The Stage – How Michael Choate’s Passion for Music is Inspiring Generations to Come
Taped to Cookeville High School Choral Director Michael Choate’s desk is a quote he recites each year. It reads, “When you walk into the classroom today, remember, YOU are a piece of the puzzle of someone else’s life. Never underestimate the power of every moment to change someone’s life for the better. What you’re doing is important.”
As a music lover from an early age, Michael’s formative childhood piano lessons, combined with time in an all-state band ensemble in high school, motivated him to become a teacher. Mr. Choate reflected, “I think that undoubtedly, music is transformative. I knew I wanted to be that person who perpetuated the arts and kept inspiring the next generation.”
After graduating from Tennessee Tech University, Michael began his teaching career at Capshaw Elementary and then initiated a choral program at Avery Trace Middle School. After this, he became the Choral Director at Cookeville High School where he has been helping students express themselves musically for 20 years. One in particular whom he inspired and who he says, in turn, continues to inspire him, is his daughter, Emma.
“My earliest memories with Emma are at the piano with her dressed in her full Ariel regalia singing ‘Part of Your World’ at age five.” He continued, “I noticed really early on that music was going to be the source of her joy.”
Emma, herself now a teacher at Algood Middle School, has channeled this passion for music into a career. “My students come in and trust me with their voice, one of the most personal things about them,” she says. “They work together to create this group sound, they’re breathing together, they’re feeling pulse together, they’re getting to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” she shared.
Michael says it is the power of this shared experience that has sustained the program at Cookeville High School.
“I see music as a unifying force. I see it bring groups of people together that would have never been together for any other reason,” he says. “Suddenly, they have a common purpose.”
Reflecting on the power of family in his career, Michael stated, “I could not have been all that I am able to be to all the groups of students without an incredibly understanding family and a family that shares the same mission,” He continued, “Everyone who lives in my house has seen with their own eyes how students have been changed by this. And they know that this literally saves kids’ lives.”
He also attributes the continued growth and success of the program to wonderful school administrators, parents, and the community. “We couldn’t do this without them,” he said.
The Cookeville High School Choir has performed for prestigious associations, in legendary cathedrals, and at NBA games. Many students from the program have even gone on to work on Broadway, but Mr. Choate is most proud that his choir room has always been a safe space. He said he hopes students look back on this part of their high school education saying, “That was one of, if not the most, special part of my high school because it’s where I felt seen.”
The quote taped to his desk, a copy now on Emma’s as well, is a constant reminder of why Michael feels it his mission to teach music and why he continues pouring into the students at CHS. When asked, both Emma and Michael expressed gratitude for music’s ability to sustain them on difficult days and seasons.
“The thing that we have that other people don’t have,” Michael remarked with a slight grin, “is music.”
Michael Choate uses music to help students express themselves, find an authentic voice, and weather whatever life throws their way. By doing so, he honors the quote taped to his desk and makes Cookeville, Tennessee a stronger, more creative place to call home.
– by Jill Stalnaker, photos by Ben Weaver