Faculty Spotlight: Adjunct Professor J. Michael O’ Neal (MA ‘12), Music Department

What are your ultimate goals when it comes to teaching the next generation? “I teach to see students get it. I want them to be an influence, be inspired, and be the best artist they can be. As an educator, I know that every student I teach may take a totally different path, but when I have students who if nothing else become amazing consumers of good art, it furthers the beauty of what we do.”

What have you learned about yourself or your worldview from teaching college students? “I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’ve learned a lot about different walks of life. Because most of what I teach is individualized lessons, I get a chance to be a musical mentor to all of my students. By being a mentor I learn a lot about what’s inside of me because their needs kind of pull out what’s inside of me. Some of these students over time become like family. Because I'm one-on-one, I see more things than other teachers so I can tell if a student is not having a great day. I see them and their ups and downs, and many times I find myself praying for them.”

Please describe a favorite memory from your time at APU. “As a graduate student, I loved the Big Band rehearsals, the jazz ensemble with Dave Beatty. These were the most significant to me because I was able to watch his teaching style and also experience the way the band was a family. We did a lot of things together and supported each other away from campus, and to this day some of us support each other in the same way as we did all those years ago.”

What has been your proudest moment of your career so far? “At 19 I had the opportunity to do a tour with the Dynamic Twins and DC Talk. I don’t think I even understood the significance of how big the artists were, I just knew I loved music and I got the opportunity to play music with cool people.

Where do you pull inspiration from in your craft? “I played the Long Beach Jazz Festival solo, and the last song I performed is an original called “Stepping Out,” which I explained is inspired by a message that my dad had preached. At the end of the set, everyone was congratulating me, and these two ladies asked me if I could pray with them, and I was thinking, “I’m an artist, not a preacher.” I did end up praying with those ladies and they cried and I had no idea it was a mother and daughter, who had just lost their husband and father, who was a preacher. I knew exactly what they were talking about because I lost my dad who was a preacher and here I was 10 years later being able to share empathy because I had also experienced it. This instance reminds me how our art is a way to encourage people.”

What’s your advice to someone pursuing a career in the field you teach? “I want to encourage students to be the best version of you. There will never be another you; be whoever God’s called you to be. You can change the world through your art. Even when it seems like no one is paying attention, sometimes people are blessed by our lowest moments.”

J. Mike performed a sold-out show titled “J. Mike and Friends” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts as part of their Summer Sounds series. He also has been involved with movie scores including Fruits of the Heart and Netflix’s You Light Up My Christmas. Be on the lookout for his upcoming release, “Winelight.”


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