Dr. Mike Lopinto is the PR/Marketing Coordinator for the School of Music at The University of Southern Mississippi. Under his professional leadership, Lopinto has brought a high level of recognition to the arts programs at the University, as well as the state of Mississippi. Last year, he received the Themis Award, an annual award given to an outstanding Southern Miss administrator, professor, staff member or individual who has contributed to the success of the orchestra and its members, and the Alumni Distinguished Service Award for his outstanding service to the University presented by the Gold Leaf Society, a secret Southern Miss honor organization. He took a few moments recently to reflect on his current responsibilities and outside interests in a question-and-answer format.
Q: What is your hometown and educational background?
A: I was born in New Orleans, moved to McComb, Miss., then Austin and Houston, Texas. I have a Bachelor of Music Education, Master of Music and Doctorate of Musical Arts from USM.
Q: How long have you worked at Southern Miss, and what did you do before coming to the University?
A: I have been at USM, this tour, since 2002 (14 years). Previously, I worked while an undergrad and graduate student from 1986 – 1993.
Q: What instrument do you play, and do you play more than one?
A: My primary instrument is bassoon. As a band director and performing musician, I have played or taught almost everything. I have performed on all woodwind instruments, most brass and percussion, and even harp and piano. I also sing and have performed classical to popular music.
Q: Do you ever get the chance to perform in any musical performances?
A: I do. On bassoon, I have played with almost every regional orchestra within 100 miles at some point and continue to do gigs occasionally. Singing, I have been on stage for many productions of The Hub City Players, HCLO, USM and more.
Q: How do you think your professional background in music has prepared you for your current position as PR/Marketing Coordinator?
A: I have always been a planner/promoter. I LOVE performing and performers. Helping them have a full house is always my goal. I am also a people person; I enjoy being on stage and connecting with audiences. I try to replicate that in my social interaction, whether in person or through marketing channels. Life is about experiences and interactions; I try to make all of mine, and events I control, a great experience. That’s what we remember.
Q: How did you come to choose music and marketing as a professional career? Where there certain life moments that guided you toward that direction?
A: I honestly think I was born into it. I have always known I would be involved with music in some fashion. Everything I do has music at its core somewhere. I also believe firmly that what we take away for anything is the experience. Good or bad, we may not remember the details, but we know how it made us feel. I try to do things that create memorable situations – print, live, electronic, music, art, theatre, food – it’s all part of the equation.
Q: What is one of your favorite performances you helped planned for the School of Music and why?
A: I have been fortunate to have been a part of so many, but I think the one where I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that we had created a moment of magic, was the event with Placido Domingo on the Gulf Coast. I literally stood in the wings and kept thinking, “Where am I?” It was surreal. Other notable events are the Symphony Galas, Mary Poppins and FestivalSouth.
Q: What has been your proudest accomplishment while working with the University and why?
A: I love watching students have life-changing experiences. Sometimes, all the hard work, the countless hours and the blood, sweat and tears, are eclipsed by excitement, passion and a unified joyfulness as you realize the magic you are creating. It’s been close many times, but to date, that singular experience, touching ALL of those elements was directing Mary Poppins.
Q: If there is anyone you could perform with, who would it be and why?
A: This is an impossible question. I have such eclectic tastes, and I don’t really consider myself a performer of any great merit at any one specific thing. It could be anyone from Bette Middler to Annie Lennox and Barbara Streisand to a host of Broadway notables.
Q: If you weren’t employed in your current job, what else might you be doing and why?
A: I would love to be able to work as totally a creative concept person in a large scale environment where someone else worries about all the tech, the budget and promotions. I’d love to create a Cirque show, Vegas production, something similarly off-the-wall, or even a concert event for a celebrity a la Celine Dion.
Q: What do you like to do during your spare time when you’re not working?
A: What is the spare time you speak of? I love to be around people, so anything that brings us together, even if we “talk shop,” is ok by me. Movies, day trips, dinners and just relaxing from what is a VERY busy schedule.
Q: What is your favorite genre of music?
A: I have such eclectic tastes. As I was packing to move recently, I found CDs covering almost all of the classical repertoire, Broadway, rock, disco, country, contemporary Christian and more. I enjoy amazing singers and talent of any genre.
Q: What is your favorite aspect of working in a university environment?
A: The students. Period. I am blessed to be around some of the most talented, engaging and aspiring creative people. They bring with them a wealth of talent and excitement that I am fortunate, in some small way, to be a part of.
Q: What little known fact would people find surprising about you?
A: I have judged marching band, color guard and drum corps internationally; taught color guard; and studied ballet with former Kansas City Ballet member and modern choreography with former Alvin Ailey member several years each.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever received and from whom?
A: Dream big. Work hard. Love people. I received this not in words so much, but by example from my parents.
Q: What advice would you give to others?
A: Dream big. Work hard. Love people. It truly is the secret to life.