Jackie Oakes – Principal Cellist


Picture of Jackie Oakes

Hi! My name is Jackie Oakes and I am the principal cellist.  Music has been a part of me since I could walk and talk.  Growing up in Cudahy, WI,  I was given the choice of a stringed instrument in the 4th grade.  I came home with the cello.  Never even tried anything else.  It has been a love affair ever since. 

Music is so addicting for me that I picked up the oboe in 5th grade, piano in 6th grade, played all three throughout my school years and starting teaching piano at 18. Throughout high school I could play piano, cello, flute, oboe, English horn, saxophone, xylophone, and dabbled on percussion.  I also can play organ and double bass. Brass was never my thing. 

But I had terrific friends in band, orchestra, marching band and jazz band.  Being an accompanist since 15 yrs of age has brought me a great deal of happiness as well!  My mom has always been my biggest cheerleader and gave me a huge gift of being able to study classically on piano at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.  I continued on cello there as a young adult and took music theory as well.  Julie Hochman and Ravenna Helson were my biggest cello mentors and Julia Freeman on piano. 


Can’t believe I’m saying this but the MFSO has been a part of my life for almost half of it! Wow! I joined in 1995 and have been principal cellist since 1996.  I’ve played with the UW-Milwaukee orchestra for a Viennese Ball, the Concord Chamber Orchestra for a couple years in the late 80’s, lived in Connecticut for a bit then came back here.  The MFSO has been my home since.  I’ve also recently joined the Milwaukee Philharmonic. 

I spent 6 very happy years with the MFY on both cello and oboe (Music for Youth for those of you who remember that!) in my teens, and it is now known as MYSO.  I’ve also played with the Wisconsin State Honors Orchestra and Band and received the Civic Music Award Scholarship my senior year of high school.  Orchestral playing is probably my most favorite thing to do.  Nothing compares to being able to play such diverse music with so many.  Oh and being on stage!  What a joy!  Symphonies are my favorite to play but overtures, concertos and suites are incredibly fun. There will never be enough lifetimes to perform everything I want to but I am grateful for Beethoven, Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Grieg, Vaughn-Williams, Bruch, Mozart, Dvorak, Strauss, Vivaldi, Mussorgsky.  The list goes on! 


Teaching music has been my profession since 18 yrs of age.  I teach cello and piano and have also taught voice and double bass in the past.  I have private students only since one-on-one is what fulfills me the most.  Lots of proud moments in recitals and at one time I had 44 students! Recently, I’ve toned that down a bit and the pandemic added to the challenges of teaching in person.  Technology is great but music is such a tactile and tangible profession that virtual lessons don’t always get the job done. 

In addition to playing gigs and in symphonies I am a church music director.  In one fashion or another since the age of 14, I’ve been involved in church music programs, whether playing various instruments, on a music committee, singing, accompanying, conducting, teaching and playing handbells, I’ve been there.  Since 2007 I have been the music director at Brookfield Congregational UCC Church but I’ve also served First Congregational Church in South Milwaukee and Trinity UCC Church in Brookfield. 

Other interests

Not one to sit still, I also freelance with musicals, play wedding and corporate gigs with Dream City Music and serve other churches when my time allows.  Music has provided me with some pretty cool opportunities.  Back in 2019 I sang the National Anthem for the kickoff of the FIRST Robotics competition at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.  What a rush to nail it in front of thousands of people!  7 years ago Mike Kamenski, our wonderful MFSO maestro highlighted a few symphony members in a concert.  I was able to play the cello piece “Kol Nidre” by Max Bruch, one of my most favorite pieces to perform with the symphony.  Definitely a highlight of my career and I am so very grateful to Mike for the opportunity.

The MFSO has been such a great organization to be a part of.  Besides soloing with the symphony, I have absolutely LOVED playing the Messiah sing-along concerts.  The highlight of my Advent and Christmas season.  I am a major Genesis fan so being able to play with them for a concert was a dream come true.  Hats off to Mike for arranging that!  It isn’t easy to put into words what playing in a symphony has meant for my personal happiness but also giving back to the community.  Music is a universal language and we need continued support from anywhere we can get it.  Whether it is local fundraising, civic community support, marketing.  Anything helps.


Picture of Jackie and Norman
Jackie and Norman

Away from music, my horse Norman, is my absolute pride and joy.  He is a former Amish cart horse turned dressage prince.  This year we are training for Western Dressage shows and hope to go to the World Championship in Oklahoma come late September.  Riding horses has been a passion my entire life and couldn’t be happier to own one.  I should add that he loves when I sing to him…he totally gets my rhythm.  I also have a dog, Stella, and a cat, Nike. 


My husband Richard and I blended 7 children for a big crazy family back in 1998.  They are all grown up with lives of their own.  We have 8 grandchildren!  They live in places around the country we love to visit and a couple live here in Wisconsin.  Golfing is a favorite pastime.  And gardening.  Plus I work at a barn taking care of horses, donkeys and goats.  Never a dull moment in my life!

Personal likes

Here’s some personal “likes”:  top 5 movies are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Avatar, ANY Jurassic Park movie, Lord of the Rings and Dances with Wolves.  There’s more but 5 for now is good.  Love Asian, Mexican, Italian, German foods.  Just not lima beans… Big fan of the Milwaukee Brewers, Bucks and Green Bay Packers.  Love classic rock, pop, country, Christian and classical.  I’m really good at making jewelry and have done shows.  Favorite place to be is our big, beautiful Victorian home in downtown Waukesha!  Hope you’ve enjoyed walking a few steps in my shoes.  Phew!