“Da!” she squeals, shoving a tiny, plastic toy into his long and tired face. “Da!” she yells louder. “Da Da!” The toy is just a means to an end for the adept toddler.
Her father, Dr. Vince Bates, assistant professor of music at Northwest Missouri State University, looks directly into her big, dark eyes, brushes her long bangs out of her face and smiles.
Success. His attention, however brief, was hers.
Content, she scoots down off his lap and runs out of the room.
Like many of his fellow professors, Bates is a busy man. Since joining the staff at Northwest in 2006, he has taught elementary and middle school general music methods, brass methods, French horn, guitar, music appreciation and even freshman seminar. He has presented at various conferences across the country and done research on a variety of topics.
But unlike most of his colleagues, his time is also consumed as the lay minister at his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has no full-time professional clergy at the congregational level.
Bates is what is called a branch president, as he presides over the “branch” or congregation of people that are in Nodaway and Atchison counties. The call was extended to him from a stake president, who oversees several congregations in the area.
He has been serving in the position for a year and a half now, a time period that he half-jokingly calls “too long” to a position he did not seek.
“No, this is not something I wanted to do, but we promise to serve where we’re asked to serve,” Bates said. “And I do believe it’s an act of service.”
With the calling, he oversees the work of the members, or Mormons as they are more commonly known, who have responsibilities and who take turns serving in various capacities like Sunday School teacher or youth advisor.
Audrey runs back into the room, jabbering more gibberish about the baby she’s now holding in her hand. She jumps up again into her father’s lap and holds the half-dressed doll for him to see. “Baby, Da Da, baby,” she screeches.
Once more, he affectionately smiles at her. “Yay, baby!” she yells. “Yay!” She’s slides back down, satisfied, off to find her older siblings, Landon (10), William (seven) and Sophie (five).
Born to faithful, hard-working parents, Bates grew up in rural Nevada and Utah, smack dab in the middle of nine children. He learned the value of hard work from living on the farm and a love of music in his humble yet happy home.
“We had a lot of music and we all learned to play the piano to various degrees,” Bates said. “We also used to play together as a family, with dad on accordion, mom on guitar and the rest of us on various band instruments or guitar.
“I was pretty young when I knew I wanted to be a teacher or a musician,” he continued. Watching “The Sound of Music” and listening to his collection of the Statler Brothers, he remembers he had “lots of interest” in the wide variety of music he had experienced as a child.
That exposure included the accordion his father played, an instrument that was taught to him and which he eventually inherited.
“He demonstrated some things for me a few times. Then one day, he was going to show me how to play something and he couldn’t do it. His fingers had gotten so big and stiff from work that he couldn’t push the buttons easily,” Bates said. “He put it down and I don’t ever remember his playing again.”
Bates graduated in 1985 from West Desert High School, in rural western Utah, in a class of two, him and his cousin. He went on to serve a mission for his church from 1986 to 1988 in Denmark to share, he said, what his church believes and where he learned valuable principles that have helped him in the classroom and with the congregation.
“Patience was developed to an extent, although growing up on a farm and working long hours also developed that,” he said. “I think that mainly I learned more about talking to people, being more outgoing and less shy.”
After returning home from Denmark, he continued school and received a bachelor’s degree in music education in 1992 from Brigham Young University and a master’s in music in 1996, also from BYU. Two years later, he married his wife, Kristin, and they welcomed their first child, Landon, the following year.
Prior to Northwest, he taught K-12 music for a total of 12 years in Eureka, Utah. In the middle of his tenure there, he and his family moved to Tucson to work toward a doctorate in music education from the University of Arizona. They lived there from August 1999 to May 2001 and then returned to Utah, where he resumed teaching in Eureka. During his time there, he was able to pass along the knowledge his father gave him of the accordion to one of his students.
Also while in Eureka, the Bates family welcomed two more children, William in 2001 and Sophie in 2004. Audrey was born in 2007, after they had moved to Maryville.
In just the short time he has been at Northwest, Bates has garnered the respect of his colleagues, including Dr. William Richardson, associate professor of music.
“Dr. Bates is an excellent teacher,” Richardson said. “He is always available for Northwest students and graduates who come to him for advice. In the classroom, he is very personable and makes learning fun.”
Bates believes teaching should be student centered, meaning that it should promote student happiness and well being. And it requires physical action.
“It is possible to enjoy something and learn something at the same time. Learning does not have to be stressful to be rigorous,” he said. “Applying principles seems to be valuable to my students. I try to find and think of activities that are engaging and meaningful.”
In addition to his success in the classroom, Richardson said Bates is also well known nationally and internationally as a critical theorist who enjoys questioning established ways of teaching music in public schools.
