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Meet Lyle Michaud of Lessons by Lyle Michaud in Santa Clarita

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lyle Michaud.

Lyle, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I don’t remember knowing what a piano was before I started playing it. My parents saw an ad for a free piano, so they took it, hoping that my older siblings would develop an interest. Much to their surprise, little five-year-old me started plucking out tunes by ear. That was it. I was hooked. I taught myself lots of melodies, and began formal piano lessons a few years later. My teacher didn’t push me much because she was afraid I’d lose my ability to play by ear if I learned to read notes. I remember having to stop lessons with her after about a year and a half, because we couldn’t afford the $8/week for my lessons. I didn’t stop playing though. I couldn’t. I was in love with the instrument, and have been ever since. I was that weird kid who would rather play piano than be outside. My heroes weren’t Marvel characters, but Classical composers. I thought there was nothing more beautiful in all the world than a grand piano.

Eventually, I resumed my piano training shortly after relocating from Maine to New Hampshire. I started to delve deeper into Classical music, theory, and technique, but still had lots of gaps in my musical education. Those gaps were brilliantly filled in by my forth piano teacher, Dr. Daniel Weiser at Dartmouth College. He and I had a rocky start, but in time I grew to trust him and his training so much that I felt there wasn’t anything he couldn’t train me to do. I performed Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy, and others, and developed a keen interest in writing music myself. I remember Dr. Weiser opening my eyes to seeing the value and worth of Classical music – music that has stood the test of time, melodies that everyone recognizes today, harmonies written by men whose names we all know.

By that time, I already knew I wanted to make a career in music. I developed an interest in songwriting, and had dreams of making it big. When I graduated high school, I myself started teaching piano, and began accompanying choirs at a local elementary school. Those were formative times for me. I got more exposure and experience in the real world, and rubbed shoulders with people who encouraged and pushed me to think outside the box. I’ll never forget the night my dad said to me, “Now, I know you can do anything you want to do and be anyone you want to be, but you’d be a fool to think that it’ll ‘just happen.’

That’s when I realized that I couldn’t wait for the stars to align, but rather had to take charge of my own future and forge my own path. I eventually decided to move to LA to pursue a degree in Music Composition at The Master’s University, a highly-acclaimed Christian liberal arts college in Santa Clarita. Those four years were the most challenging, the most influential, the most inspiring, and the most educational of all my years. I was finally surrounded by other musicians, able to really study my craft, fine-tune my technique, learn to compose for all the instruments of an orchestra, learn in-depth about the history of music and musicians, and become a more well-rounded person and musician.

Though I had hopes of pursuing composition professionally, perhaps in the Hollywood film industry, I was open to whatever opportunities may come my way after graduation. The door opened for me to start teaching piano full time at a studio in Santa Clarita, so I moved to LA County permanently. I was (and still am) so glad to be in an area where music and the arts thrive, and where anyone can pursue opportunity if they work hard enough. I quickly discovered that I have a deeply imbedded passion for teaching piano to others. It feels almost wrong to get paid to just share what I love with students. I get to nerd out over what makes two notes sound beautiful together. I get to come alongside a student and show them how to use an elbow gesture to play a certain passage more musically, or communicate to them how to move an audience to think and feel things through their performance. Music is a wondrously special gift, and my job is just to share that with others, through my own compositions and performances, and also through my teaching.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Oh, no, it’s never been a smooth road. I’ve been very blessed, yes, and have been given many wonderful opportunities along the way, but it hasn’t come without much pain, tears, fears, and sacrifices, both on my part, and on the part of others around me, especially my parents.

I don’t come from a privileged home or background. For example, when my grandparents first got married, they lived in a shack with no electricity, no running water, and no indoor plumbing. My grandmother had to do laundry on a washboard by the river. She rocked her eldest to sleep in a handmade crib that my grandfather fashioned out of logs and twigs. But, with hard work, perseverance, and an entrepreneurial spirit, they gradually set themselves up for greater successes. My grandfather is a huge inspiration to me. He has always supported my musical pursuits, and showed by his life that even when times are tough, even when obstacles are in your way, you’re not defined by your problems but rather by how you react to them.

