Who is Michael J. Peterson, and why does he live in Indiana???
A fair question that is, and “one that in recent years has been ‘mooch on moi mind’.” (A nod to Monty Python and their delightful skit ‘Flying Sheep’.)
I, Michael J. Peterson of semi-sound mind and fairly well kept body, was born in Anchorage, Alaska and apparently spent some of my early years finding someplace warmer to live. So how on earth did I end up in Bloomington, Indiana where I attended Indiana University, experiencing the blizzard of 1977-78. and Frankfort, Indiana where I've lived since 1988 experiencing the blizzard of 1991? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=51r14vXK2zU.
BACKGROUND : - AIR FORCE CONNECTION- My father moved us around a lot.
The story is that I was raised in an Air Force family and was only 18 months old when my father was transferred to a warmer climate in Charleston, SC., after which we moved when I was 6 to Biloxi, Mississippi where we lived until I was 12. It was in these two states that I developed an ear for a Southern Accent, which I still use once in a while to confuse my students after first using it when teaching high school Japanese for 17 years.
TEACHING: A LIFETIME LOVE
My current position a middle school exploratory foreign language instructor for classes in German, Japanese for 6th grade, Italian and Latin for 7th, and French / Spanish in 8th. I retired from teaching in 2013, but a former assistant principal at Frankfort High School had become the principal at the middle school in Frankfort, and he invited me back to teach this class at Frankfort Middle School when I retired from teaching in the Tippecanoe County Schools in Lafayette, Indiana. He couldn’t find anyone with my background in languages who could teach more than one. I would never have predicted this facility in languages developed after my freshman year French class at Wagner Jr./Sr. High at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippine Islands. After our tours of duty in South Carolina and Mississippi, the Philippines was a welcome change for warmth once again after a year in Layton, Utah when my father was in Vietnam for an unaccompanied tour of duty. Utah is cold in the winters, and about never learning a foreign language, “Oh boy” was I wrong.
VOLUNTEER ARMY (VOLAR) 1971-1974
Out of high school I joined the VOLAR (volunteer army) in 1971 and selected the training of a Pershing Missile Crewman, which took me to Ft. Lewis, Washington for basic training and Ft. Sill, Oklahoma for artillery training. During this time, working with men from around the U.S., my language skills helped me translate for an enlisted man from Georgia who didn’t understand a fellow from Boston. In one evenings discussion the topic of things we did for entertainment in our home towns came up. A fellow I called “Barry from Boston” offered up: “On Sattadae nights we’d go down to the piah, paahk the caah, and waatch the shaaks.” in a swift verbal delivery that left everyone but me with head spinning. For Bostonian, that’s the best I do to put the dialect in print, trying to emulate the flatted ‘aah’ sound our Barry from Boston produced. I can make it sound pretty good up close and personal. It is likely that my travel around the world tuned my ear to accents. I enjoy character voices and have done a bit of voice over work for an Indy Xbox game and several other projects. Our poor enlisted guy from Georgia just looked at Barry and with a very slow drawl said…. “Whaaa…”. After that night when they tried to talk with each other, I was immediately called upon to clear up any problems with accent or vocabulary.
WHAT? ME SPEAK A FOREIGN LANGUAGE?
My additional work in foreign languages came during my 3 years in the Army. During 2 ½ years of my tour of duty in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany with the Pershing Missile Field Artillery, 1st Battalion 41st Field Artillery, I became acquainted with the German language, and was fascinated to learn some vocabulary from two ladies who served us in the mess hall in Böttingen, Germany in the Black Forest area. Before I was released from active duty, I spent 9 months touring Germany in the 7th Army VII Corps Roadshow musical advertising the GI bill for servicemen, receiving an army commendation medal for 118 shows in that time. I had been heard by a 2nd lieutenant with VII Corps performing in a coffee house setting. I also served as the German/American liaison for a Boy Scout camp in The Black Forest region as my final assignment before separation from the service because my commanding officers knew of my interest in the language, and they needed someone with either passable experience, or at least no feat in attempting communication in a bilingual setting. Thus I was exposed to, and used German.
INFLUENCES IN THE MILITARY – I’m going to be a missionary WHERE?
