McMichael Music kicking out the jams for 13 years
By Doug Hill
Wess McMichael is a fortunate guy. He owns a profitable business establishment based on his life’s passion. “McMichael Music has been in business over a decade,” the guitarist and teacher said. “I am so glad I live in a community that values music lessons.” The instructional facility that bears his name is located at 230 W. Alameda in a former dentist’s office. The building’s configuration of multiple small rooms lends itself well to providing space for students and the twenty individual instructors McMichael employs. It’s just a short stroll to the downtown Norman Arts District. “About half our lessons are in guitar,” he said. “And there’s also vocal, piano, saxophone, violin and viola instruction.” McMichael teaches guitar to around 50 students but also specializes in directing the formation and growth of budding bands. “It involves putting kids together and taking them out to play at gigs,” he said. “I’ve taken over that aspect of the business and have really enjoyed it. We do a show every month and starting in January we’ll be playing every second Thursday of the month at Othello’s (Italian Restaurant).” McMichael’s is currently coaching four of these novice combos. They have regularly entertained on stage at Midsummer Night’s Fair, Groovefest, Earth Day and Norman Music Festival. Organizers in the community have come to count on booking these performances. A stop by the 2013 Norman Music Festival found one of the bands to be amazingly talented. “They’re always terrified at first,” McMichael said. “I tell them jokingly it’s the first 400 times playing in front of an audience that’s the toughest.” Every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. he teaches a blues music class that’s free and open to the public at McMichael Music. You don’t have to be a regular student there, just bring an instrument and be ready to groove. McMichael plays drums for what’s generally an older crowd of 40-ish musicians who want to improve. “Everyone takes turns improvising on blues standards,” he said.
In addition to the fundamentals of playing an instrument, students learn other aspects of one of the world’s most popular and ever-present art forms. “We teach from a big picture perspective,” McMichael said. “What is music all about, why is some music better than others and why it touches us emotionally or doesn’t.” A seasoned performer himself, teaching others to play has become an equally satisfactory way of sharing music with others. Sometimes it’s just getting together and jamming as opposed to in a formal lesson setting. “The value comes from playing with someone who is a little more advanced and hearing yourself in context with them.” he said. “Also, young students are always turning me on to new music. Kids are way ahead with what’s going on in new music.” Some students are as young as 7 and watching them learn to make music themselves has been a rewarding experience. Wanting to learn to play is often a combination of parental guidance and individual desire. “Being able to play an instrument is almost always a boost to self-esteem along with the value of learning a discipline,” McMichael said. “It’s also been proven to do great things for the mind neurologically.” He spoke to the relationship of music to mathematics and in particular the geometric aspects of time and space perception. “Part of the learning process is about understanding distances and intervals in music as they move in time,” he said. “Then there are the poetical dimensions of lyrics which is another profound depth to music.”
In addition to teaching and running the business McMichael is also a working musician. “I’ve been doing a solo jazz guitar gig at Scratch (Kitchen and Cocktails) for their Fri. afternoon happy hours for awhile,” he said. “On Weds. I play at the Cohiba Lounge in the evening.” He has a new album titled “Angel of Mercy” that’s self-recorded, mixed and mastered available on iTunes. McMichael grew up in Apache and spent time in his youth gigging up and down Austin’s 6th St. before being attracted to Norman. “There has always been very high quality music here and that’s what brought me in,” he said. “There’s more world class musicians in Norman per capita than anywhere I’ve been.” He credited the Deli on campus corner that hosts live music performances 365 nights a year as being a critical hub in town. Well known Norman musicians Mike Hosty, Alan Orebaugh and Geoffrey Burch are among the current teaching staff at McMichael Music. “Former instructors include Terry “Buffalo” Ware and Kyle Reid,” he said. “Just because you haven’t seen some of these musicians on American Idol doesn’t mean they aren’t of that quality.”
Wess McMichael often learns as much from his students as they learn from him.