By the time he was a junior in high school, Michael Allen had surmounted many challenges. He had heard the boys at his first elementary-school track meet shout, “Hey, blackie – you’re going to be real slow.” And he had silenced them by coming in No. 1 in the 200 meters. (And, then, they wanted to be his friends, saying, “Ah, man, you’re fast.”)
He had been named “rookie of the year” after his first season of Little League football in Louisa County, Virginia, a rural area between Charlottesville and Richmond.
He had taught himself to play piano by ear in middle school and then learned to play bass guitar the same way. By his senior year of high school, every week he was playing piano or bass in his House of God Church in Gordonsville, Virginia.
Michael had ignored the teasing of his three older siblings – “stop singing, you can’t sing” – and become vice president of the church youth choir.
But then he ran into something he just couldn’t do – or wouldn’t let himself do. A new music teacher asked Michael to join the school chorus for grade 12. “You’ve got to do this,” he recalls the teacher saying. “I know you’ve never read music before, but you’ll be fine. Just try it.”
Michael did sign up for chorus, but then she asked him to sing the lead for “Stand By Me,” and it was too much. “I had just gotten there. It would have been in front of the whole school. I couldn’t do it.”
In 2010-11, as a junior at EMU, Michael is proving that his high school choral teacher had been right. He can do it all. He sings in the Chamber Singers and the Gospel Choir, plays piano and guitar, leads chapel singing, breaks long-jump and triple-jump records, serves as a “community assistant” in his dormitory, and is known around campus for his ready smile and spirit of helpfulness.
He’s majoring in both music and business – combining music and another field of study is a new interdisciplinary option at EMU – which means he juggles classes like “microeconomics” and “organizational behavior” with ones like “conducting” and “music theory.” To tell the truth, however, Michael still finds it torturous to read music.
After Michael graduates, he hopes to see much of the world, perhaps performing with a group like “Up With People,” then return home and start his own business, likely in the music arena. And, oh, he also wants to qualify for the Olympics in the long jump and triple jump.
Michael has gotten lots of support at home and at EMU, and he credits this for keeping him on the path to success, especially since his four closest friends from high school aren’t doing as well. One is even in prison. But Michael also gets credit for deciding to be a winner. Now if only he could only learn to enjoy sight reading.