Eye On KELOLAND: Washington’s musical Michael


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A Washington High School senior’s musical talent is taking him all over the world.

Emmanuel Michael has only been playing the guitar for four years but this past summer, the self-taught prodigy found himself on stage at Carnegie Hall in New York and venues across Asia.

“Music can make you feel something,” Michael said.

That’s why Sioux Falls-native Emmanuel Michael keeps coming back to this guitar. It doesn’t matter if he’s jamming by himself in an empty auditorium at Washington or at Carnegie Hall in New York.

“Even though my voice is very weak and lacking in a lot of different areas, just the attempt of building that up each time I think about it or play, that’s beautiful. That’s fun,” Michael said.

Known for being humble about his craft, Michael’s not a sound bite machine when talking about himself. But, as you can see, he is a sound machine.

And weak or lacking are not adjectives his teacher Ben Harder would use.

“I have a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies. I’ve been around professional musicians in a number of different communities. He understands music and hears music in ways that I’ve never been around before,” Harder said.

Harder says he has an elite understanding of harmony and improvisation. That talent is leading to an orchestra of opportunities.

This summer, Michael auditioned for the National Youth Orchestra Jazz Program in New York City and made it along with two dozen other musicians he admires.

“I knew them so I was like coming up to them the first day saying like, dude, I love. I love your sound. You’re beautiful. They were like, ‘I don’t even know you but thank you so much.’ It was a one-way road but after that it was just like the beginning of a new family,” Michael said.

A family that rehearsed 10 hours a day for two weeks and then performed in New York and China. Not bad for someone who picked up the guitar to help complete his middle school jazz band.

“Just playing this music together brings people from all over the world together and makes everyone a family and it’s really human to play this music and it’s a really great privilege,” Michael said.

A privilege he hopes to enjoy long into his future.

Holsen: Safe to say there’s a ton of opportunities for him?

Harder: Yes. Certainly. He’s going to make the decision that’s best for him but I think there are a lot of options on the table.

Harder says members of the National Youth Orchestra can go on to top-tier performing arts schools such as Juilliard.

Michael says he’s keeping those options to himself for now.

“It’s easy to get really bogged down with the future and all these worries,” Michael said.

He prefers to keep picking away at today. When we asked him if music will be in his future he left things wide open.

“Sure. Yeah. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out,” Michael said.

Harder hopes to be hearing more from Michael down the road and says the possibilities are endless.

“As high as he wants to go. I can see him being someone who’s producing records and playing with musicians at the highest levels,” Harder said.

If that happens, great. But Michael is happiest when he’s performing, whether that’s with a band or by himself.

“Try to find truth and try to open your eyes to what does your truth means through playing. You don’t need to be a professional to find truth within playing,” Michael said.

It’s a passion with no strings attached.

Michael is an AP student at Washington. He can play more than a handful of instruments and has been a drum major in the marching band for two years.

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