Connections to the community inspire a Bay City-raised artist to return to his roots

There are so many poignant (and not so poignant) phrases about home. It’s where the heart is. There’s no place like it. All roads lead to it. You can never go there again (although perhaps my story may prove otherwise). I think you catch the drift.

While many of these may ring true to some, they never connected with me. Ultimately there is an adjacent phrase that has become a personal mantra of sorts. Yes, it’s no secret that I pride myself on being a classically-trained musician with the graduate degrees and the student loan debt to prove it, but nonetheless I’ve embraced a phrase penned by the great country artist Zac Brown in the following lyric: I’ve got everything I want and nothin’ that I don’t. Homegrown.” 

As you can see the grammar is far from perfect, but there has never been a more perfect summation of my feelings about life, and, specifically, my feelings about life as a part of this community. 

Homegrown. Yes, like many of you, I was raised here, and, like many of you, I am very proud of that fact. While location is certainly an element, I think the embodiment of this idea of home runs far deeper than the zip code of your childhood house.

Dr. Matthew TravisDiscerning this elusive and intangible concept is a challenge. What is it that makes this such a special place? Truthfully, I don’t think I could put my finger on it until living in other parts of the country while quibbling, sometimes heatedly, over whether the sugary beverage is called “soda” or “pop”; genuinely wondering what New Yorkers meant as they waited on line (and not “in” line) to get in Yankee Stadium or a Broadway show; receiving politely quizzical looks as I smiled or greeted strangers on the street; and stares of disbelief as I asked a group of my seventh grade students to “take the sucker out of your mouths” as if the phrase had been uttered in Greek. (Lollipop is the word of choice in Connecticut/New York). 
My time in New York was great, there is no doubt about that. I had so many wonderful experiences there and ultimately met my wife, Dr. Amanda Travis - the most amazing person I have ever known. 

While this was a memorable period of my life, living out there never really felt like “home.” Despite being personally and professionally happy, I was missing the mitten. Then, somewhat unexpectedly home came calling - quite literally, when in November of 2016 Midland Center for the Arts offered me an exciting position as music director, running the choral program, and working with community artists in the theatre. 

At the time, I was ready to defend my dissertation and complete doctoral studies at University of Connecticut. I was on track to land a college job teaching classes, conducting ensembles, writing scholarly articles, and teaching courses – a path that I had spent a decade planning and preparing for and would likely have been wonderful. 

Despite the fact that it wasn’t on the career map that I had carefully charted several years prior, something told me that this professional left turn of sorts was the right decision. It absolutely was, and I am so glad we took the leap, packed the pets in the car, and moved back to Bay City to take the job at the Center - a position that has been far more fulfilling than I could have possibly conceived.

But why? Why has this situation been so professionally exhilarating?

I think about this often and, in truth, the reasons are many, but much of it has to do with the people. I love having the opportunity to collaborate regularly with so many that I admire deeply and admittedly grew up idolizing. 

Projects like producing shows featuring childhood mentors such as Leeds Bird and Kevin Cole have been so rewarding. I’ve loved making music annually with my best friend and sister, Katie, on the stage of the fantastic State Theatre, thanks to the hard work and generosity of Mike Bacigalupo.

It’s great fun for me to hop on Delta College Public Radio and be interviewed by my childhood violin teacher Rod Bieber and to utilize Catherine McMichael, who I have known roughly 30 years, as a collaborative pianist. 

I’m spoiled to have so many talented friends including Korie Lee Blossey and Ryan VanDenBoom and love our work on arts-related endeavors and engagement activities but also the exciting projects with Diane Fong and Bay Area Community Foundation.

I’m proud to be working in tandem with Trish Burns and Bay County Library System on a millage renewal committee to ensure the continuation of fantastic services and invaluable programs such as “Storytime,” which I enjoyed as a child and continue to enjoy through the eyes of my daughter,

Seeing my family, especially my parents, on a regular basis has been remarkable, and having them active not only in my life but the life of my daughter, all the while showing an unimaginable amount of love and affection, is something for which I am so thankful. 

It has been an unquantifiable honor to speak regularly at Bay City Central High School and address the minds of those attending my beloved alma mater, an alma mater that I share with my grandmother and will share with my daughter. I’ve said this often, and it’s 100% true, of all the schools and universities of which I have attended, there is no question that I am most honored to be a member of the Bay City Central Wolf Pack!

But what makes me most proud are the opportunities to merge personal and professional passions and to truly serve. Passions such as sending guest artists to Washington and Hampton elementary schools for engaging student assemblies. Initiating an after-school vocal music program at Kolb Elementary as well as in Bangor Township.

Sending masterclass clinicians and local Broadway artists to John Glenn High School and Central high schools, and leading some myself at Bay City Western, Gladwin, and schools in Midland and Saginaw.

These are the projects that get me most excited – the things that directly impact our region and specifically our young people. Yes, doing work like this would be rewarding in any part of the country, but it means so much more to be here. Here at home, in the area that has given so much to me and provided so many opportunities.

I’ve been fortunate to have lived many places and traveled extensively, but without question my great joy is to be here with all of you working together to make this community a better place in any way that we can. THAT is why I’ve got everything I want and nothin’ that I don’t.

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