It could have been genetics. Maybe just serendipity.
Whatever it was that lit the flame of rhythm and improvisation, Michael Gould, professor of music (percussion) at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, strives to start or fan such a fire in his students.
He first picked up the drum sticks his dad used in high school, had some formal lessons, worked his way into his sixth-grade jazz band, and sneaked into Chicago jazz clubs with an aunt to see stars like Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson. And that fire burned even stronger when his 99-year-old grandfather played a drum solo for him while his aunt sang “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
His advanced training started while waiting for a friend at the University of Illinois. Gould found an open percussion practice room and couldn’t resist taking up the sticks. When challenged by a professor as to whether he was a student or auditioning, Gould said he wasn’t either because he wanted to apply but was dissuaded from the advice of his high school counselor.
The professor said he was good enough and took him to the school’s dean. After admittance, Gould earned a Bachelor of Music at the University of Illinois, a Master of Music at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Kentucky.
Gould divides his time between SMTD and the Residential College, LSA, where he also is a professor.
It doesn’t matter which location a student attends his class; Gould starts each new session relieving the students of all electronic devices so they won’t be “distracted.” He also begins class with a stress test from zero (the Buddha) to 10 (the Reaper). After two-hours of drumming he asks the question again and 99 percent of the time the students smile and record lower numbers.
His students leave with skills that have allowed them to perform on late-night TV shows, at festivals around the world, win Grammys, compose for National Public Radio, in addition to performance and recording success.
An advocate of what he calls the GAP, or Gould Assistance Program, Gould says he will help out any former student that asks for or needs it. “I don’t stop helping them just because they graduate.”
As a scholar, performer and teacher, Gould composes and performs music around the world, often collaborating with engineers, material scientists, painters, poets, dancers, athletes and business professionals.
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One of his latest projects, “Remember Me,” was conceived while he fought a 12-year battle with a debilitating disease. Using 16 poems by retired Residential College Professor Ken Mikolowski as source material, he created music and artwork that explores outmoded equipment, materials and sounds delving into his own experiences of loss, illness and ultimately recovery.
“My interest was to translate the poems into sight and sound,” Gould has said. “As a drummer, I can create a composite pattern or groove from three to four separate rhythms all synchronized precisely that ultimately form a whole. I tried to do this with the artwork and music.”
Gould’s passion for rhythm cannot be curtailed by the routines of daily life. He has partnered with Henry Pollack, professor emeritus of geological sciences, on an art installation titled “A World Without Ice.”
The piece, focusing on both poles and addresses issues of climate change and inspired a trip to Antarctica. However, the recording of dripping ice onto drum heads was more local, involving Gould’s home kitchen and studio.
What moment in the classroom stands out as the most memorable?
When non-music majors have no experience with music or a musical instrument, and enjoy the process toward performing an hourlong concert at the end of the semester. They become lifelong supporters of the arts!
What can’t you live without?
Laughter, space and silence.
What is your favorite spot on campus?
Literally placing my hands on the bells while they are played at Burton Tower … looking at student art in the Art School for a break.
What inspires you?
The sound that visual art makes in my mind and the art that sound creates.
What are you currently reading?
I love spy novels but am addicted to The New York Times — can’t start my day without it.
What was the biggest/greatest influence on your career path?
My mom and her identical twin. My mom was a special education teacher and I learned a tremendous amount from her just observing her interactions with her students and my aunt for never being afraid to take me places to get inspired about art and music.