"What you meditate on, what you read, what you see, even in a song what you take in -- it shapes what you are."

Reed, with sheet music, sports his Teamster's shirt on the job.

Photo by Candace diCarlo

Housekeeping Staff, School of Nursing
Length of service: 7 1/2 years.
Other stuff: Likes to get in the car, turn on the music and drive. Plays video games with his son.

Michael Reed dreams of the day he will have a house with enough rooms for both his family and his music. "I'd turn up the stereo, play the piano," he said. But even without the music room, music plays a major role in his life.

Reed, 38, is a member of the Royal Priesthood, whose complex harmonies attract audiences and singers -- men and women -- from across the region. The group of 25 to 30 voices sings Negro spirituals and other religious music.

Reed is a hard-working man. He not only works for housekeeping ("Seven and a half years. A teamster is always worried about getting seniority, so I get that half in there."); he is an Amway distributor and sometimes drives a cab. But he still makes time for the music.

Q. How do you fit the music into your busy life?
I missed my last meeting. Our leader is like a mother figure. I know I'm going to get it.

Q. How did you learn about the Royal Priesthood?
I was actually out of work. I started driving a cab full time, and I'd either listen to gospel station WZZD or I'd play tapes. One of our regular custmers asked me about coming to audition for the group. She brought a tape in of the group. I listened to the tape. I had heard of the group, but I'd never had the opportunity to hear the Royal Priesthood live, only on Memorex.

Q. Have you ever sung solo?
I don't do solo work. I get nervous singing by myself. I'm a good background voice, a baritone. I sing first or second bass in the choir, occasionally some tenor.

Q. Tell me about your family.
I have a wife, Patricia. In February we were married 15 years. We have two children. Christopher, he's 13, and Shannon, she's 12, a very young sweet lady. My wife has done a good job with our children.

Q. Don't you get any credit?
I work a lot, so I give her credit. She's a very attentive mother. For most of our marriage, she's worked part time.

Q. What's most important to you when you listen?
I want to know what the words are saying, first. I enjoy instrumentation, the intricacies of symphonic music. I love the harmonies in more than four parts. We do intricate harmonies with maybe six or eight parts at a time.
   When you're coming up as a kid, you think a song's just a song. What you meditate on, what you read, what you see, even in a song what you take in, it shapes what you are.

Q. Where'd you grow up?
I grew up in West Oak Lane and went to Wagner Junior High School and Central High School. Like most kids, I listened to a lot of pop music at that time. I sang on the Central High School choir and in the church youth choir.

Q. What do you like doing most in the world?
I guess it would be a toss-up between driving and a new passion of mine. I'm learning about computers. Driving, it's very relaxing. The summer before I got married I drove by myself to Western Pennsylvania.I had an eight-track player, and I listened to music all the way. I love to play the organ. I've been playing by ear. At church, I help start the service and accompany some of the chorus.
   When I'm around people who improvise, it inspires me.
   It's incredible, when you're working with someone who truly has a gift creating chordal structure, interesting arrangements, and to be able to glorify God in the process and something comes together and it's right.
   One time I got a chance to see a videotape of our concert, and even on video, it was an incredible experience. It's a gift God has given me to be associated with the people. They're nice, they're loving, and it really is like a family.

Originally published on March 19, 1998