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Milton Academy recruiter is ‘just always singing’

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse
Milton Academy recruiter is ‘just always singing’
Lori Dow stands tall with her gospel choir at Milton Academy. (Photo: Lori Dow)

Author: Bob StegmaierLori Dow stands tall with her gospel choir at Milton Academy.

During week days, Lori Dow spends hours working in the admissions office of Milton Academy’s Upper School. But on many nights, Dow may be found doing what she loves best — singing.

Dow has been singing since childhood. A Boston area native, she sang in church choirs and high school groups, played piano and flute and participated in musical theater. “I just used to sing all the time,” Dow said, “just always singing.”

Despite her talent and passion for music, Dow received no formal training before college. “Anything I learned I was learning from musical icons,” she said. She learned from the Motown and old jazz standards that her parents played, as well as female vocalists like Diana Ross, Nancy Wilson, Whitney Houston, Teena Marie and Phyllis Hyman.

When Dow entered college at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, she began to take music more seriously. As a vocal performance minor, she received formal training in opera and studied with an “amazing” teacher who expanded her range and taught her to “take risks” with her music.

At the same time, Dow was focused on academics and developing a career outside music. “I was always thinking, ‘I’ve gotta survive,’” she explained, “So I need to make money so I can support my other career.” She majored in sociology, and with an interest in social work, completed an internship in AIDS advocacy.

Education and career were, and continue to be, very important to Dow. “I was singing ever since I was a kid,” she said, “but I also knew that I had to make sure that I had a strong education behind me, because I felt like if I had that, then I could really go anywhere.”

After graduation she started a job in college admissions with a focus on students of color, and soon discovered an equal passion for this kind of academic work. Instead of simply using her day job to support her music, Dow began to look for ways to do both. “I love music, but I love the admissions piece too,” Dow said. So, “How do I incorporate the two, and is there a place that will allow me to do both?”

Dow worked at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Emerson College and Babson College before moving to high school admissions at Milton Academy, where she now works. At Milton, the exclusive prep school that claims Gov. Deval Patrick as one of its illustrious alumni, her focus has broadened to include international students. As a result, she frequently travels abroad to recruit potential students.

After her academic career fell in place, her music one followed. Dow had gone back to singing in gospel choirs after graduation, but was unsure where to take her music next. “I always knew I had a voice,” she said, “but how I was going to use it was the question, and where I was going to use it was the question.”

In the mid-90s, Dow’s former church, where she had sung in the gospel choir, hosted a talent show at the Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center, and she was asked to sing. Dow connected with a piano player for this performance, and through him met several other musicians who would eventually comprise her band. With this band, Dow began performing at local clubs and restaurants.

Although the jazz and RandB she performed with her new band was far from her classical training in opera, the lessons she learned continued to inspire her. “I remember standing up there singing,” she said, “ … and I could hear my old music teacher saying, ‘take chances, take chances.’”

Years later, a colleague at Babson College connected Dow with a producer. The musical chemistry between the two was so strong that in 2005, just a year after their first meeting, Dow’s debut CD “Unconditionally Yours” was released. The album features a collection of songs that represent the many stages of Dow’s music career. Some songs were revived from Dow’s first but unsuccessful attempt at recording a CD; some, like the title track, were written specifically for the album; and a few are covers of Dow’s long-time favorites.

Dow recorded “Unconditionally Yours” in the evenings and on the weekends after working at Milton Academy. She explained her schedule, “[I] never [had] an all night session, because I couldn’t have done that then try to talk to 14-year-olds … I was able to get my reading done, then go and spend time in the studio, get my folders from the office, come back, get more folders then go spend time in the studio.”

In 2006, Dow won the Urban Music Award for best female jazz artist. Since then, Dow released a second CD, “Love Changes,” in 2008.

But Dow’s two worlds of academics and music have not remained entirely separate. Dow helped to form a gospel choir at Milton Academy and now serves as its director. For their first performance, she called on some of her professional musicians to assist with the production, bringing excitement and momentum to the group.

“It was a nice way to bring a part of what I do in the outside world to what I do at Milton, and I think it was also a great way for me to go beyond the walls of admissions.” Moreover, she said, “music was a way for me to really have a significant impact.”

When students ask Dow for advice on pursuing a music career, she tells them to “remain true to yourself and find what you want to do. And if you want to do music, that’s fine, but make sure you have that solid education backing you, because it’s not guaranteed.”