The fabulous Miss Mikki Boyd is back on the Music Time Academy team! What better way to welcome her back than to feature her in the February edition of our newsletter. My take-away from our conversation? She’s quite a busy lady these days! And her past is full of interesting experiences, starting in Church, with a little bit of shot-put & discus stardom, definitely plenty of grueling Midwest schooling, and coming full circle back to Church. Please enjoy the crazy tale of Mikki!
How did you first get started with music?
I started on clarinet first. I’ve been playing since elementary school. I sang at church and school choir while growing up. When it came time for college, I decided to go to music school, which is where I learned how to play piano, sax, steel pan and other percussion like djembe and cajon.
Do you remember why you choose clarinet?
When they asked us which instrument we wanted to play at school, they let us try them all. The clarinet was the one that I got the easiest sound out of! I couldn’t get a sound out of it when I first put it to my mouth. I was blowing like crazy! I was like, “THIS ISN’T WORKING!” The trumpet also took too much force of air. I wanted to play the saxophone, but my father (the macho man that he was, haha), said that he thought it was more “refined” for the ladies to play clarinet. But when I found out there was a bass clarinet that also had the long body and the bell hook at the bottom, like a saxophone, that’s when I switched over to bass clarinet!
Did you have any other musicians in the family?
My whole family was involved in the singing process. Nobody in my immediate family was doing music like I did, learning to read and everything, except my older brother was learning trombone and then switched to bass. My younger brother plays drums now, but he didn’t get too serious about it until he was older.
Were you always serious about music? Did you know in high school that you wanted to study music in college?
Funny. I was really actually wanted to go train for Olympic shot put and discus. That and music were like neck and neck for me, I was going to do one or the other. When it came time to decide, it would have cost way more money to go train for the Olympics than to go to music school. I went to music school because it was a way more economical choice for my family.
When I was young, I never had it in my head that I wanted to be a professional musician – that didn’t come until music school. It was also really important to me to get away from home and have my own experiences.
At that music school, it was definitely performance heavy. They made us do everything. I didn’t really know how to play piano when I got there, but by the time I left, I could play chord changes, solo and sit in with bands! It was literally breathe, eat & music. That’s all we did, all the time!
Did you go to music school as a clarinetist?
I went in as a vocalist, actually. I did play clarinet in concert band for a semester. Since I went in as a vocalist, everything that I had to do for that took up so much time – choir, theory, learning how to play piano, etc.. Also, since I wanted to go into jazz, and clarinet doesn’t really fit as much for that, I learned how to play sax a little. The vocal part really took over though.
Was this school well-known for the vocal program? It seems so random that you would go to Iowa!
The teacher came out and recruited in California all the time. In fact, a lot of the people that I play with here in Oakland studied with the same teacher, or disciples of the same teacher that I studied with in Iowa. He actually recently passed a couple weeks ago, so the whole school of students that knew him has been pretty distraught. He’s from Washington State, and he actually designed the school to bring in people from the coast to have a place where they could go, and afford to live, and just do music, and have it be just a really intense vocal program.
Is there anything that stands out to you from the college experience? Teachers? Classes?
It was all super intense! All of it. The two teachers that were there were definitely two of my greatest musical influences. From the teacher that just recently passed, one of the greatest things that he ever said to us (because he was a tough teacher) was, “The reason why I do what I do, and why I’m really tough on you is that you need to understand that music is a service. You are here in service to the music. You will never be greater than the music. Music was here before you got here on this Earth, and it will be here after you. You serve it. It does not serve you.”
That one thing he taught me has got me super humble. I’m always, always thinking about it. So in the world of the music industry, just the competitiveness and cattiness that people come with, I let them be in their own world with that. That one thing he taught me when I was very, very young, like 18 or 19, I keep going back to that. I don’t know why you’re on stage right now, but I’m trying to help people deal with emotion, and get whatever they need to get out, or to forget the **** in their life for a second.
After college, what was your path? Did you come back to the Bay? Is this when you started teaching?
I did start teaching, but something kind of unfortunate happened. I had this tumor that was growing on my vocals, so I had to take a good amount of time off and have surgery. I was just teaching, not performing a whole ton. When I first came back though, I moved to San Francisco to finish my Bachelor’s Degree. I went to SF State, that’s when Branford Marsalis was teaching there! There was also another mentor teacher that introduced me into the church world of professional musicians.
In my church growing up, it wasn’t professional musicians. They just threw you at a job they thought you’d be good at! You could not play the piano and they would be like, “You look like you play the piano!” and they’d make you learn. That’s how it goes! For me, they were like, “You look like you can direct!” So they threw me up there and I was directing the choir when I was very young.
But I skipped something – before I got a job directing at church, I went to grad school!
Oh! What degree did you get there?
Well at SF State, I got a Bachelor’s Bachelor of Arts in Jazz and Popular Music. Then I left and went back to the Midwest for grad school – Northern Illinois University, where the head professor is Ron Carter. I have a Master of Music degree in Jazz Composition and Performance.
It was very performance-heavy. I learned how to arrange for combos and big band, but for my special emphasis, I chose to do vocal arrangements. And for a little bit of a minor, I did World Music, that’s where I learned the Steel Pan. NIU is actually one of the only Universities in the whole country that you can 1) major in Steel Pan and 2) major in how to make instruments!
Awesome! Let’s talk about some of your favorite performances.
There was the Undercover Project. We did the whole album Dookie by Green Day, and also a Beatles show. (See: http://thebaybridged.com/2016/02/22/review-undercover-presents-green-days-dookie-fox-theater/ for a review of the show).
And did you also do musical theater?
I did! I got started in it as a summer job. I was the director for Kids Take the Stage. I would take their music and make it a little more simple, a little more soulful. Since there were a lot ot pre-pubescent boys, I had to give them notes that they could actually hit! One of my favorite shows was Once on This Island – it was all Afro-Caribbean music. Hard, but cool!
I know you have taught in schools as well?
I was teaching at an independent school. It drove me crazy though because I would only have a couple of classes, but I would have to be there all day. Right now, I am at a couple of schools part time, both for a couple of days a week. I’m teaching band classes – concert band and rock band. I have also taught choir classes in the past. At church, I’m teaching the kids choir, adult choir, young adult choir, youth choir – all the choirs!
Wow, it sounds like you have a lot going on. Are you happy with your current teaching and gigging balance?
It would definitely be risky to cut back on teaching for gigging! I do want to get more momentum for my own project though. For right now, I think my balance is fine. I have enough time in my schedule for self-care, I think I’m pretty tuned in to what I want and need. I have my teaching going on and my gigging, and although my schedule is very busy, that balance (with the self-care element) is what makes it all doable.