Michael Musial loves music and everything about it, whether it be as a performer, director or teacher.
The chairman of the Creative and Performing Arts Department at Russell Sage College in Troy, Musial has been making his living in the music world since he was in high school. A classical pianist who plays with his wife, Barbara, at various venues in the Capital Region, Musial is busy directing a Russell Sage production of “Little Women.” It will be performed the next two weekends at Meader Little Theater on the Russell Sage campus.
Musial grew up outside Buffalo and went to the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he earned a master’s degree in piano performance and music history. Along with directing two shows at Russell Sage during the year and performing with his wife, Musial occasionally serves as musical director at the New York State Theatre Institute, where last season he was in charge of the music for “1776.”
When he’s not working at Sage or performing, Musial enjoys reading, going to the movies and gardening. He and his wife live in Brunswick with their son Christian, 15, and twin daughters Emily and Hannah, 13.
Q: When did music become important in your life?
A: I played the saxophone as a kid and I was always in the marching band in school. I think it was the seventh grade that I formally started taking piano lessons, but I had always played by ear before that. We had this big old clunky piano that was painted pink in the garage, and my parents noticed I was spending a lot of time out there playing. So they bought a new one.
Then in my junior year in high school the Lancaster Youth Bureau hired me as their musical director, and they paid me pretty well. I remember my mother was shocked at what they were paying me, and I was thinking, “Hey, this is great fun.” It was something that I loved, and I could make a living at it.
Q: What music do you listen to at home when you’re relaxing?
A: I’ve been performing as a classical pianist for 20 years, most of that with my wife. So we do listen to a lot of classical music. But we also have very eclectic tastes. We could be listening to anything from Sinatra to show tunes to jazz piano. We listen to a wide variety of music.
Q: What was it like going from musical director to overall director of a show?
A: For me, it was sort of a natural progression. As musical director, you have to make sure that the focus of the music serves the play. You have to be sure that the emotional content of the music is made evident to the audience. As overall director, you’re the boss and that’s a lot of fun. I usually handle both duties for a show at Sage, and I feel very comfortable doing it. I think the theater has a rhythm to it, the way the music comes out of a scene. So on some level I feel like I have a pretty good handle on that.
Q: What kind of musicals do you put on your calendar at Russell Sage?
A: We run the gamut from shows that most everyone is going to have heard of to things more obscure. We don’t typically do the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows because they are really big, but sometimes will get 20 people up on stage and have 20 more in the chorus off stage. The musical I’m working on is always my favorite, but I have to say that “Sweeney Todd” is a great musical. I really love that show.
Q: How much do you enjoy teaching?
A: When I first became a piano teacher and then started doing some musical direction, it was very gratifying to be teaching students those skills and then see them blossom in a performance. I also enjoy the classroom. We just watched Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer” not too long ago and we had a great discussion following the movie.
I love the great interaction in the classroom. We can get very chatty, and it’s great to have a little community of people interested in the same things you are. That’s what is so great about teaching at the college level.
Q: Should parents encourage their children to play musical instruments?
A: For me, it’s a very soft sell, not a hard sell. With my kids, both their parents are musicians. So they have a different experience than most kids, but we certainly never forced anything on them. Let them pick their own instrument and let them explore. You can never force kids to do anything. It never works out if you try force.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Life and Arts