Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Michael Harris: The master of music

Published:Monday | August 25, 2014 | 8:00 AM
Michael Harris
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Krysta Anderson, Lifestyle Reporter

For many, mastering their craft is but a mere pipe dream. But for Michael Harris, his dream bore fruits when he achieved the extraordinary in obtaining his master's degree in music technology from the Berklee College of Music, Valencia, Spain.

"I knew I loved music from before I even started kindergarten," he told Flair "I would sing along to my parents' music. The love grew as I participated in choir and singing solos in school and groups," the humble musical dynamite added.

His passion for music ignited a burning desire for more than just vocals. From Vaz Prep to Def Leppard and Abba, then Little People and Teen Players Club and later Ashe, he played the piano and the viola up to the professional level while enrolling in formal voice training.

While popularly known for being one of the three main judges on the locally televised high-school singing competition, 'All Together Sing', students of the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts would acknowledge Harris as an exceptional music teacher, while others have either been blessed to train with him or witness him perform.

Harris has always been fascinated by performing and putting the bits and pieces of an arrangement or a track together from scratch. Technology, he says, always played a major part, as well, with him using sequencers, computers and keyboards to make music. Now, it has gone even further - he is interested in writing, production, performing, technology, sound design and combining them all in live performance using software and midi controllers.

Through hard work, dedication, perseverance, and sheer love and appreciation for the art form, he broadened his horizons, enhancing and excelling at his natural talents. Currently, he is one of 20 persons in the world with a master's degree in music technology. "I needed to push my boundaries and the Music Technology Innovation master's programme at Berklee Valencia did just that. I feel accomplished and honoured to be one of the first 20 persons in the world with such a master's degree. I feel empowered and eager." Harris also disclosed how much he enjoyed being among 'beautiful minds' and awe-inspiring talent - working in an environment which encourages a high level of creativity. As his adoration advanced, so too did his critical thinking of music. "The cyclical nature of music, in terms of style and flavours within the moment, is astounding. It's also fascinating to me how some styles of music can originate in a particular place, be eventually discarded by the originating culture and yet flourish elsewhere as it is picked up, dusted off and re-imagined by a completely different set of people," Harris revealed.

His thirst for knowledge in also wrapped up in his teaching duties and experiences. While the demand for vocal classes can be a bit overwhelming, he reveals it as a real pleasure to see his students improve and do well, (this includes the recording artists he has worked with). "As a lecturer and assistant director of the Edna Manley School of Music, however, I am constantly learning and reinforcing what I know. That is one of the rarely touted benefits of teaching - learning from your students (they all have something to teach you) and gaining a deeper understanding of your own knowledge to break it down to share with others."

Now that he has exceeded his accomplishments, he hopes to create more awareness for his master thesis: A Fusion of Jamaican Folk and Electronic Music. "I plan to create more of that and share it through performances and lecture demonstrations, he told Flair. "September 6 is the Gungo Walk Festival, an event I conceived with Michael Holgate. This is our third year, still with nary a corporate sponsor, but we press on. Gungo Walk is a movement to support and encourage varied and alternative expressions of Jamaican-ness and Caribbean-ness and any other 'ness' you care to add. If we have to be trendsetters - fine. The rest will catch up soon enough.

He advises those who want to pursue music full time to listen to everything, analyse, while trying not to judge or limit themselves. His only grouse is with the use of the word 'artiste'. He notes it's a concept that continues to rear its ugly head in the music industry: "First of all, that extra 'e' means nothing to me. There's a hyped up perception of what it means to be a Jamaican artiste - the way you look, sound, the type of music you make. I have been encountering the opinion that my expression might not be Jamaican enough. I am Jamaican and what I create is of me and my experience. It's Jamaican enough ... even if it isn't, I really don't care. I am an artist ... no extra 'e'."

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com