The son of a preacher, longtime Oakcrest High School vocal/music teacher Charlie Bass grew up in the pews of his father's church. It was there, at age 5, that he met the love of his life, Renee, whom he married in 1978, and it was there he discovered his professional love.
Bass started singing in the gospel choir as a young boy, and by his teens, he was directing the group. When it came time to choose his vocation, Bass, who will retire from teaching at the end of this school year, had an easy decision.
"It was sort of like I was doing it already," Bass said. "I loved it."
Bass, who grew up in South Egg Harbor and attended Oakcrest for a few years before transferring to the newly built Absegami High School as a senior, spent a few years teaching part-time in Port Norris and Chesilhurst before taking a job at Arthur Rann Middle School in Galloway Township in the early '80s.
After seven years at Arthur Rann, Bass applied for a vacant teaching position at Absegami, which he didn't get. The following year he was tapped to restart an Oakcrest vocal music program that had been silent for 14 years.
Over the past 24 years, Bass has built a choir that would be the envy of any high school in the country, and the music room is lined with dozens of trophies from competitions such as the Virginia Beach Music Festival and traveling festival Music in the Parks.
He was at the helm, but Bass said it's the kids that have made his tenure a success.
"It's been a wonderful run," Bass said. "We've had some great moments here. Great kids."
Bass' pride and joy at Oakcrest is his ensemble choir, which he established when he arrived in 1989. Rather than simply having one or two large choirs, Bass has split his students into six ensembles: the mixed choir, the madrigal choir, the gospel choir, the women's choir and two small R&B vocal groups called the O Boys and O Girls.
On May 3, Bass will conduct his final choral concert at Oakcrest. The show will offer a variety of tunes performed by the choirs, from patriotic standards to modern rock songs, sandwiched between a pair of Beatles hits.
While the members of the choir are excited for the performance, they said that because it will be Bass' swan song, it's bittersweet.
"I don't want him to go, because it's going to change," said 15-year-old sophomore Maggie Madamba. "O Girls and gospel choir, that's like his thing. That's what makes it different, and no one else will be able to fill that next year."
Junior Alita Bowman, who has been taught by Bass each of her three years at Oakcrest, echoed Madamba's sentiments.
While Bass knows his way around a vocal lesson, it's not his teaching that sets him apart, Bowman said, but his willingness to give students extra help outside school or be their sponsor for one of the local select choirs.
"He just puts in so much effort, even when he doesn't have to," Bowman said. "He goes above and beyond."
While Bass, 55, is leaving his day job behind, he'll have no trouble finding ways to occupy his time. He plans to continue recording and producing music in his personal studio as well as writing educational pieces for schools through his music publishing company.
Bass has taught thousands of students over the years. Some have gone on to become award-winning recording artists or producers. Others have become doctors and lawyers and nurses - but as long as they keep music in their lives, he's happy.
With the next step in his life on the horizon, Bass is sad to see his teaching career come to an end, but he's excited about the new beginning.
"I'm going to miss them," Bass said. "But you know when it's time, and I'm at that point. It's on to the next adventure."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: Oakcrest High School Spring Choral Concert
When: 7 p.m. May 3
Where: Oakcrest High School, 1824 Dr. Dennis Foreman Drive, Mays Landing
How much: $5.
More info: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.