long time ago, in a state far, far away...
A little boy named Michael sat at his mother’s piano and picked out the delightful little March from The Nutcracker ballet. A week later his mother gifted him with piano lessons so he’d learn to play something else.
A couple of years later, Michael was in second grade. He read a lot and got good grades, but wasn’t the social wizard he would like to have been. He was, in a word, nerdy. He was also playing the piano. A lot. This was 1977, the year Star Wars came out. Michael decided he wanted to learn the whole score. None of the music was in print, so he worked it out the hard way, just like he’d done with the Nutcracker March.
Mom was tolerant
There was a school talent show that year. Michael was “volunteered” (by Mom) to participate, so he figured there was only one thing he could play that wouldn’t add to his nerdy image. He got up in front of his entire second grade class and banged out a bunch of Star Wars music.
Wouldn’t you know it? Michael was Cool For A Day.
Several years later, Michael was still taking piano lessons, and helping out with his High School theater program (wall-to-wall nerds - he was in Heaven). The director also ran a statewide Children’s Theater program. As soon as Michael saw that, he was hooked. He worked with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children over twelve happy years. Along the way he earned a degree in music composition, performed in far-away lands, and began teaching piano himself.
Mr. Michael eventually founded Greenwich Arts Academy as a way to bring all his varied passions under one umbrella (he had also been a magician, and a playwright, and a singer, and a choir director), and to wrap them all up in one big, beautiful present to give to the students he loves so much.
Of course, he’ll still play all that Star Wars music at the drop of a hat if you ask him.
That's the bio on Mr Michael's profile. Yes, Mr Michael is also Michael Hienzsch, the co-founder of Greenwich Arts Academy. But at the moment, we're talking about Mr Michael, the teacher and mentor his students know and interact with every week.
So, switching to first person...
Like so many young musicians in the late seventies, the score for Star Wars was life-changing. It was like nothing I, or countless other eight-year-olds, had ever heard before. It was stirring. It was elemental. It was LOUD. It seemed utterly original to me, then. Sure, after studying it for years, I can now pick out the Bartok, the Stravinsky, the Ravel, the Hermann, the Waxman, the Korngold that is more than present in that music. And yet... and yet...
At the age of eight, I embraced Star Wars composer John Williams as my hero. My dad transferred the double-record album ("Son, don't touch my record player!") to a reel-to-reel tape player. I would lay on the floor in front of the speakers on the 1979 shag carpet in our living room and listen to that score start-to-finish, over and over and over. I wore out the tape -- the heads literally scraped the magnetic media off -- and dad made me another one. Which I ultimately destroyed, too.
I wanted to play that music. I wanted to write that music. Playing it turned out to be the easier task. Composing like that -- well, that just seemed like magic.
Flash forward forty years. Now I can compose in that style, too.
Turns out, it's not magic, it's science and technique and skill. All the great Hollywood composers could write like that, lightning fast against terrible deadlines. After taking a shot at it myself, I realized I didn't like those deadlines. Ultimately, composing for theater provided the pace that suited me.
Along the way, I've had multiple mentors and master teachers. From them, I learned first how to learn, then how to teach. I try to bring this passion to the kids and adults I work with daily. They think I'm weird, of course. (Funny how that hasn't changed since I was a little boy). For me, music is truly an "enrichment" study, and not in the milquetoast, limp way that many schools use the term "enrichment." Music isn't that afterthought extra thing you study to pad out your transcript. It isn't there just to "balance out" all that left-brain stuff.
Music enriches us because it resonates with our deepest places. It gives voice to the voiceless feelings that we need to express but don't have language for. And you'd better believe these need to be expressed. We're now a society that talks talks talks and hardly ever listens, not to adults, certainly not to children. There's hardly any quiet space in which to voice the voiceless something that lives inside all of us. But music can create that quiet space -- even when the music isn't quiet, or gentle.
Why, I ask, can music written centuries ago move us so deeply? Because the truths about the human condition that music speaks to haven't changed. At all.
Connecting to that long unbroken thread of human experience is true enrichment. You achieve that connection through the Arts, through music and dance and painting and writing and theater and sculpting and woodcarving.
It troubles me, sometimes, how my young students sometimes seem not to have hobbies. You know, passion projects. They're so busy, and they learn early on that experimenting doesn't get you better grades. "Please follow the algorithms as presented!" It concerns me, because the killer app of the 21st Century is creativity. And to be creative, you have to be interested in things. And free to explore them, make mistakes, mess things up, get your hands dirty without penalty.
I always had a few of these passion projects going on at any given moment. I wanted to be a magician. Then a stuntman. At one point, a special FX artist. Always a composer, first for films, then for theater. But also a novelist. And a poet. Someday, a painter too. Also a woodworker. I was, and still am, into making things.
So, Star Wars. I teach your kids today because I spent 1979 stretched out on the living room floor, feeling the music through my body and dreaming.
I'm still dreaming.