Jumping backwards from this moment in my military career to the artillery training I had, a fellow in our unit who was a firmly convicted atheist influenced me. There were a number of religious folk in our platoon, and they always tried to get me involved in Bible bashing which I was loathe to do. The atheist, who still remains dear to my heart, would frustrate me by giving me a sharp elbow in the ribs if I declined to join their discussion, then whispering in my ear…. “It doesn’t matter anyway Peterson, there’s no one up there. I had some trouble accepting his word for it, and there were several studies I went through to convince myself one way or the other, including visiting a wide variety of chaplain services because there is one of about everything available in the military, including Buddhism, which a vision impaired friend in the military selected as his religion of choice when he mistook the number for that persuasion for being “Baptist” when he selected religion for his dog tags. I know where my “Baptist/Buddhist friend is now with the help of Facebook. I left the service with a stronger notion that there was ‘someone up there’, and came home from the military to attend Weber State College in Ogden, Utah with what I planned as a double major in vocal music and theater for one year. It was during that brief part of a year that I went to to see a local church leader about going on a mission, a decision that changed my life, and also changed my mind about speaking a foreign language. When I received a call to serve in Tokyo, Japan the first thought went through my mind was that I didn’t like fish, and couldn’t imagine eating it raw.
INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MUSIC – you can’t have a major and a minor!
As a missionary, developed a strong liking for sushi, and I learned the Japanese during a two-year service in Japan. Transferring credits from Weber State to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana I studied voice with distinguished professor of music, Margaret Harshaw, as one of only two music education majors she ever accepted into her studio. (1977-1981) My last year of undergraduate work was with Marcia Baldwin, who was a close personal friend of Harshaw’s from the days they worked together at THE MET. I developed a degree of understanding in Italian, French and Latin for singing, adding those to my unexpected opportunity to experience German up close and personally in the military.
IU was a great training ground for me, except that enrolling in the School of Music cut my degree plans in half, because Dr. Henry Upper, my advisor, called me in one day early on to say that I couldn’t do a double major, or even have a major in music education and a minor in theater. I asked why and the response I got was a straight forward… ‘Because we won’t let you!’
It was explained to me that a music education degree requires something like 180 credit hours with all of the educational psychology, methods courses, and lessons in voice, orchestration, arranging, theory and other related course work. In perspective, a student graduating with an engineering degree at the time I completed my BME at IU, only needed 135 credits in four years. At the end of my degree I had 210. Of course, part of that was my looking ahead to getting a masters degree, for which I only needed 9 hours if I had continued on at that time, but I went into teaching immediately. My first job was actually offered to me due to IU school of music being contacted for a director who would come to Bloomfield, Indiana to direct a musical for the high school at the Shawnee Summer Stock Theater in 1980-81. Dr. Leon Fosha, a friend of Dr. Henry Upper’s contacted me and told me that I was the only one in the school of music with sufficient theatrical training to take the assignment, so I concluded my senior year at Indiana University by being a resident assistant in the GRC (torn down in 2010 along with my favorite tree that had the most gorgeous yellow leaves in the fall), doing my student teaching in Elletsville, Indiana and directing South Pacific at Bloomfield High School in Green County, Indiana.
GOING BACK TO UTAH … and coming back to Indiana Immediately!
Upon graduation, I returned home to Utah where my mother was residing, but was home for less than 2 weeks when the phone rang, and Frank Hayashida of Kennedy King College in Chicago, who was a director at Shawnee Summer Stock was asking me if I could fly back to Indiana to director Camelot for the summer season when the founding director H. Adrian Rehner fell ill in the first few days of production. I called upon a professor friend of mine at Weber State, Mike Kelly, retrieved a script and score and was on a plane the next day, blocking the show en flight. I was picked up at the Indianapolis Airport and driven the few hours drive to the theater in Greene County by Frank where I was filled in on the project.
The next morning during my first day of rehearsal we were notified that Reb Rehner had passed due to complications. I apparently filled the needs of the theater, because I served on staff as an actor, musical director and accompanist for the next 6 seasons. I didn’t even have to commute from Utah because the choir director at Bloomfield High School offered the school superintendent her retirement if I would come back to Indiana and take her job as choir director at the Bloomfield Schools. I accepted, and became a “Hoosier” by design of the forces around me, teaching 1st grade through high school in that first four years. I ultimately had to stop teaching to finish my masters degree to professionalize my teaching license in Indiana, but was also married to my wife Susan, who had actually seen me perform in a public performance of Handel’s Messiah when I sang the tenor arias. That was about two years before we met, and she married me anyway… but she still prefers the voice of our oldest son. I can understand her prejudice because our two boys and my three step kids come first with me too.
