Senior Spotlight: Michael Pineda

The Anchor’s final arts senior spotlight is Michael Pineda (’21), a musician from Honduras studying business and jazz studies. He spoke in depth about what drives him as a musician, how he used his Hope College experience to its fullest extent and poignant advice for many aspects of life.

What made you decide on Hope College and music? 

I am an international student from Honduras, and I came to Hope almost solely based on financial aid. Of course I was looking at the program during my search for schools, but I was mainly looking to see if I could be supported financially enough to be able to come. I was planning on doing a double major with jazz performance and business, but I wasn’t able to, so I went with a major in business and a minor in jazz studies. However, the arts and music department have always been at the core of everything I’ve done here.

What has your international student experience been like at Hope? 

My experience has been different from a domestic student experience, and even different from most international students. [Mostly] because I was actually born in the United States, and I lived in Minnesota for about 12 years before I moved to Honduras. So I was kind of acclimated to US culture so it wasn’t like a complete culture shock. It was a unique experience in the music department because I forget that I am an international student. Maybe in the business department I’m reminded, but in the music department it is never really something I bring to the surface. It’s more that we are all musicians, and we just do our thing. I have definitely had a wonderful experience integrating into the music department because of the people there — it has been quite welcoming to say the least. 

What element of music do you like the most? Where do you see yourself with your music? 

I’m a pretty obsessive musician. I would say I am one of those people who would practice for six hours every day, and I would try to have a super specific routine. I would hear the great jazz musicians, and I would want to play like them and do all of that craziness and express myself. But I think as time has passed and I have become more realistic and one with my creation, I have realized [different things]. One of my goals with music is to be better today than I was yesterday and better tomorrow than I am today. That is a creed that a lot of artists live by, and should live by, honestly. Because our threshold of talent, creativity and technique is infinite, it is really [about] placing ourselves on that spectrum and just being ourselves on that spectrum. So that’s the first thing as far as improvement, just being better. Just being the best musician I can be. 

The second  thing I have really dove into is improvisation. I am a composer of not only jazz music but all types of music. I love writing raps, and I love composing blues and funk — I’m a multi-instrumentalist, so I kind of mess around with a lot of different sounds. One of my favorite saxophonists Joshua Redman said that jazz is his favorite music because it keeps him the most intellectually engaged and spiritually and emotionally present. I definitely agree with that about jazz music. Because it is improvisation —that’s why I love playing jazz music and just interacting with different people. [We] are really telling stories through our improvisation. 

The last thing is music is one of those things that will be the only constant with my life. I know that sounds existential or whatever, but for sure music is one of those things that will never go away. I will always have my instruments, and I will always practice as much as I possibly can and get gigs. I love playing live, and I plan to put out several albums. I have so much music that i just want to put out, and I have to find the best way to do that  

Who are the most influential artists in your life? 

It really depends on what instrument you put me on. My first instrument was the guitar. So with the guitar I was obsessed with Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton and these blues guitarists, and of course I got into Carlos Santana. I got into a lot of different music, like psychedelic rock and funk. I play the tenor sax, so I have a lot of tenor saxophonists on my list of influential artists. But when I got into playing jazz, Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins and Hank Mobley were big back in the day. And more recently as I’ve come to discover more groups, like Art Ellefson and the Jazzmakers, both of Miles Davis’ quintets — those are big as well. There are so many big names I can give you, but I’ve always thought that local musicians are very inspiring. Even our professor here Dr. Jordan VanHemert — he is just a bad son of a b****. Every time he pulls out his horn to play, he’s reached a level of creation and expression that we all strive for. 

My family is definitely influential, although they don’t put music out or anything. They are so musical, and they share all the time. There are times when I sit down and just jam with my family. My sister and mom are singing, my sister is playing bass, I’m playing something and my dad’s got something. That kind of chemistry is just really nice  

Last thing is all the musicians in Pet Shop, a band I started freshman year with Carlos Flores (’19)  and Dylan Sherman (’22). It has grown [since], and we try to include as many musicians as we can in the group. Playing [with] all of those musicians is so influential and inspirational, and I’ve learned a lot about how to play music from them as well. 

What have you been involved in outside of the classroom that has enhanced your experience at Hope? 

Before COVID and before I studied abroad, Pet Shop was playing a lot. We were getting hired for private concerts around the West Michigan area we were playing at bars we played at New Holland Brewing; I think we hit OBC one time. Experiences outside the classroom are so important for artistic development because art doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t just happen in a practice room or in a studio. It happens in the real world, and it is a very real thing with real people and real connections. Being able to get out of our academic environment and going into the real world and seeing who we really are as musicians [is essential]. It’s not a jury, it’s not a lesson, it’s a gig or a concert. That’s been huge, and we bring those experiences back to our playing here at Hope, because we find ourselves a little bit more every time we go out. 

