Teachers putting music lessons to work

When Mike Richards was a child, he relieved symptoms of ADHD by hitting everything he could find. His parents steered his attention to percussion instruments, helping turn down the volume on Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and turn up his interest in music as a career. 

From there, Richards discovered a lifelong love for music. Today, he teaches elementary music for the Bay City Public Schools and he founded the band, Adaboy!, which is gaining attention in Michigan.

Adaboy! is a familiar name in the Great Lakes Bay Region. The band has been around for seven years, though the group changed over that time, transitioning through different members and incarnations. The current group is readying itself for tour dates scheduled across the state and the release of a debut album.

Studies show that music benefits the youth in a number of ways. The dedication to learning an instrument brings the patience needed to learn new skills. Music also inspires brain development for young children. Playing an instrument translates to better success in school as well.

Adaboy! is a multi-genre group, priding themselves on their three-part vocal harmonies. The group has rock tendencies musically but doesn't describe itself as a rock band. Instead of focusing on a specific sound or approach to songwriting, their focus is to translate the emotional lyrics into distinct songs. Their work often takes different directions musically, ranging from laid-back blues tunes to pop-influenced music.

Richards is the writer, lead vocalist, and rhythm guitarist for the band. While the current band members have only been together for several months, Richards describes the group as the version that has gained the most attention. He measures the group's momentum by the number of fans who stay to talk with the band after their shows.

“It’s probably going to pick up from this point on. It’s like a snowball right now. The more we play, we’re actually getting some reactions from people – which means we’re getting bigger shows every time we play a show. And we’re seeing it.” said Richards.

Richards works full-time as an elementary music teacher for Bay City Public Schools. He began playing drums at 8 years old. Richards describes learning to drum as a type of therapy, often playing for up to 10 hours a day. When he realized that he had a passion for music, he began to play other instruments as well.

“My drive is proving to people that if you invest in your passion, it can be a viable form of income,” said Richards, “Having a job where you can sustain that and have your passion at the same time is a fine line to walk. But if you can find that, you’ve reached your goal.”

Adaboy! performs at the Chalk Walk Art Festival in Bay City on Aug. 17Richards is joined by Adaboy! bandmembers Jake Voisine (Lead Guitar/Vocals), Joe Balbaugh (Bass/Vocals), and Steve Bennett (Drums/Vocals). The band has performed locally for years. For now, members work full-time jobs to support their passion, but the goal is to make music a full-time occupation.

Balbaugh is praised by his bandmate’s as the musical director of the group. His interest in music began when he found a thrown-out guitar on the side of the road. While the guitar would ultimately never be fixed, Balbaugh’s interest in learning to play never dimmed.

“I figured out really quick that I could have a future with music. And I enjoyed it a lot, so that was a plus. Then there’s the longevity part. I’m still doing it right now. I’m 32 and I started playing in clubs and bars when I was 15 years old. I’m still doing it. I plan on doing it until I can’t do it anymore.”

Three of the four band members work as teachers, with Richards and Balbaugh teaching music and Voisine working as the Dean of Western High School in Auburn.

“Learning how to play music and getting involved with music helped me find who I was,” said Voisine, “Teaching has done that, too. When you go and work with kids, the energy they give back to you is phenomenal. I never have a bad day because of kids.”

Studies show that music benefits the youth in a number of ways. The dedication to learning an instrument brings the patience needed to learn new skills. Music also inspires brain development for young children. Playing an instrument translates to better success in school as well.

But when children look to the future, it’s difficult to see their interest in music as a career plan. The group describes the importance of children having a musical influence in their education that actively pursues the industry, as well as dispelling social stereotypes of life as a musician.

“Musicians have a stigma. It’s all centered around sex, drugs, and rock and roll. That used to be – that’s not anymore. It’s different. Musicians are different people now.” said Bennett.

Bennett is the owner of SB2 Renovations in Burton. With 30 years of performing experience, he describes musicians as needing a very different skill set than they did years ago.

“Everything is very smart now. It’s very educated, very intelligent, very direct. Where a lot of bands were just aimlessly doing whatever, playing any gig wherever they can get. And it was tough because there was no communication. There was no internet, no form to communicate. It’s all different now. It takes a smarter person to do this.”

Adaboy!’s debut album is set to release this fall. The group will perform at the Chalk Walk Art Festival in Bay City on Aug. 17 and will have a radio interview/performance with WYCE 88.1 FM on Aug. 23. For news and additional touring dates, visit the band’s Facebook page here.

Signup for Email Alerts