richard Caulkins, our Distinguished Professor of Humanities, joined the faculty of Western Baptist Bible College in 1953, and he helped to recruit Vic to teach at Western. When Vic joined our faculty in 1960, the college was located in El Cerrito. Vic established our first band and directed it for 16 years. He told me the enrollment was as high as 60 at one point, including students and a few staff members and off-campus guests. He took the band on a number of tours all around the western U.S., and once they even went to the east coast. Dr. Caulkins directed the Western Baptist choir for twenty years, and he and Vic worked together very closely in the Music Department.
Vic also taught voice, both private lessons and voice class. He could explain how the voice works more clearly than anyone else I have ever known. I think he thought about the physiology of the vocal instrument the way a mechanic thinks about an engine: he wanted to know exactly what every part was and what it was supposed to do. His ability to help a student with a small, untrained or unfocused voice develop into a mature and beautiful singer was amazing. I think one of the main reasons he was so effective in helping students improve their vocal production was his ability to explain what the student needed to do in easy-to-understand language, using concrete visual images to accompany his thorough explanations of how the voice works. I marveled over and over at the wonderful sounds and wonderful life stories that came out of his studio.
Vic used his own beautiful voice very effectively in serving God and serving the college. He and pianists like Nelson Zarfas and David Morrison traveled year after year to perform in churches and schools to promote the college. He sang oratorio roles at Western Baptist as well as for other colleges, orchestras, and community choruses all across the Northwest. He was particularly well known for appearing as a soloist in Messiah performances. He was interested in technology of all kinds, including recording technology. He made high-quality recordings of many concerts on campus, as well as some of his solo performances in churches. I’m glad he donated a number of these recordings to the college, and now we have those historical records in our library.
Vic had a generous heart. He gave the college the bass clarinet he had played in the Army band; he told me it was a family heirloom. He also provided a modern recording studio for the college, setting it up in a large closet beside PV 107. He was generous with praise and encouragement, too. That was another important factor in his effectiveness as a teacher. Vic served God faithfully by serving the church. He gave vocal seminars in churches in several states, offering assistance to singers and church musicians in more effective singing techniques. After he resigned from our faculty in 1981 because of health issues, he began providing sound amplification equipment and expertise to churches across a widening area.
At the age of 68, God gave Vic health and strength enough to resume teaching voice for us part time. He was a blessing to many student singers during those additional seven years. That was my second year on the music faculty and he was a blessing to me, too, with his frequent encouragement and helpful advice. When Vic retired from the college the last time, we established a scholarship fund in his memory. If anyone would like to contribute to this scholarship, it is still open for donations.
One of Vic’s voice students was Tina Brown. She shared in the newsletter of her church (and mine, too) her remembrance of Vic. “I think of Vic as my voice teacher. Others have titled him as husband, father, friend, colleague, mentor, Army buddy, band director. When Vic is finally gone, our hearts will hurt, and yet we will hear his huge laugh; we will see his beaming smile. We will remember that this fantastic musician taught us to "make a JOYFUL noise." We will know he is finally in the place he's been singing about for many, many years.”
As Tina said, we will go on with a song of our own. I praise God for Vic Hubbard.