FRANKFORT… HOME OF THE HOTDOGS
I ended up in Frankfort, Indiana after completing my masters at IU, while working for Hardee’s restaurant and thereafter, Ponderosa as an assistant manager. Upon getting my masters, I was interviewed by Harlan Clark, the principal at Frankfort who came originally from Lyons, Indiana down in the Bloomfield area, and we enjoyed comparing notes about his old hometown that it perhaps figured into his decision to hire me for the choir position at Frankfort High School in 1988. Almost immediately I also found out that they saw Japanese in my transcripts and wanted me to start a Japanese program at the high school because the SIA Japanese car plant had just opened in Lafayette, Indiana. Languages bit me hard. I’ve actually spent more time teaching Japanese in a foreign language classroom up until 2013 when I officially retired… the first time in 2013.
During all of that time, I’ve stayed active in theater directing or acting in shows like:
Harvey, Fiddler on the Roof, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, South Pacific (in which this tenor, Michael J. Peterson, who would rather be in a warm climate has also played the baritone/bass role of Emile De Becque twice professionally) and directed it twice, Cabaret, Guys and Dolls, The Student Prince, Damn Yankees, The King and I, and Camelot…. which musical is the one that brought me back to take the reins of musical directorship at Shawnee Summer Stock all those years ago in 1981 at Bloomfield, Indiana. I’ve broadened my acting skills in summer stock with many consummate professionals in the business when we built our own sets with ratchet screwdrivers that removed skin from our knuckles. I have some film credits in regional films, even traveling to New York for an independent short “Away in a Manger”. I have also supported several student productions in universities close to my home, one of my favorites being “The Stage” in which I play a French director from Paris… eventually coming out that ‘he’ is actually from Paris, Texas.
From that, “All hat and no cattle” is still one of my favorite lines of script I’ve been given to deliver in film, although I also enjoyed playing the role of Jennings in film short “RELAUNCH”. Here is my audition real for the part, in which I made a video of myself playing two roles interacting with myself as an audition for both parts. I was made the CEO role of Jennings because the director and other members of the casting committee thought I was really from the East Coast, because I stayed in character on set during the work days and had I simply adopted the accent after being given the part because it fit the characterization they shared with me. I only dropped it at lunch and they were all surprised. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNupkLLcu3A
I am about 40-45 pounds lighter now in 2016 than when I filmed this in 2010 or 11.
Taking part in a 48 Film Project in Indianapolis as a location scout, adding to my experience as a talent scout and vocal coach for Talent Fusion Agency in Indianapolis, I was also tapped to play the lead role in the film short, VINCENT by the director after he had pulled Sci-Fi genre and need someone who, in his words, he wondered if they could “play a demented murderous Android who steals the memories from people to upload in a data base”. I told him that I’m fairly sure that some of my students over the years have known I was demented, but that I hadn’t had to bury any bodies… although I do have a lovely little jar that I have placed on my desk with the inscription “ashes of obnoxious teenagers.” I submitted to the 48 hour film festival again this year 2018, but a change in managers, a change in the time of year, and lack of teams seems to have cancelled the Indianapolis event. It's amazing how some people take over a good idea, change it, and wonder why it failed.
Rounding out my classical training, I sang for seven years with the Indianapolis Opera Chorus, even taking a small role here and there from 1998 through 2004. Acting has been with me all my life, even if IU wouldn’t allow me to study it for a degree, music has inspired me from the first moment I could breathe and teaching has been the vehicle for me to do it all, training singers who are even now performing professionally or embarking on performing careers. I may not have discovered a warmer climate in which to live, but I have the warmth of generations of students who have searched for me, and shared memories of the days when I wore a younger mans clothes. It helps that I still have my own hair… plus….
I always have a heating pad if the nights get cold here in Indiana.
Regards to all who have read my bio/short story (It is shorter than War and Peace)
Sincerely Michael J. Peterson
Educator, Vocalist, Vocal Coach, Talent Scout, Director, Conductor, Linguist, Adult Education Instructor, Manager, Grandfather and happy man, who also likes to write and edit scripts and skits as the opportunity presents itself
Unique traits: Fluent in Japanese, can dance, vocal training in classical music to include opera (tenor), musical theater, country and some pop styles. Some facility in German, pronunciation in French, Italian and Latin with some understanding of cognates in the languages which I coach.