Michael Heavner has a deep-seeded love of music and began taking piano lessons at the age of 7. His mother bought him his first guitar from a garage sale when he was 12. Since he is left-handed, he was so engrossed in learning how to play the instrument that he didn’t even realize he was playing it with the strings upside down for an entire year.
After his mother passed away when he was 14, Heavner lived with an older brother. He moved out at 17, and music has pretty much been his life ever since.
“I grew up playing in a rock band and dropped out of high school,” Heavner said. “One day, I woke up and said, ‘What the heck did I do?’ I got my GED and then came to UA Little Rock to take voice, piano, and guitar lessons. Then they gave me a scholarship to be a music major.”
Heavner earned a Bachelor of Music in piano performance from UA Little Rock in 1998. Even before his graduation, he worked as a musical director, keyboardist, and conductor for several theatrical productions that went on national tours.
He’s worked on productions at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, such as “Always Patsy Cline,” “Blues in the Night,” “The Sound of Music,” “DreamGirls,” “Annie,” “My Fair Lady,” and “The Full Monty.” He is very active in the field of recording arts technology and produces custom recorded musical orchestrations for many regional theatres in central Arkansas. Nearly every Saturday night, Heavner can be found playing country music at Jimmy Doyle’s Country Club in North Little Rock.
In 2006, his national touring days were limited to the summer months as he joined UA Little Rock as an instructor in both the Department of Music and the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. At the university, Heavner wears many hats – as an instructor, musical director, dance musician, and website and social media manager for the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. He’s even worked a few semesters concurrently as a guest musical director and pianist at Hendrix College and Artist in Resident at the University of Central Arkansas.
In 2016, Heavner decided to pursue a graduate degree at UA Little Rock to be a better instructor for his students. He will graduate May 12 at the Jack Stephens Center with a Master of Arts in interdisciplinary studies.
“I have had instructor status for quite some time, and I felt that to serve the UA Little Rock students better as an instructor, I personally wanted to expand my education and knowledge of Blackboard,” he said. “I am dedicated to lifelong learning. In addition, I play piano for ballet and modern dance classes, so I wanted to study piano techniques, music composition, and jazz since it has been so long since I have had my formal music training.”
The Interdisciplinary Studies program at UA Little Rock allowed Heavner to create a program that met his unique educational and professional interests. He studied music, rhetoric and writing, and interdisciplinary studies courses.
“The Interdisciplinary Studies program has been amazing,” he said. “It’s the only program where you can tailor it to your specific needs of study. There is no other program like it.”
His favorite professors, many of whom are his colleagues, included Naoki Hakutani, Tom Richeson, Robert Boury, and Rolf Groesbeck from the Department of Music as well as Jan Thomas from the Department of Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Studies, J. Bradley Minnick and Angela Hunter from the Department of English, and Karen Kuralt from the Department of Rhetoric and Writing. Heavner is also thankful to Dr. Daryl Rice, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, for serving as his administrative advocate and mentor.
His final project for his master’s degree, “Music for Martha,” is an educational website that Heavner hopes will serve as a resource for dance and music students, teachers, and researchers.
The website is dedicated to Martha Graham, an American modern dancer and choreographer for over 70 years. Her style, the Graham technique, is widely regarded as the first codified modern dance technique and is taught worldwide.
“I played piano for Martha Graham technique classes here at UA Little Rock from 2008 to 2016, and it is so unlike any other dance technique that I had to research to find out more about Martha Graham,” he said.
The website includes online educational resources about Graham as well as 25 original pieces of music composed specifically for beginning students of the Graham technique.
“I am the kind of person who takes things day by day,” Heavner said. “I got that degree to be a better employee and to be a better teacher to my students. I wanted to know what it is like to be a student in this day and age, to see what this generation of students is experiencing in class.”
For additional information about Heavner, visit michaelheavner.com.
In the upper right photo, Michael Heaver plays the piano for dance students at UA Little Rock. Photo by Ben Krain.