In my own life, I faced lots of doubts, insecurities, and feelings of being insufficient. I think that’s something we can all relate to at some level. I grew up in an area that is saturated with sports and hunting. There’s little room for the arts and finer things when you’re a teen boy in rural New Hampshire. But I couldn’t give up on my dream of being a professional musician, even though it sometimes made me feel like a freak. There were times I became overwhelmed and wanted to quit, but, in the end, I was pulled under too strongly by the current of music.

I remember a season of time that was particularly tough for my family financially. We were living with some friends of ours in their upstairs, and there was no room for my piano there, so it had to be stored in their unheated barn. In the winter, I’d put on ski pants and a heavy jacket, and armed with hat and gloves, I’d go out and play my piano. We couldn’t afford lessons at that time either, but when my friend downstairs would have his piano lessons, I’d watch and listen from the air vent above his piano. Kind of creepy to think of now, but at the time I was just eager to learn whatever I could however I could.

My grandparents never had the chance to attend high school, and my parents didn’t graduate college, so being the first person in my direct family line to pursue higher education and get a degree was a rather difficult and lonely road. I had to pay all my own way through college, while also working year-round. But let me tell you, it makes you appreciate your education a whole lot more. So many times, I wouldn’t even know if I’d be flying back to LA for my next semester until just days before leaving, because funding hadn’t come though yet.

As a composer and performer, I’ve always battled fears of not being good enough. I still am learning that it’s more about being faithful to who you are as an artist and sharing the art that’s within you than it is about conforming to another person’s idea of greatness. I’m still learning to take risks, think outside the box, and pursue original creativity. Even though I’ve faced adversity, it’s my sincere hope that these bumps in the road have chiseled me into an artist, teacher, and person that is just better able to move and inspire others.

So, let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Lessons by Lyle Michaud story. Tell us more about the business.
Well I’m a pianist, instructor, and composer. As a pianist, I specialize in playing for weddings and other events, often arranging the music myself to give it a sense of consistency and specialization (which works especially well with the unpredictable nature of weddings). I’ve also played in a variety of bands, and enjoy playing in churches as well. One thing I’m known for is arranging piano solo medleys of, say, movie themes or hymn tunes etc.

My main source of income is my piano teaching. I’ve been teaching for 10 years now, and grow to love it more as time progresses. Because I’m also a composer who loves music theory, I like being able to explain not just what works, but how it works and why it works. I strongly believe that if a student can grasp that, they’ll retain better and play better. I can teach students to improvise, arrange, compose, and read chord charts, as well as root them in a classical foundation with solid pianistic technique and performance skills. I think that because my own personal piano training had so many gaps, I’m actually better equipped to know what to teach at what time with each of my students. I recently had a studio recital where many of my students performed, and I was so proud of them to see their hard work pay off, and to see the fruits of my labors with them, especially in regard to playing with musicality and displaying quality performance technique.

I seek to impart my passion for music to my students. If they can be captivated by the wonders of music, and grow to love the intricacies of piano, I believe that’ll turn them into life-long musicians. I always try to find the balance between having fun and enjoying lessons, and working hard and striving for excellence in a consistent and correct way that yields encouraging results. I also like to be as perceptive as I can and figure out what a student likes, or how they learn best given their personality. It’s hard work, but as I often remind my own students, “Anything worth doing takes hard work”.

As a composer, I gravitate towards music that’s classically rooted but with modern cinematic overtones. Some of my music is somewhat Jazz or Folk influenced, and some of it is rather Impressionistic or Romantic. I don’t get to write music as much as I’d like these days, but in college I was writing for orchestra and choir etc. I mostly write and arrange for piano now. I’d still like to delve deeper into composing, and hopefully get some works published and performed live. To me, there’s nothing quite like being able to express oneself in the form of all-new, original music. Hopefully I can use that gift to make an impact.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t place too much stock in luck. I use the word as an expression, not as an excuse. Sure, I’ve hit hard times, had misfortunes, and yes, I’ve been immensely blessed and given wonderful opportunities, but one can’t sit around and wait for their luck to change. I believe you have to do the best with what you have and don’t give up. Cliché, I know, but there’s a reason those kinds of sayings stick around.

I think that many of the people that live or work in LA, especially in the arts and entertainment industries, eventually come to a place where they have to ask themselves what kind of man or woman they’re going to be. Are you gonna be the type that stays down when knocked down and mopes around waiting for something to get better? Or are you gonna get back up and pursue the next avenue towards your dreams and goals with renewed vigor?

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Image Credit:
Winston Provost

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