Q&A: Mikah Meyer of Canyon Chorus on Music, Mentorship, and Advocacy

Lauren Potter Jun 20, 2024

Learn more: inspiration, voices for change

canyon chorus documentary cover with two men, larry and mikah, excitedly rafting down a river

Mikah Meyer is no stranger to the choral music world. With a dream of becoming a professional singer in the renowned group Chanticleer, Mikah's path took an unexpected turn when he decided to pursue his passion for travel and the great outdoors. In the mini-documentary "Canyon Chorus," we follow Mikah on an adventure down Utah's Green River, reflecting on his journey of self-acceptance, LGBTQIA+ advocacy, and how one choir director fundamentally changed the course of Mikah’s life for the better. I had the privilege to chat with Mikah about his unique journey, his collaboration with Eddie Bauer, and the profound impact of mentorship on his life.

Join me as I delve into the story behind "Canyon Chorus," exploring how Mikah's love for music and the outdoors intertwine, and the powerful message of authenticity and inclusivity that he brings to the forefront. You can also skip to the end to watch the documentary first!

Lauren: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Mikah! So, your journey from choral singer to Canyon Chorus is quite unique! I’m curious to know, how did this collaboration with Eddie Bauer come about?

Mikah: From 2016 to 2019 I set a world record visiting all of America's 400+ National Park Service sites. When I finished that, Eddie Bauer reached out to me and asked if I’d like to be a brand ambassador to help people get out and experience nature, to enjoy our parks and to help people feel like they can bring their authentic selves to outdoor spaces. That was in 2019, and each year of working with them, I would get promoted within their ambassador program.

By 2023, I reached the level of some of their other sponsored people who all had documentaries made about them. And so Eddie Bauer essentially said, “It's your turn to get a documentary… What do you want your story to be about?” And, I said, “There is a really special story that hasn't been told yet... I would like to tell the story of my choir director, Larry, and how he had the same name as my dad, Larry, who passed away–which is what inspired the whole national parks journey.” And they took me up on it!

Lauren: With so many facets of your life converging in one special project, I’m sure it’s hard to capture in just a few words. But, for our readers who haven’t had the chance to watch the documentary yet, can you tell us what the documentary is about?

Mikah: The story is about me, but it's not actually about me. It's actually about Larry, but it's not actually about Larry. It's about all of us. It's about anyone who's ever felt different — anyone who's ever felt like they weren't what society expected them to be. And it's about mentors and how they come in the most unexpected places, and how teachers, especially music teachers, are a lot more than just teachers; they guide us through so much more than the subject matter of a course.

Lauren: Tell me about your musical background. Did you grow up in a musical family or was it something that you sought out on your own?

My mom was a high school music teacher and all three of my older sisters did dance squad, choir, and musical theater, so whenever they needed a kid for one of their musicals, they’d use me. Music was just honestly all I knew. And by the time college came around, I had been doing music my whole life, so it just made sense for me to major in music.

Lauren: And what inspired your love of the outdoors?

Mikah: I think a lot of people can relate to this, but I just didn't feel like I fit in where I grew up.

Growing up as a closeted gay man of faith, I never had an example that I could be both. And my ‘escape’ to cope with that was to watch The Travel Channel and to see these bigger, more diverse places out there in the world. And I just knew if I could get there, that my life would be different.

And so travel for me has always sort of been this opportunity to be somewhere I felt safer, where I felt like I could be myself. Ever since I was old enough to travel on my own, I've done it as much as possible.

When I was a kid, we never really did much outdoorsy stuff. But when I went away to college, I found a campus ministry and the pastor was a big fan of the outdoors. He shared that he had a goal to visit every National Park in America, and I was like, “That’s a pretty darn cool goal!”

I thought about that for years and when I turned 30, I decided I would do that, too.

a large cathedral with a lot of light coming through the windows

Lauren: You also had a goal to join Chanticleer by the time you were 30. Can you tell me how the two goals are connected and what inspired you to blend your passion for music with your love for the outdoors?

Mikah: Well, by the time I was in high school, I had a very “unique” voice–you could say–for a high school student. Even when my speaking voice changed, I kept singing in my head voice, not my chest voice. And I had a student teacher who said, “You don't sound like other voices Mikah. You sound like the men who sing in this group called Chanticleer.”

