By ANGYE MORRISON
Miami-born Dr. Michael Braz will take the stage at the Averitt Center for the Arts on Sept. 24 as part of the ONE: Series. An internationally known performer, music educator and composer, Braz has used his skills on the piano to educate and entertain for more than 50 years.
Braz moved with his family to the Westchester area near Coral Gables, Florida when he was nine, and he found himself in a new school with new and unfamiliar people. But by the time he was in junior high school, he found that he flourished in the areas of math, science and music.
He began music lessons in the sixth grade, and went on to learn the clarinet and the oboe. Piano was his strong suit, however, and he began accompanying choruses in the eighth grade. Braz found that he could read music and play by ear when he was about 12 years old.
Braz says that neither of his parents, who were both postal employees, had a musical background, but they continually encouraged him to pursue his passion. He says that by the time he reached high school, his interests in science and math took a back seat to musical activities. He was active in chorus, concert band and musical theater.
He began college at the University of Miami at 17 years old, and completed his first two degrees in two years, earning a Bachelor of Music and a Master of Music in Music Education. He marched in the university’s band, playing sousaphone, as well as playing bass and contrabass clarinet in the concert band.
Braz’s first time as a director for a choral group began just before his senior year, when he first heard the Miami Boys Choir. He signed up as a teacher and pianist, and stayed on with the Miami Choral Society for 12 years, eventually becoming assistant director.
“During that time, I learned a great deal about choral directing and writing for children’s and adult choirs,” he said, adding that he also taught kindergarten through eighth grades at area schools throughout the 1970s, as well as taking his first full-time college teaching job at Miami’s Barry College, now known as Barry University.
In 1981, Braz moved to Tallahassee, Florida, and began his Ph.D. in Music Education studies at Florida State University. He served as musical director for local music theater while there, and created the Capital Children’s Choir, which is still in existence.
After finishing his degree, Braz moved to Portland, Maine, where he worked to rebuild the community children’s choir, the Boy Singers of Maine. He also went on to become keyboardist and musical arranger for the Portland Symphony Orchestra, and taught part-time at the University of Southern Maine.
In 1987, he accepted a one-year temporary teaching position at Georgia Southern College.
“My first reaction was to locate Statesboro on a map. Though I had previously been in Brunswick and Savannah, I was unaware of the town or the college,” he said.
During that year, he was appointed to the permanent position as Assistant Professor of Music. He went on to work 24 years at the school.
Outside of the classroom, Braz has composed several operas, including “Memoirs from the Holocaust,” written after a visit to the Dachau concentration camp site. He also composed “A Scholar Under Siege,” dealing with racial and populist politics in 1941.
Now a Professor Emeritus of Music at Georgia Southern University, Braz has traveled the world and enjoyed artist residencies in England, Kathmandu and Wuhan, China. He has served as president of the Statesboro Arts Council, and has been active in community music, co-founding the Statesboro Youth Chorale. He was presented the Georgia Southern President’s Medal and the Statesboro Herald Humanitarian of the Year Award. In 2009, he was recognized by the Averitt Center for the Arts as its first living “Legend in the Arts.”
Braz loves to travel, and has traveled Europe, South Asia, Scandinavia and French Polynesia.
“Always packing a $5 plastic recorder in my suitcase, I’ve found music to be a universal means of communication in a way that transcends language or cultural differences and — as I commonly tell my students — even at age 71, in the midst of a pandemic, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up,” he said.
When asked what inspires him about performing and teaching, Braz says it’s all about experiencing music from all eras, and the connection it creates.
“In performing, I’m inspired by the opportunity of experiencing great music from the past and present, as well as creating new music, either as compositions or improvisations,” he said. “As a teacher, I’ve spent over 50 years seeking to transmit both musical skills and a sense of fascination to students ranging in age from 5 to 97. Additionally, I try to establish links between music and other disciplines, such as history, math, science and visual arts.”
Braz says his greatest challenges have been in the process of working with others to build or rebuild a structure or institution.
“Ultimately, I’m not interested so much in who gets the credit, as in actually seeing a goal accomplished. I’m still self-challenged to continue developing my musical abilities, since this art has no particular ‘expiration date,’” he said.
For his performance at the Averitt, Braz says he is still choosing the selections he will play.
“Given that I regularly — and happily — perform both concert music and popular music/jazz, the program will incorporate a variety of selections, similar to the 50 days of pandemic-inspired short morning piano pieces I did on Facebook between late March and mid-May,” he said. “I choose music that I find interesting, and based on past experience, that may interest others. Since this is a show, rather than a piano recital, some of it will be serious, some whimsical.”
The audience can expect, he adds, to find variety, sincerity, communication and especially entertainment.
“After all, these are basic expectations of any audience,” he said. He adds that he realizes the power of music to evoke emotions and rekindle memories, and he hopes the audience will feel that there is a “two-way communication happening between audience and stage, something that might provide a safe, temporary break from the tumultuous year we’ve been experiencing.”
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 24, and tickets are $20. Military and first-responders get in for $18, while student tickets are $12. For more information or to purchase tickets, go online at wwwaverittcenterforthearts.org, or call (912) 212-2787.