If there’s one thing I can say about Michael Brown, it’s this: he is the real deal — unpretentious, sincere, passionate, joyful, loving, and extremely intense both in art and in life. An astonishingly talented musician, his fingers glide over the piano keys with a scintillating flair matched only by his rich, soulful voice and captivating stage presence. But Michael is much more than just a gifted performer; he’s a natural communicator and a profoundly inspiring leader whose warmth, charisma and life-affirming energy are infectious and irresistible. Part life coach, part philosopher, part preacher of peace, he leads his followers on a transformative journey that is as much about introspection, spirituality, and human connection as it is about learning gospel songs.
I’ve collaborated with Michael enough times to know that he will undoubtedly bring down the house at Singing Together for Peace, a festival of gospel and folk music on May 12, 2018 at Woolsey Hall, which is being presented by Saecula Choir Foundation in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the Elm City & United Girls’ Choirs. As guest artist at the festival, Michael will lead an intergenerational gospel music masterclass at 9:30am and will direct a spectacular massed choir during the 12:30pm concert.
If you’d like to sing, clap, laugh, cry, and be inspired by one of the most extraordinary gospel musicians you’ll ever meet, register for the masterclass and invite a few friends to join you (all are welcome!). Or, if just attending a concert is more your speed, by all means order your ticket today.
In addition to the massed choir selections and some of Michael’s solo repertoire, the program will include appearances by several wonderful individual choirs, including GMChorale & Vocal Alchemy, Newark Boys Chorus, Elm City Girls’ Choir, United Girls’ Choir, Bristol Central High School Madrigal Singers, Cheshire Academy Chorus, John Winthrop Middle School 8th Grade Chorus, East Lyme Middle School Chorus, Saecula Singers, the Choir of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Cheshire, and others. This is one event you won’t want to miss!
I recently had a chance to ask Michael a few questions about his work. The following are some excerpts from our conversation:
Please describe your musical background and current activities.
I begin playing piano and singing at the age of four. It was as natural and normal as breathing. I currently direct gospel choirs at four boarding schools here in Connecticut: Hotchkiss, South Kent, Taft, and Westover. I’m also Music Director at St. Bridget’s and St. Bernard’s Catholic Churches in the Northwest corner of the state, and I recently accepted an additional music directorship at Litchfield Congregational Church.
Please discuss your core philosophy and values as an artist, educator, and leader.
Music has no boundaries and is the common denominator that transcends racial and social barriers.
I’ve heard you say that, when working with an ensemble, two of your most essential goals are “to be authentic” and “to create a healthy space”. Can you please elaborate on those ideas?
Without a word spoken or a note played, authenticity is key to reaching down to the core of the soul. People are lifted to a higher dimension when exposed to authenticity.
What are some of the most common challenges you encounter when teaching gospel music to groups that have little experience performing in that style, and what techniques do you employ to overcome those challenges?
Being open to experiencing gospel music is my only answer. Gospel can take you to a wonderful place. So getting passed yourself and simply letting it happen is the key.
How do you approach teaching gospel songs with intensely religious lyrics to people of diverse faith backgrounds?
That’s easy. It isn’t necessary for people to believe in the Bible or Christian lyrics. I simply say, “go to your own happy and loving space.”
What techniques do you use to help individuals to gain confidence in solo singing and improvisation?
Teachers must create a comfortable space where singers are totally free to be themselves and express their unique gifts.
How? I may begin with funny stories.
We knowingly or unknowingly read each other’s energy. When we feel safe, there is no limit to what can happen.
Please describe your creative process as a songwriter.
I usually start with a theme that may come from a conversation, reading a book, or just a general impression. I then create a melody suitable to my ears to match the lyrics.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of being a professional musician?
Getting out of my own way and being open to the moment.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspects of being a professional musician?
The sheer pleasure of sharing my gifts in so many ways. Perhaps a wedding… sharing a memorable love song when two heats are joined. Or at a funeral… bringing comfort to someone who is grieving. Maybe bringing hope to someone who has given up on life.
Can you please list some of your favorite musical artists in the gospel genre?
What advice do you have for inexperienced conductors and songwriters?
Stay your course. Don’t try to copy someone else’s style of direction. Authenticity is the key. This will always resonate with those seeking to find their own musical destiny.
Please share something about yourself that is unrelated to music.
I love spirituality, which I believe is more real than what is experienced on this earthly plane. I love to travel and experience different cultures and food. And I love spending time with the people I love!