And so, beginning at age 17, my goal was to get into Chanticleer. I actually sent them an audition tape as an 18-year-old because I thought, “Well, maybe no one that young has ever been in the group because no one that young has ever applied?!”

(I did not get hired, but that became my goal.)

All I wanted was to be in Chanticleer. So I could be around other countertenors.

When I went to college at 19, I walked into my academic advisor and asked, “What classes do I have to take to get into Chanticleer?” I applied several times over the years. And eventually I said to myself, if I don't get into Chanticleer by the age of 30, then I'm going to pursue my other dream–which is to travel and work as a TV travel host.

By the time I finished grad school, I finally got accepted to be a finalist for Chanticleer… But I still didn’t get accepted. Then I sang with the National Cathedral Choirs and kept being just a finalist every year until I reached 30.

And so, the parks journey happened!

It was actually my choir director from the National Cathedral who gave me the idea to incorporate music into my journey. When I shared that I was quitting the National Cathedral Choirs to do this parks journey, he told me that I should not forget my voice and that there are a lot of churches out there that would probably love to have me sing. But rather than asking for a fee, I should just offer to sing for free and set out a basket and say, “If you liked what you heard today and you'd like to support my parks journey, there's a basket in the back.”

And that's how I paid for the whole world record parks journey — by singing!

Lauren: A big part of the Canyon Chorus story touches on the impact Larry, your college choir director, has had on your life. Can you share more about how his mentorship influenced your personal growth and musical journey?

Mikah: Larry, my choir director, kind of saved my life at a time when Larry, my father, was dying.

When I was 16, my father was diagnosed with cancer, and right around his final months in hospice, I was auditioning for colleges and trying to get scholarships. I was 19 at the time, and my parents weren't able to contribute to my college costs, so I was basically going to go wherever I got the most scholarships.

One of my auditions was with Larry at the University of Memphis, where I was eventually accepted on a full-tuition voice scholarship. Two months after I was accepted, my dad passed away. Three months later I drove down to Memphis to start school and shook Larry's hand.

It wasn’t until 10 years later that I found out, after my audition, Larry had turned to the committee and said, “We have to do whatever it takes to get him here at this school."

It was what I needed to be able to finally leave my home for college, and everything that happened as a result of that, so Larry kind of saved my life.

Lauren: What was your first impression of Larry the choir director? Did you instantly sense that he would become such an important figure in your life?

Mikah: Honestly, I was terrified of him! He just seemed like this hard-ass choir teacher who did NOT mess around for that hour and a half. ‘Drill sergeant’ is what I called him because that's how he acted about music. He was the most militant, strict, serious choir director I had ever dealt with.

I was terrified of him because of his musical talent. But little did I know that this ‘terrifying’ choir director would become such an important role model for me. After the first week of class, he invited all the choir students to his house to bond and get to know each other out of the school setting. I walked in the door and met his partner Shane. I had no idea Larry was gay!

That was the beginning of a multi-year journey for me to accept myself.

Seeing how well-respected Larry was, and how he contributed so much to the music community in Memphis, was inspiring. His influence had a huge impact on me because it wasn't just about seeing a gay man surviving (which, even that was something I’d rarely seen). But it was about seeing a gay man thriving.

That's what really made me say, “Okay, I can come out and not have a horrible life.”

And what I didn't learn until years later was that, as a gay teacher who wouldn’t typically have been very accepted in a predominantly Baptist community like Memphis, Larry invited these students into his home as a way to show them the hospitality that they wouldn't show him. I look back at that now and see he was doing the best he could to say, “Even though we’re different, we're still one choir family.

multicolored heart LED light on wall

Lauren: Can you tell me more about your connection to music, and why it’s been such an important part of your journey?

Mikah: I think more than anything, music is about emoting and it's about taking feelings and a voice inside of us and letting it out so others can experience it. I've always been a verbal processor, so for me, processing is not about retreating somewhere by myself with a book and hiding; it's always been through action and outwardly processing. Even sharing this story, it's my way of grieving too; it’s a way to process losing my dad and how his life is still inspiring me now versus just keeping it to myself.

