Louisville Resident & Musician Micah Chandler Taps Into Everything the City Has to Offer
Writer / Carrie Vittitoe
If you spend a couple hours with Micah Chandler, you’re going to be introduced to a lot of people and you are going to be asked to either take photos of Micah and the folks he knows or be in a photo with Micah. It is almost certain you will be both photographer and subject at some point. It doesn’t matter where you are in Louisville, either, whether it is at Nulu or Audubon Park or Middletown. Micah is one of those individuals who everyone seems to know and love, and if they don’t do these two things, they at least recognize him from somewhere in Kentuckiana. For a man who isn’t a local meteorologist or Jack Harlow, that’s impressive.
Micah grew up in the west end of Louisville with his parents and several siblings and where he attended school, moving between Shawnee Elementary and Portland Elementary for various grade levels. He was born with cerebral palsy so he spent time in special education classes but it became clear that, despite his diagnosis, he still had untapped cognitive and adaptive skills . Eventually, he was mainstreamed into some regular classes.
“I got too smart with math. At the time, I was good at adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing,” Chandler says. It was towards the end of elementary school that he began learning music as part of an orchestra class. “I played the flute but didn’t like it. It didn’t work out,” he says.
When he started sixth grade at Noe Middle School, he continued music classes, and it was there that he switched to violin. “I picked up the violin and started playing. A month later, I was able to play Mozart’s Violin Concerto in G. It took a month to learn; it didn’t take much time. I kind of jumped ahead,” Chandler says. He also performed in all-county orchestra performances during his middle school career.
When it came time to think about high school, Micah applied to the Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS) and was accepted. It was there that he learned to play viola, although he initially didn’t like it because he had to learn a different scale. He adjusted after about a month, but says he still liked the violin because of the melody. “It was a good advantage for me to be able to do both,” he says. As he did during middle school, Chandler was able to take his talents beyond the school by performing in the Louisville Youth Orchestra and all-state orchestra.
Music continued to be a huge part of Micah’s life once he moved onto college. He went to the University of Louisville’s School of Music where he also learned to sing and play piano and was taught music history. He enjoyed playing in the school’s orchestra and had a special love for jazz violin. Even though music has long been Chandler’s big love, he ventured into new avenues by getting two associates degrees from Jefferson Community and Technical Colleges (JCTC); one in applied science and another in computer information systems.
During his time at University of Louisville, Chandler began volunteering for various organizations which he continues doing to this day. As a college student, he volunteered at the Red Barn, a multipurpose building on campus.
“I fell in love with the Red Barn and Cardinal Inn. I built up my relationships with a lot of University of Louisville people,” he says.
Chandler committed to doing the AIDS Walk in its early days while he was still a college student and collected $1,000 in a week. Another time, he collected $10,000 for the Walk MS fundraiser over the course of four months. Chandler says he had to pound pavement and knock on people’s doors to raise that amount in a short amount of time.
Nowadays, Chandler works one day a week at Maya Collection, a nonprofit in south Louisville that helps sell textile goods made by refugee women. He does whatever needs to be done, including cleaning up the parking lot, loading and unloading items and even making deliveries by using the TARC bus. “He helps us do random things. He is a great worker, and he wants to work. He brings joy to everyone he’s around,” Karen Aroh says, founder of MAYA Collection.
The other days of Chandler’s week are full of various activities: physical or occupational therapy, haircuts, a job at the Popcorn Station, playing in three different orchestras and volunteering at Hope Place in the South End. He’s gotten involved with Shine!, a prom-like event for individuals with developmental disabilities. On top of that, he can regularly be found at various community events like fairs, festivals, plays and musical performances, including his own performances when he sets up and plays his violin for those passing by.
“You gotta go where the people go,” he says.
Being around people has provided him so many great opportunities. “I wouldn’t be working for Aroh if I had stayed in one place. I wouldn’t know anything about SHINE! if I had stayed in one place,” he says. “I have to keep moving.”
Micah is both a night owl, going to bed around midnight, and an early bird, waking around seven in the morning.
His various activities keep him moving through the city of Louisville. Chandler says he doesn’t have a favorite spot but goes where he feels most comfortable and welcome. “I want to go to places where people understand me,” he says.
Feeling comfortable isn’t always easy for him because sometimes people don’t understand his developmental delays. After feeling unwell at a recent festival, Chandler went into a local establishment to use the restroom and was told by a bartender that the police would be called if Chandler didn’t leave. “I told him, ‘I’m just a handicapped person, and I’m sick,’” he says. Fortunately, when Chandler requested a manager, he was given the assistance he needed.
For someone so social, the past couple years with COVID-19 were an especially difficult time. The weeks and months of quarantines and canceled social events really made Chandler sad and out of sorts. Even though things have improved, people have developed a greater need for their physical space, a concept that he admits to struggling with. His friends talk to him about some of the social cues he doesn’t always understand on his own.
Still, Chandler stays focused on taking and making opportunities to network. His advice is sound no matter who you are or how old: “Go out there and explore.” And if you aren’t an extrovert and need a partner to help you become more social, Chandler is probably one of the best people around to help you navigate the Louisville social scene.