Published on April 29th, 2021 | by TLV News


Journeying Through UM Music, Michael Ivy Finds His Path

When he was in seventh grade, Michael Ivy‘s band director let him stand up in front of the band and direct for the first time. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I loved it,” said Ivy, who will graduate from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelor of Music in Music Education this May.

Currently student-teaching in the Hernando band program, Ivy still loves to direct a band. But in between that 7th-grade moment and today, his path took a few turns before it led him to what he now sees as his purpose.

The sixth of eight children in his family, Michael is also the sixth of eight to follow in his mother’s footsteps and graduate from UM — his two younger sisters are UM students, too. Ivy tried a couple of different majors in his first year at UM, but he kept returning to his love of music. “My father recognized I’d always had a passion for music,” said Ivy, who learned trumpet from one brother and drums from another.

His interest in picking up new instruments led him first to the trumpet and then the French horn before falling for percussion. “I’ve always been dedicated to practicing and I love taking on new instruments. I learned on my own, then my band directors refined what I knew.”

Once he settled into percussion, he knew he was home. “The drumline is family. Brothers, sisters, cousins — they’re family,” he said.

Michael Ivy with his siblings, all eight of whom attended (or are attending) the University of Mississippi; like Michael, two of his older brothers were in the Pride of the South Band.

Upon joining the UM drum line as a bass drum player, Ivy played the number 6 drum, the next-to-largest. “The band asked for more energy, and it was exciting — I kept putting more and more into it. Jeremy Roy was playing number 7,” the biggest bass drum, “but when he graduated, I asked for bass 7, and it became my favorite drum.”

Ivy says there’s an expectation for whoever plays no. 7 to bring extra energy to the role, to get the crowd going. “I believe it all started with a guy named Marcus Guinn, who was super-enthusiastic,” said Ivy. “I didn’t know about him when I started, When I started, I was just going for it.” As a son and grandson of preachers, showing some spirit has never been a problem for Ivy.

“Then people said I reminded them of Marcus Guinn and his incredible energy. I was bringing my own energy to it; I didn’t know 7 had that expectation, but after I got into it and saw how people responded, I got it. Now it’s a thing: who’s going to play 7?”

Percussion professor Ricky Burkhead said that enthusiasm is something that defines Michael Ivy. “He’s the most energetic person in steel band — he even choreographed moves for the ensemble, which added more entertainment for the performers and for the audience.”

Student-teaching has only deepened the enthusiasm for music that Ivy showed at UM Music. He knows what he wants the kids to expect when they walk in the door. “I want them to know, first and foremost, that music is to be enjoyed. We strive for excellence, but we want to enjoy it, too.” 

The two are not mutually exclusive, he said. When his students are focused on him and everybody is having fun with the music, the energy is right for real learning.

The UM drumline is a family, said Ivy, that works together to be great as a whole. He said that maintaining a relaxed, playful energy makes learning easier, which is a lesson he’s taking with him into his future as a teacher.

Ivy may have only one semester of formal classroom teaching under his belt, but he’s been teaching music for years. While he was playing trumpet and then French horn in his high school band, he was helping his friends learn drums and make the drumline. “My band director said she needed me on trumpet and horn, but when she retired after my junior year, I finally made the move to drums. I got voted drum captain, which was hilarious because it was technically my first year, except that I’d been playing drums on my own all along and helping the others.”

As captain, Ivy stepped in where needed and ended up performing on all the drums. “It really helps me when I write drum music now, because I’ve played them all, so I know what I’m looking for from each drum.”

During his four years at UM, Ivy taught drums at the Houston High School summer band clinic in Houston, MS. “If the band directors aren’t drummers,” Ivy explained, “It’s typical to bring in a drum tech to teach the drums their music and technique.” He also worked with the drumline to create new cadences by writing music that was exciting but easy enough for them to play. “Over the four years, they’ve built up a repertoire, and they practiced more and became more proficient.” Some of the beats he wrote out have even become vibrant parts of the Houston HS band tradition.

“He’s a very versatile player,” Burkhead said of Ivy. “He played conga in the UM Salsa Band — he’s equally talented on all the percussion instruments.”

The training he received in UM’s Music Education program has turned him from solely a percussionist into a well-rounded music educator. “In ‘methods’ classes, we get to learn other instruments — in addition to the ones we specialize in — so we’ll know how to help teach students on those other instruments. We keep detailed notebooks of what we learn, like notes on correct flute embouchure, for example. I’ve already referred to my notebooks so many times!”

Performing in percussion and jazz ensembles at UM was another great experience, Ivy said. “You’re playing such a variety of songs, the parts are so intricate, and there are solos to improvise. These experiences are priceless, and I’m taking all of that with me.”

Another thing he’s taking with him: an understanding of the difference a teacher can make. “My professors encouraged me a lot. They told me about scholarships that helped me figure out how to pay for college — so many people supported me.”

Ivy has stayed close to his family — only a short drive away in Batesville — but knows he now has a second family at UM Music. “All the band friends and music friends I’ve made, and how much they’ve encouraged me and motivated me: I’ll value that for the rest of my life.” Having shared experiences like playing on SEC Nation, traveling together for football games, playing at soccer and basketball games, bonded the crew. “These are friends I’ll have forever, for a lifetime,” said Ivy.

And looking ahead, Ivy knows he’ll bring all his this into the classroom, because teaching music and directing bands is, for him, a calling. “It took me a while to understand it, but I feel like I was made to do this.”

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About the Author

The Local Voice is a bimonthly entertainment guide and newspaper based in Oxford, Mississippi, covering and distributed in North Central Mississippi, including Oxford, Ole Miss, Taylor, Abbeville, Water Valley, Lafayette County, Yalobusha County, and parts of Panola County, Marshall County, and Tupelo . The Local Voice is distributed free to over 255 locations in North Mississippi and also available as a full color PDF download worldwide on the internet.

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