Kaitlyn Day conducted this interview with guitar teacher and performer Mikial Robertson.
KD: So, my first question is when did you begin playing music and with what instrument?
MR: Well, my mother was a singer/songwriter, so I started when I was a little kid at about six years old, and I started out with her guitar. She gave me a ukulele when I was three, because she wanted me to play music obviously because that’s what she did and loved. I tried to have some memories of playing when I was that young with the ukulele, but all I really remember is beginning to play guitar when I was six.
KD: Are there any other instruments that you play?
MR: Yeah, when I compose I usually do it on a keyboard, and I’m not really a pianist, but I can play lines. I do all my writing using a computer system. I play some drums and some bass, and I played trumpet and tuba in high school for the high school band you know. I played percussion in a band out East for a while too.
KD: What inspired you to go into the field of music?
MR: Well, of course you know, my mom. After that, it was all of her friends because she had a lot of friends that were in really cool bands that I just remember being in rehearsals with and listening to them work on stuff and seeing how fun all these guys were just made me realize that’s what I wanted to do. And I don’t know, my mother and I traveled a lot so, I was in Killarney for a while when I was a kid and we just traveled all over the place. I think that it was just the path that she took us on was just kind of spiritual, and that inspired me to be a musician as well. I also fell in love with Jimi Hendrix, John Lin, The Beatles, and artists like that.
KD: Right, and I bet traveling everywhere would get you exposed to a lot of new music.
MR: Yeah, I was always around a lot of different people and musicians all throughout my childhood.
KD: Can you give me a brief summary of the different kind of jobs you’ve had, regarding music, leading up to your current occupation?
MR: When I was a teenager, I was on the Ball State campus even though I wasn’t a student there yet, although I did attend for one semester before I moved away. When I was 16 I was at a party on the Ball State campus, because that used to be all the rage back in the day, and it was a lot of fun and there was a lot of music. So, I was hanging out with these guys and we were all jamming, and some of them were graduating with degrees in classical guitar. In retrospect, I took that as an opportunity to ask what they did around the area for a job. One guy said that he taught guitar lessons to people in town down at the music box, but he also said he was getting ready to move away. And I put two and two together and thought well they’re going to need a new teacher down at the music box, and I’ve been teaching this guy how to play guitar all night, so I could teach some other students. So, that’s how I got started, I took his position and he gave me a really good recommendation. I also got a call from the Anderson Music Center and they really wanted me to teach there, so I started teaching at two places. And, you know, I had a couple bands back in the day and I built up a good reputation of being a guitarist around the area. My band was doing pretty well and we were having a lot of fun, but they wanted to move away, and we all had the means to do so, so we ended up on the East Coast. Basically, when I got out there I immediately ran into this guy named John Paul at the beach and he had lots of connections because a lot of musicians on the East Coast knew each other. So yeah, being out there was probably one of the most exciting points of my life. I eventually got a teaching gig because John Paul became my instructor, and he was a professor at Berkley for a while. But, eventually, the place I was teaching at went under, so I called all my friends who were teaching, and I started my own place. And so that’s how I did it out there, I found a building that was perfect and it had lecture rooms already built in it, and the landlords were all into music and stuff like that. So, I called all my friends and said, “Hey if you all come down here I’ll give you a space and you can pick the room you want and we’ll fix this place up and make our own school”, and everybody came aboard and it was awesome. We had everything covered and made it an association so we could do our taxes and such. It was called Soul Tempo. We had a really successful run. My students would prepare the products that they were creating for a jam session or an open mic night and their parents would come out and everything and it was a great way for them to learn their craft. But, I had to move away, so I came back here like seven years ago. I left that all to my friends, it was my place, but when I left I kind of handed it off to the most capable person to keep it going.
KD: Is it still going currently?
MR: Yes, it’s still there. They incorporated a music store and called it Indy Music, so in order for it to not be confusing they just renamed the entire thing Indy Music, which disappoints me, but I’m glad it’s still going and all the teachers still have a place. That’s the main thing that matters. But, I came back here and my parents are a little older, so they just kind of needed me to be around. So, I came back here and I started to teach at other places like Bongo Boys down in Castleton and then I started playing the music festival circuit out here, which is really strong. I started that like five or six years ago, and they were all pretty good sizes. I’ve also written a couple albums and I write a lot of music, and I sing, but my main focus right now is jazz fusion and I’m working on a new album now for it. I perform at the Mousetrap down at Castleton every week on Wednesdays, and I host the family jam, where I bring in people from all around the region to play some original music. We stream it online now which is pretty sweet. We actually had a radio station for a while, but the FCC eventually shut it down, but it was really local it only had like a thirty-mile radius. We just had issues with licensing that’s all. So, yeah now that’s what I’m still doing today, and me and all the other successful bands in the region sometimes get together to just play. It was hard leaving New Hampshire and all my friends and coming back to a place like Indiana, but thank God for those festivals because they really saved my soul. And the cool people around me really kept me into music. That’s the thing about the Midwest sometimes it seems like there’s nothing, and it almost seems like even less now. But, the positive thing about this area is that you have a lot of free time to work on your craft without distractions and that’s basically how I look at it now.
KD: Well that’s really awesome, and I have one last question. What is some advice you would give to students who are just starting out learning?
MR: Don’t get so fixed on one thing that you forget about everything else. Another thing is that it’s about having an open mind and being self-aware. Listen to yourself, listen to your playback, and be self-critical. Also, practice as much as you can without hurting yourself, I always tell my students no more than six hours a day. You know, the best thing to do is look to the best and the brightest and their brains and learn what they do and never underestimate how much it takes to be really great. You just have to keep working, and also never underestimate your own abilities. You can do it. I mean as a teacher I’ve watched people that I thought were just tone deaf that had no rhythm, all of a sudden walk in one day and start playing on time, like something just clicks sometimes. And for some people it took years and for others it may not, but it’s all a subjective kind of thing. Absorb everything like a sponge, you are who you are and everything will come together.
KD: That’s so great thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
MR: You’re welcome thanks for listening to me, this was a lot of fun.