Jonah Powell: Making Music in Michigan

Jonah Powell ’02 is the director of both a church and community choir, a member of four bands, an audio engineer, and an instrument repairman. It’s no surprise that he graduated from Alma College with a degree in music.

<em>Jonah Powell</em> Jonah PowellWhen Jonah Powell ’02 was approaching graduation from Alma College, he still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.

Choir accompanist Anthony “Tony” Patterson gave him a nudge in the right direction.

“Tony really helped facilitate me pursuing grad school,” Powell says. “He was the one who helped me figure out going to Ohio University; that’s where he did his work.”

Powell went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, to get a master’s in vocal music. He was there for two years, but decided that it wasn’t for him.

“I realized that I didn’t want to do vocal performance in the traditional sense,” he says.

But as fortune would have it, Athens was the same city in which Dan Erlewine — one of the top two guitar repairmen in the United States— resided. Powell did an apprenticeship with him for two-and-a-half years.

Playing in Multiple Bands

He moved back to Leelanau County where he’d grown up to pursue a job repairing instruments at a music store. The job didn’t last long, he says, but it got him to move back.

“Then everybody started discovering that I played violin/fiddle,” he says.

He plays in four bands: Cabin Fever and Runaway Mule, a pair of bluegrass bands; Hot Biscuits, a Western swing and rockabilly band; and K. Jones and the Benzie Playboys, which plays Cajun and zydeco music. He also does live sound reinforcement — providing the sound system and mixing — for festivals and concert series.

Powell also works as the music director at Suttons Bay Congregational Church, where he directs a choir of 12 to 25 people for nine months out of the year.

“I have a more flexible schedule because the choir doesn’t sing in the summer,” he says. “That gives me the ability to go perform with various bands during the festival season.”

Emulating Directing Style of Will Nichols

He also works as the choir director of the Leelanau Community Choir, where he directs about 35 people. The choir does two large performances per year — a Christmas concert and a spring concert.

“Both of these are where my Alma College training has really come into play,” he says. “Having sung under Will Nichols for four years while I was there, I had a very good background for leading a choir.”

Powell says the experience was second to none; emulating the directing style of Nichols — or “Doc” as his students call him — helped Powell until he was able to develop his own style.

His love for music started young.

“When I was 3 years old, I saw Itzhak Perlman play violin on Sesame Street, and I said to my mother, ‘I want to do that,’” he says.

He started taking violin lessons when he was 4, and continued through high school before switching to voice as his primary “instrument.” Today he plays the violin/fiddle, mandolin and guitar and repairs fretted instruments as a side business.

Story published on May 02, 2016