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Musically Inclined: An interview with Dr. Michael Hayden, Mira Costa’s Choral Director

By December 3, 2012eNews

Musically Inclined:  A series of interviews with MBUSD music teachers that offer a deeper look at why MBEF invests in music education Kindergarten to 12th grade.   

After years in academia, Dr. Michael Hayden returned to his teaching roots as the  the Choral Director at Mira Costa High School. Since 2007,  Michael has taken the program to new heights, which culminated in a choral performance at Carnegie Hall in March 2012.

MBEF: We understand you used to be a professor and a university level choral director.  Tell us about how you landed at Mira Costa.   

Michael:  Immediately prior to Costa, I taught Music Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.  As a Professor of Music Education, I had students who would soon be teaching music in secondary or elementary education.   However, I really felt it was time to return to my craft, my original love, which was teaching high school students.    Therefore, I embarked on a nationwide search for schools that were supporting arts education.   Mira Costa sounded perfect as I really wanted to see how far I could push the college model at the high school level.   Prior to IPFW, I worked as a freelance choral adjudicator and received my doctorate at Butler University.

MBEF:  How does one develop their interest in choir in the elementary and middle years?

Michael:  In elementary school, the program starts in fourth grade with Mr. Jeremy Pease at all five elementary schools.   The ideal commitment of time to choir should be daily.   I believe that music, whether it is singing or instrumental should stand in the same level of importance that math and English do.  Music and the arts enhance all other studies.   I would encourage entering middle school students to try for Honors Choir, which is an afterschool group for students really focused on choir.

MBEF:  How can parents encourage their students in their music?

Michael:  To encourage your student, find out where his or her desires and heart lie and help in discovering interests.  To help a child discover a love of music is one of the greatest gifts we can give.   Singing is something people can do until their elder years, through adult community choirs or choirs at places of worship.   Singing can help build one’s self-confidence and respectability.    Our students become articulate speakers because they must step on stage and perform often.   They handle themselves professionally, with is wonderful to see.

MBEF:  How does music impact our Mira Costa students? 

Michael:  Participation in choir gives our students a real specific identity, a specific community to which they can relate.   Finding your community within Mira Costa is critical for students as they look to find their voice and their place.

MBEF:  How does one pursue music beyond Mira Costa?

Michael:  Some of my students pursue music in college or participate in singing groups on campus.  For instance, there’s one MCHS grad now at Berklee College of Music in Boston studying theory composition with a full scholarship.  Many students now at their colleges are finding opportunities to continue singing through a cappella groups – and even leading.    Currently at Yale, Bucknell and Boston University, you’ll find Mira Costa grads leading singing groups.   Choir can really feed these students and poises them to be very successful in their academic pursuits.   It helps our graduates create a very strong social network when they go to school.

MBEF:  How do you get to Carnegie Hall? 

Michael:  Last year, we applied to the National Youth Choir Festival and received an invitation to participate.  In March 2012, our Vocal Ensemble Choir performed at Carnegie Hall at the National Youth Choir Festival.  As we have witnessed broad cuts in arts education across the U.S., our students have achieved one of the highest honors afforded to any high school choir.  In addition, the choir was selected for a solo performance that night.   It was an incredible opportunity for those students which brought Mira Costa to the national stage.

MBEF:  Tell us about other new interesting developments involving our Choir students. 

Michael:  Lots of interesting events are happening these days.  Through our Carnegie Hall performance, our group was recently invited to sing at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall where our group sang from work by Gwyneth Walker and Joan Sczymko, two well-known modern composers.  For the U.S. Tourism’s Air National Kickoff Campaign, Mira Costa choral students sang to a video of Roseanne Cash and their voices are used for the jingles in these globally distributed videos.   Forty of my students performed in front of 7,000 from all over the world.    These opportunities are quite unique for high school students and have poised us for future projects in the entertainment sector.   Our Mira Costa choirs are very open to working with the entertainment community.

MBEF:  Does choir help with college admissions ultimately?

Michael:  Colleges do consider your musical accomplishments and therefore choir, band or orchestra may add that extra uniqueness to your application.   What music does is demonstrate that one has an interest in the arts and the aesthetics.  Singers are using their brain and body in a very different way.  It is that creative, expressive part of the day.   It shows that there’s more to the student than just academics or athletics.   It is part of being a well-rounded candidate for colleges.  Not all schools are fortunate enough to have a music program and our program is in line with the standards put forth by the University of California system.  Therefore, participation may be helpful in admissions.

MBEF:  What do you do in your spare time?

Michael:  I’m a foodie and I love travel.  Also, I’m a huge fan of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and of opera in general.


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