“This often leads to some amazing outside the box thinking,” Richardson said. “But his research with issues of gender, race and social class in music education is also important and should be heard.”
The more research Bates does, the more he can see the prevalence of these and other forms of discrimination, which he discusses in his music education methods and American popular music classes.
“Class is especially important to me as someone who grew up poor,” he said. “And, whereas it’s not politically correct anymore to be overtly racist or sexist, people still get away with referring to ‘rednecks’ or ‘poor white trash’ and it is still common for people to think that the poor are poor because of things like lower intelligence or laziness.”
In addition to his success in the classroom and his passion for research and theory, Richardson has also noticed Bates’ commitment to his family and his church responsibilities.
“Vince is a very pleasant colleague and friend,” he said. “He and his wife, Kristin, have four wonderful children and are very involved in church activities.”
Sophie begins to sing in the next room, but her song is soon interrupted by her sister’s crying. She tries to get Audrey to color with her. But it’s not the attention Audrey wants.
So Sophie goes back to her singing and coloring. And Audrey goes back to her crying and runs back into the dining room to her father, who swoops her up into his strong but gentle arms.
“Da Da,” she says, as he looks down at her patiently, lovingly. He strokes her light-colored hair and gently bounces her up and down on his knee. Her crying begins to fade into whimpering and continues to diminish until she’s almost completely silent.
Bates is, he said, like his father: quiet.
“He’s quiet and thoughtful,” Dr. Tom Smith, professor of English education at Northwest, said. “When he’s quiet, it’s because he’s listening and thinking.”
Smith serves with Bates at church as his counselor. The two have known each other for a couple of years and spend quite a bit of time together, not just at church, but also with work. They are currently collaborating for a presentation at an education conference in October.
In those two years working together, Smith has seen the compassion Bates has for others, which goes beyond just the physical and temporal needs of the congregation.
“I think being branch president has changed him a lot,” Smith said. “I see him learning to deal with people differently. He’s really concerned about them and making sure they feel welcome and appreciated. He has a vision for the branch and that vision is that everyone is important and everyone matters.”
With several black olives in one hand and her doll in the other, Audrey comes scurrying back and stands at the feet of her father, looking squarely up at him, waiting.
“Baby!” she demands. It’s followed by more unintelligible squeals, commanding more attention from her father.
“The baby won’t eat those olives,” he says matter-of-fact like, keeping a straight face. “They’re dolls. And dolls don’t eat them.”
His joking gets no reaction from Audrey. And the wry look he’s giving her reluctantly turns to a crescent-moon smile and finally to a wide, toothy half-moon grin. As he laughs, she pops one of the olives into her mouth and hurries out of the room again.
Humor is a big part of who he is, although like Audrey, a lot of people don’t always get it.
“He’s actually really funny but you don’t always see it,” Smith said. “It’s a very dry sense of humor.”
Bates said he learned it growing up from his father and grandfather.
“It seems to be pretty common with country folk generally to say something that is really a joke and keep a straight face so that people wonder if you are kidding or not,” he said. “My dad and grandpa were both very good at this.”
It’s sometimes hard, though, to bring that humor to his church calling because it carries with it a good amount of stress and worry. Bates, whose salt and pepper hair has probably gotten a little more salty in the past couple of years, said knowing all about people’s personal problems is difficult for him.
“It’s hard to let it all go,” he said.
And on top of that, it also takes up a significant portion of his free time, time away from his family.
“Family is really important and I feel bad when I don’t spend time with them,” Bates said. “It’s hard to serve the needs of the people in the branch and still have time at home.”
But he also sees his service as a blessing and enjoys helping people with their welfare needs.
“I think we’ve gotten to know a lot more people,” he said. “You get to see them grow and progress. It’s nice to help them with their financial needs – their basic needs – and have the resources to help. And it’s given us more perspective.”
His wife, Kristin, agrees there are blessings that come with it and she’s grateful for the time they have to learn and grow through this experience.
“It’s helped us to all have more focus on helping others…and it makes us more appreciative of the blessings we have,” she said. “The calling doesn’t last forever, and when he’s released, I know he wants to feel that he did all he could do and worked hard at it.”
Audrey’s made her way back into the dining room, wearing part of the dinner Kristin is making on her face.
First, she asks: “Me?”
Nothing. She presses harder. “Me! Me!”
Still nothing, so she smiles. “Me, Da Da, Me.”
He smiles, too, reaches down and picks her up.
With the busy schedule he carries as professor and branch president – and as husband and father – those brief, stolen moments of his attention are cherished.
And for Audrey, who has now traded in the doll for the earlier plastic toy, she’s happy just the same. She’s got her Da.