Michael Murphy, surrounded by instruments and recording equipment, plays the electric guitar.
Michael Murphy sits for a portrait in Sol Studios in Lawrence’s Music-Drama Center. (Photo by Danny Damiani)

For Lawrence University junior Michael Murphy, there has never been any question of what he wants to do with his life. Growing up in a family of musicians, Murphy has always loved creating music and performing on stage, so it’s no surprise that he is already deeply immersed in the music world.

Murphy, pursuing a bachelor of musical arts (B.M.A.) degree in the Conservatory of Music, is from nearby Neenah, and he’ll have an opportunity to show his skills Dec. 23 when he performs a holiday concert with a popular local R&B band, STEEM, at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton. He’s been performing regularly with the band, led by vocalist and saxophone player Michael Bailey and singer-songwriter Steve March-Tormé, son of the iconic Mel Tormé.

“STEEM is very much like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chicago,” Murphy said. “Our summer stuff is a lot more of the funk/jazz fusion, funk-rock, pop-rock instead of classic rock, and right now Christmas rock.”

Murphy is one of the guitarists and vocalists for STEEM. The Dec. 23 show, set for 7:30 p.m., is part of their Christmas tour, For Kids From One to Ninety-Two, taken directly from the lyrics of The Christmas Song as a tribute to Mel Tormé. The band has performed its holiday show throughout Wisconsin and into Minnesota and Upper Michigan in recent weeks.

Information and tickets for the Fox Cities PAC show can be found here.

Murphy started playing with STEEM because of his connections with Bailey, who leads another popular local band, Vic Ferrari. That band has an annual show called Symphony on the Rocks, which Murphy’s mom has been playing with as a violinist for 10 years.

Murphy had been performing with his family band, Murphy’s Law, and also separately with his brothers in their band, Hewit, for a couple of years. His mom suggested to Bailey that they play during Vic Ferrari’s intermissions.

“Mike had known us from coming to the shows and watching us grow up, basically,” Murphy said.

That eventually led to other opportunities, including an invitation to join STEEM.

Murphy said he took his musical training to another level when he enrolled at Lawrence.

The work he’s done in the Conservatory has allowed him to grow with his music. He had hesitated at first to apply to Lawrence because he wasn’t sure he wanted to go to school so close to home. But when the Conservatory unveiled its new B.M.A. degree, focused on jazz and contemporary improvisation, it quickly became his top choice.

He has played with Conservatory ensembles and worked closely with Conservatory faculty while continuing to play with all of his local bands.

“It has been greatly humbling to play with these groups and to have this education,” Murphy said. “I play with much more patience now and it has allowed me to have more confidence to play. At the same time, I’m encouraged to take risks and I’m able to try new things here with my music.”

Michael Murphy

Class Year: 2023

Major: Guitar

Hometown: Neenah, Wis.

Activities: Sol Studios, Music Performance