We all have emotions that we're asked to bring to our voice when we sing, and that we're asked to bring to our performances to inform the notes. And without those emotions and without those backgrounds, then we're just robots making pitches. But it's the emotions and letting them out and sharing them with others that makes music so powerful. I think that's kind of how I live musically even when I'm not singing. Sharing my story and sharing how I've coped with my father’s passing, how I tried to take a tragedy and turn it into something triumphant — this human experience is the basis of so much art. It’s somebody who’s grieving the loss of a loved one or of a love that is unrequited or of a joyful love. And then they write a piece of music because they want to express to the outward world, to other people's ears, how they're feeling inside.

And to me, what I’m doing is kind of the same thing. It's like, I'm not composing music, but I'm composing through sharing bits of my life with others.

Lauren: So, of all the musical avenues you could have taken, why has it always been chorus?

Mikah: Soloists are great. But when we sing in a choir, we take a physical act that is personal and individual, and it becomes communal.

If we don't each sing our part correctly, the music will sound bad.

But it's not just about us singing our part correctly, it's about balancing with everyone else in our group. It's about working together. It's like the difference between an individual sport and a team sport. Choir is a team sport! And I just think it's way more fun and beautiful to make music with others and combine to make something special; versus it just being me.

Lauren: Why is it important to you to make something meaningful with others?

Mikah: Not to get cheesy on you, but I spent three years visiting the most beautiful places in America, our national parks, and what I learned was that my favorite experiences were at all the parks that I visited where I either met somebody really interesting there or had a friend come along with me.

You can stare at the most beautiful sunset in America, but it doesn't mean a darn thing if you don't have someone to turn to and say, “Isn't that beautiful?”

When we experience beauty by ourselves, it’s not as radiant as when we experience beauty with others.

There's a cheesy phrase, a proverb that I've heard attributed to multiple different cultures–so who knows where it really comes from. But the saying is, “A grief shared is a grief halved and a joy shared is a joy doubled.”

I think that applies to every aspect of life and it certainly applies to singing.

Lauren: I've personally found your story so inspiring, Mikah! How do you hope that your story inspires others in the choral community?

Mikah: There’s a stereotype that gay men don't like the outdoors. And as a kid, I was called all sorts of gay slurs simply for being in choir. So, there are definitely stereotypes that boys who do choir “aren't” going to like sports, therefore they “aren't” going to like outdoorsy stuff. I think it's important to remember that as humans, we exist in multitudes, and we are complete people. You can love choir and love backpacking for a week without cell phone service, and that's totally normal.

Lauren: So, what’s the next stop on your journey?

Mikah: Next week I'm driving to Bentonville, Arkansas, for the next film festival that Canyon Chorus was selected for. Since they give every short film about two minutes afterward for a Q&A, I'm probably going to sing something, which is cool because film festival audiences don't usually get that. For them, it's fun to have this unexpected musical element added to an event that normally doesn't get it. So, I guess the lesson there is don't be afraid to take your music to unexpected places!

Lauren: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Mikah. It’s been an honor to learn more about you and your story. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Mikah: I’d just say to put on your ‘choral cap’ (or should I say ‘choral robe’?) while watching Canyon Chorus. There are a lot of little musical ‘Easter eggs’ in there that I think only musicians or choral singers will get!

Now I've got a question for you, Chorus Connection community:

Is there a choir director, music teacher, or mentor who has made a positive impact in your life?

We'd love to hear about the special people who have guided you on your journey, so give them a shoutout in the comments below!


Lauren Potter

Lauren Potter is a digital marketing consultant specializing in storytelling through brand management, content strategy, and integrated campaigns. As a former vocal performance major, Lauren has had the opportunity to perform with several choral ensembles in Arizona. Her first experience working with nonprofit arts organizations was as an intern with the Grammy-winning Phoenix Chorale, where she then joined the staff and led the organization’s patron services for nearly two years. To further her love of storytelling, Lauren ultimately graduated with a degree in journalism from ASU’s Cronkite School, and has gone on to lead the social media and marketing efforts for organizations spanning the nonprofit, public, and private sectors including Helios: A Modern Renaissance, Artlink Phoenix, Downtown Phoenix Inc., and Self-Care Society to name a few. In her work as a consultant (www.laurenpotter.online), Lauren helps human-centered organizations engage audiences, galvanize communities and drive brand awareness through compelling content and solid strategy. When she’s not serenading her two cats, Lauren can be found supporting the arts, eating tacos, and visiting family and friends in her homeland of Australia.

Lauren Potter