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Spotlight on staff and faculty musicians: Meet singer Chaz Nailor

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A man in choir robe sings in front of a stained glass window.
Photo by Joshua Guenther
Chaz Nailor
Graduate Program Coordinator, School of Journalism
10 years at UT

It wasn’t a given that Chaz Nailor, who grew up in Bay City, was going to attend college. And majoring in music was definitely unlikely.

“I come from a lower-income, marginalized, African American family in South Texas,” he says. “The expectation was that if I was going to go to college at all, it would be to be a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer or the like. My family was really pushing for that.”

Nailor played piano, trombone, oboe and other instruments growing up, and in middle school he started singing. But despite a love for music and performance, Nailor started his studies at The University of Texas at Austin in natural sciences.

“I think I was doing fairly well in microbiology, but it just wasn’t me,” he says. “By my second year, I was already a music major.”

Nailor says that one day during his freshman year, he found himself in the Music Building. There, he saw a poster for an audition for “Changed My Name,” a cantata by Linda Twine. He landed the role, which in turn led to former voice faculty member Leonard Johnson encouraging Nailor to change his major. That bold act of putting himself out there in pursuit of a passion, combined with Johnson’s mentorship, helped kick off an artistic pursuit that continues today.

Nailor left Austin about a year after his 2002 graduation but returned to the city – and the university – in 2009. Pursuing music alongside a full-time career in Austin can be difficult; Nailor cites the high cost of living and housing, the lack of resources and support for musicians and, unlike in some larger cities, the lack of a market for talent agents and PR people.

“So, you are your PR agent,” he says. “You’re scheduling your own bookings and auditions, and then there’s the reality that there are only 24 hours in a day. In order to live here, many musicians will have to find that full-time, 40-hour, benefits-eligible position. And then if there are any hours left in the day, that’s when you’re gigging, auditioning, rehearsing.”

Despite those challenges, Nailor has had considerable artistic success. He has performed with Chorus Austin off and on for nearly two decades; he’s currently the section leader for basses. He’s also in his eighth season with the San Antonio Chamber Choir and sings every Sunday at St. David’s Episcopal Church in downtown Austin.

“I set out some goals for myself upon my return to Austin,” he says. “I wanted to work for the premier musical theater company, and that happened within five years when I worked for Zach Theatre. I did ‘Les Misérables’ and I also did the ‘The Gospel at Colonus.’ Then it took another five years to reach my other big goal, to be a feature with a symphony. That just happened last September, opening up the Austin Symphony Orchestra’s season as a featured soloist in Schubert’s ‘Magnificat.’

“Within 10 years, I reached my major goals I’d set for myself when I came back to Austin,” he says. “I’m just coming off of that right now, so I’m not sure I know exactly what’s next.”