Because of COVID-19, HCC songwriting instructor reaches across state lines

Nov 4, 2020

Houston Community College (HCC) songwriting instructor and two-time Dove Award winner V. Michael McKay may have inspired gospel audiences for almost 50 years, but this is the first time a student says he has helped find her “flow and rhythm” without seeing his face and from across state lines. Because of COVID-19, all of McKay’s students are taking his classes online, instead of the classroom, but sophomore Jasmine Jemison is learning from her home in Little Rock, AK.

“He has taught me so much,” says Jemison, adding that McKay makes the most of the virtual experience. “We have never seen his face, but between him and his piano, we feel like we have.”

Jemison attended HCC while living in Houston, during her freshman year and intended to return for the Fall semester, “but then COVID hit.” She says that distance learning was difficult, at first, but she began to see a silver lining.

“I’m an ‘in-person’ kind of person, but I realized it was better than forcing my furniture into my car, not knowing what was going to happen with COVID,” says Jemison. “Now I love it, and Mr. McKay has taught me so much about how to structure a song.”

Jemison says that, even though she has taken some sort of music class since middle school, McKay has taught has helped her “tremendously.”

McKay, who has been teaching Introduction to Songwriting for HCC’s Visual and Performing Arts Center of Excellence for three years, also hosts “Truth” on KTSU-Radio every Sunday night.

In addition, he is an inductee to the Gospel Hall of Fame, and his songs have been covered by such national artists as Grammy-winner Yolanda Adams, Tramaine Hawkins, Albertina Walker, Shirley Cesar, Bishop Paul Morton, Byron Cage, Brian Courtney Wilson and Kathy Taylor. Adams and the renowned Kirk Franklin have been guest lecturers for his classes.

For those classes, McKay says he is simply affirming the students’ gifts and talents so that they can discover what to develop within themselves, in what he calls “the whole person.”

“Once we discover who we are, then we can tap into it, but some [of the students] are not aware of who they are,” he says. “They have to discover their own story.”

Both McKay and Jemison say a critical component of his teaching structure is a collaborative approach, using accountability partners in class, especially during this period of uncertainty. For example, another out-of-town student from Beaumont struggled with completing coursework during recent hurricane threats, so McKay not only offered leniency, but her partnership allowed her classmate to assist during that time.

“It’s an ‘iron sharpens iron’ approach,” says McKay, explaining that classmates evaluate each other’s work, but they also develop trust, which helps them later to work within a community, “There is no right or wrong to what you create, but the Number One person you need to trust is yourself.”

Spring Registration for the Music Business Program, which includes Introduction to Songwriting 1321, has begun. Student’s in the program study art and design, earning an Associate of Applied Science degree or Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates while learning to work in the music industry as arrangers, songwriters and producers, as well as performers. To enroll, call 713-718-2000 or visit hccs.edu/apply.


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