Dr. Viola Dacus vividly recalls one of the teaching moments that affirm her career choice of helping others develop their vocal performance.
"I had been working with a young mezzo, playing with resonance, and her voice went somewhere wonderful where she had never explored," the associate professor of music at Mississippi College says.
"She literally jumped up and down in the studio screaming, 'What was that, what was that?' That's what I find so gratifying: helping students discover their authentic voices and seeing their surprise at what that might be and then embracing it."
Born in California, Dacus moved to Yazoo County in first grade and graduated from Manchester Academy. Coming from a family who loves music, Dacus remembers her dad often listening to country, while her German-born mother always had opera, operetta and symphonic music reverberating through the house. Dacus started piano lessons in second grade, and she would often sing with her sister. She also sang in the church choir and performed in musicals during high school, despite never having any formal vocal lessons at that time.
Originally, Dacus intended to attend Mississippi State University and become a veterinarian, but at the last minute she felt that she was supposed to pursue another path, so she enrolled in the University of Mississippi instead of MSU as a theater major. However, during her first semester at UM, Dacus saw the Boston Camerata perform in Fulton Chapel, and she understood what direction she wanted her life to travel.
"I had never heard live music at that level before, and I was profoundly moved," she says. Ultimately, Dacus graduated from UM with a bachelor's degree in music education and then attended Louisiana State University, where she received her master's degree and doctorate in vocal performance. She accepted a teaching position with Mississippi College in August 2001.
Since immersing herself in the field, Dacus has served as a soloist in the Verdi Requiem at Carnegie Hall and has sung in the New York premiere of Dan Forrest's "Requiem for the Living," among other accomplishments.
"One of my most wonderful memories of performing was I got to sing in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve," she says. "That was really moving and something that I'll never forget—on a stage in Manger Square."
While Dacus performs regularly with Opera Mississippi, the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and New Stage Theatre, she also loves balancing that aspect of her life with her teaching career.
"I'm kind of a homebody. I have a lot of colleagues whose whole life is performing—I distinctly remember at a Mississippi opera production the lead mezzo was taking off on a plane to go somewhere else, and I thought, 'I get to go home and be with my children,'" she says.
Dacus lives in Clinton with her husband of 35 years, Edward, whom she met when he performed at her senior recital at UM. They have two children, Emily Katherine and Jonathan, the latter of whom will be starting college at MC in the spring 2021 semester.