An Interview With Musician & Music Educator Michael Hickey
ZF: Did you play drums in the school band throughout the course of high school?
MH: I played brass until senior year. Before I moved to Warwick, my elementary school band teacher said that there were already too many drummers in the band when I wanted to join. If I wanted to be in the band, I had to pick another instrument. I was very disappointed because I knew I wanted to play drums since, probably, around age five. I ended up picking the trumpet because I wanted to stay involved, and I played brass through my junior year in high school. When senior year came around, I switched to percussion because I knew that was what I wanted to study in college.
ZF: After graduating WVHS, where did you study music?
MH: I went to the University of Arizona, where I studied with renowned percussionist Gary Cook. He was the principal timpani player of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. At first, I studied under his teaching assistants but by my senior year, I got to see the wizard. He is an absolute master percussionist. My entire college experience was extremely rewarding; I played in the wind symphony, the orchestra, the jazz bands, steel drum bands, and percussion ensemble. I was fortunate to tour through Oregon with a vocal jazz group, and I went to Idaho with the University’s big band for a jazz festival where I got to meet Elvin Jones who was my idol at the time. That was quite a profound experience. I also had the opportunity to perform in concerts in Italy during that time.
ZF: I know you went back to college to obtain your master’s degree. When and where did you do this?
MH: I had been playing in a bunch of bands, not really making any financial headway despite a lot of determination and effort. In 2010, I went back to school at William Paterson University to get my teacher’s certificate so I could become a band teacher at a public school. A year and a half later, I student-taught and got all of my credentials to become a licensed New Jersey (and, later, New York ) public school music educator for grades K-12. I finished my Master of Arts in Teaching a few years later.
ZF: You’ve played in a number of bands in Warwick over the years. What are a few that stand out?
MH: Pictures in Braille is one band that stands out. We started in 2006, or so, and I was a founding member. I believe the band pushed me to my limits as a drummer and as a creative musician. The guys in the band were a little bit younger than me, and they demanded that I not play simplistically. I still listen to some of our songs and get emotional; I think we truly had a unique chemistry. I was in my 30s, but single, so I had nothing holding me back from going out on the road for periods of time. We played all over this region, but we also went on a couple of tours across the country. In 2008, we did a one month tour consisting of 26 shows. When I got married, all those guys were at my wedding. It’s a brotherhood. I’d also say that playing with the E’lissa Jones Band for seven years was great. I had to learn how to be a different drummer. I had to be the kind of drummer that could back up a female singer/songwriter, and I had to play with a degree of finesse that I hadn’t been playing with in prior projects. It put me in front of a lot of people also. I loved playing the big outdoor concerts on the Railroad Green. More currently, I joined the Davenport Cabinet project with guitarist Travis Stever from the band, Coheed & Cambria. It was great because we did a bit of traveling to perform shows, and it cast a wider net for what I do as a musician due to the following that Travis has. On the last album, I wrote a handful of musical pieces that the other guys in the band helped bring to life, which I was grateful for.
I can say that almost all of the members from those three bands were at my wedding. Bonds form over the years when you work together.
ZF: You now perform as an acoustic duo with your wife under the name Hidden Rivers. How would you describe that project, and where can people see you next?
MH: I was inspired to pick up the guitar in college by bands like Oasis and Radiohead. I still can’t play as well as I’d like to, but I’m always working on it. My wife and I had known each other for a few years, and I knew that she was a singer, so one time when I was playing with a jazz trio, I asked her to come up and sing. It went well, and we started collaborating at open mics. Our voices just sounded really good together. We play around this area quite a bit, and we have a Facebook page where we post all of our upcoming shows. Just search Hidden Rivers and you’ll find us.
ZF: Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?
MH: As far as songwriting, The Beatles, John Lennon in particular; Radiohead; The music that I write is somewhere between Fleetwood Mac and the first couple of King Crimson records. I tend to go for a moodier sound, that’s just me.
As a drummer, Ringo Starr is the one who got me listening. Neil Peart, from Rush, was a huge influence as a young drummer. I grew up listening to a lot of my parents’ music, like The Mamas & The Papas, the Beach Boys, etc. A lot of those records have one thing in common: Hal Blaine. He played on countless records from that time period, and his drumming is in my DNA at this point. I got into jazz drumming in college, and if I was going to pick one jazz drummer, I’d have to say Elvin Jones had the biggest impact on me. At the same time I’m into a lot of the current metal drummers like Martin Lopez, who was in Opeth, and Brann Dailor from Mastodon; Bill Bruford from Yes and King Crimson (Michael Giles as well); I also can’t forget about legends like Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Gadd, and Dave Weckl. Gavin Harrison is an enormous inspiration, he’s like a cross between Gadd and Bruford. Did I mention Ginger Baker, Danny Carey, Keith Moon … I mean, the list could go on and on.
ZF: What’s the most rewarding thing about being a music educator? Have you seen past students become amazing musicians?
MH: Before she was Verité, Kelsey asked me to play in her band. I used to play music with her family. I played behind her in the city once, and cut some demos with her when she was first starting out, but I just couldn’t commute to the city on a regular basis unless it was financially worthwhile. So she ended up getting another drummer, from Warwick, who I had given some lessons to years ago. Now she’s gotten more popular, and he’s played international shows in countries like Iceland and France. A small part of me is obviously a little envious of Dylan, but a much bigger part of me is proud that I had something to do with his career. There are several students, like Connor Crone, that have blown my mind. It’s a joy to work with students that are serious about the craft, and Connor was always one of those. E’lissa’s son, Timothy, has been studying with me since he was four years old. Now he’s 13, and he sounds awesome. He’s been in All-County Band, been doing really well in his NYSSMA performances, and now I’m teaching him the vocabulary of jazz.
I have to give a lot of credit to my teacher, Al Konikowski, who taught music in the Warwick Valley Central School District for years. I took private lessons with him for years. Another drummer, named Harold Rydell, exposed me to the nooks and crannies that have taken my drumming to the next level.
ZF: When it comes to a career in music, you’ve put in years of work. Knowing what you do now, what is your ultimate goal?
MH: I went back to school to become a full-time teacher, so I’m still pursuing that. I haven’t been playing drums as much as I would like to, but I’m currently the drummer for a project called Wilhelm & Co., as well as a couple of cover bands, and I do recording sessions from time to time with other artists. It’s increasingly tough to make a living as a musician, so you have to diversify. I teach lessons, play guitar and sing, substitute teach, and tend a little bar. Listen, I know I’m not going to be in the next punk rock band with a hit record, but I still have that dream. I would love to fall into a situation where I’m out on the road a little bit, because I do miss it. I still believe in myself as an artist. A lot of people work their jobs, and their instruments sit in the corner. I don’t want to be like that. I’d like to keep writing songs and playing music that I enjoy.