The second thing that I would say would be with regards to music, going to jam sessions is a really important thing. There are several around [the area]. Those are some scary experiences, let me tell you. You just show up with your saxophone and there are some old dudes there who can play like you wouldn’t believe, and your job is to get up there and you play with them. You can learn so much and be so humbled at the same time. Those experiences are furthest away from academia, but are so crucial. 

Do you have any classes or professors that have really influenced the way you see things? 

There are so many honestly, and I am really happy and blessed to be able to say that. My theory classes with Dr. Robert Hodson were unbelievable. They changed a lot of things in me.  Dr. Brian Coyle was another professor that influenced me [a lot]. When I came in freshman year I sucked — I couldn’t play to save my life. He was just like “Dude, you’re going to play, it doesn’t matter” and he gave me a shot. If he didn’t give me that shot freshman year, I wouldn’t be where I am today as a musician. As I went through a business course I took Management Perspectives with Dr. Stacy Jackson. She is one of the most incredible people I have ever met in the Business department. Classes with Dr. Steve VanderVeen are amazing, he is definitely one of my mentors to this day. Outside of that, there have been several general education courses here and there with really cool professors that I have been able to connect with. Right now, I am taking a senior seminar with Amy Otis, and it is probably the coolest class I have ever taken in college. I can say that flat out — she is so amazing and powerful. I could go on forever about the specific classes I’ve had. 

What’s something you wish you knew as an underclassman?

I think something that immediately comes to mind is to never forget what it’s about. That’s a very general idea, but never forget what art is about; never forget that it is a very personal thing. It is intimate, and it’s a matter of vulnerability, creation and expression. I think that once a student of the arts comes into academia, sometimes the standards and the expectations and the tests and all of the trials that art students have to go through pushes them away from the actual purpose of art — from the core of artistic expression. I kind of hung onto that throughout freshman year, but I was constantly tested. I would wonder why I was even doing what I was doing. Then I would have those out of campus experiences, or on campus ones with the bands, or those breakthrough moments in my lessons where I was reminded what it’s about. It’s about living our lives. It’s just one of those mediums that all art students are so blessed and privileged to have. Don’t forget what it’s about, that’s one. 

The second one is don’t forget who you are in it, either. There is [such] an individualistic thing in art. Every dancer has their own style, even if they know how to dance all the same kind of way, but individually they all have their own thing and style. I think the first thing is to respect the thing itself, whether its music, dance or art, and its context, history and culture. And then respect  yourself within the context of whatever it is that you are doing. We can’t forget that we are the ones who are actually creating. We are the ones who are actually using these mediums to make something awesome. [Don’t] forget to just be expressive, take risks and have fun. 

Do you have a dream job or long term goals? 

My longest term goal is to return to Honduras and work for some non-profit administration and entrepreneurship [things]. I’ve always had the dream to build my own educational institution in Honduras. Originally it was going to be a music school; that’s what I wanted to build, and it might still be that. I’ll have to see where my mind rests in a couple of decades. Ideally, I would  like to go and create opportunities for people in my country because I’ve had the privilege of experiencing other opportunities elsewhere. I just want to take all of the skills and experiences I’ve had and take them back to my country and create better opportunities for education and art. 

How about in the next few months? What is your post graduating direction?

My plans in the next couple of months are to either work with a company or non-profit in order to actually practice and develop skills in the real world. I don’t have anything particularly lined up yet; I’m still sorting through offers trying to find what’s right for me for the first step. After that, I’m just planning to work for a couple of years until I feel comfortable to continue my studies. I want to go to graduate school to pursue either an M.B.A or a masters in international development and that kind of leads into my long term goals  

Any more senior wisdom? 

This is a very personal thing based on the experiences that I have had, but just don’t overcommit. Hope College has a culture of do, do, go, go, go; you can do a thousand things. But I’ve studied a lot of organizational theory and leadership theory, and the one thing that I’ve learned is that any organization, any group of people, can only function as well as its constraint. In this case a constraint is a person that is just too busy, a person who just can’t give one hundred percent to any one thing. They define the overall effectiveness of the organization as a whole. It may not seem like that, but that is the reality. When we have so many moving pieces, everybody’s got to be in it, one hundred percent. That is probably the biggest piece of wisdom: don’t overcommit. Pick one to three things that you care about, and say no to everything else. It is really hard, because there are a lot of cool things on Hope’s campus. If you can avoid it as a freshman, do it and thank me later. Whether you commit to a few things or too many things will change your entire four years. 

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