There are only 12 unique tones in music, but a skilled composer can rearrange those sonic building blocks to form an infinite number of melodies. No one understands the far-reaching application of that concept better than Michael Burns—not only because he’s formally educated in musical composition, but also because he’s rearranged the building blocks of that education to form the foundation of a whole new career path.
A born-and-raised Arizonan, Michael grew up playing any musical instrument he could get his hands on, and by the time he graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in music education and performance, he had mastered 11 different instruments. Among them: piano, saxophone, bassoon, tuba, clarinet, oboe, trumpet, baritone, and flute. He even joined a steel pan band one semester during college. “Music is the way that I can most naturally express myself,” Michael said. “I’m not naturally a people person, but music has helped me relate to other people.”
As a student, Michael—who was the president of ASU’s music ed club—dreamed of becoming a school band director. But once he started working in the public education sector—first at the elementary school level and later, at a Phoenix-area high school—Michael realized that, while he loved teaching in a private, one-on-one setting, the school classroom environment just wasn’t what he’d envisioned. “Public school teaching just wasn’t for me,” he said. “It was time for a change.”
That’s when Michael’s wife, Lindsey, told him about the physical therapy software company where one of her good friends worked. From what he heard, WebPT’s signature company culture sounded like exactly the change of tune he needed. So, he applied for—and got—a job as a representative on WebPT’s stellar Support Team. A few months later, a new-Member training position opened up, and Michael jumped at the opportunity to expand his customer service repertoire. Plus, he figured that working as a trainer would allow him to put all of his teaching skills to good use—and he was right. “As a teacher, I bring to the table the idea of curriculum design, which is basically just taking a large task and breaking it down into several digestible chunks,” he said. Another concept that crosses over from classroom education to technical instruction: presenting material in a variety of ways to cater to different learning styles. “It’s about understanding what people need and finding a way to help them be successful,” he said. “That might mean taking one topic and communicating it in several different ways.”
But Michael’s role isn’t limited to conducting live training sessions. In fact, he and the rest of the training team devote a significant portion of their time to improving current training processes as well as spearheading entirely new training-related initiatives—the online learning management system (LMS), for example. Michael has even had the opportunity to take the reins on an entire project: the PQRS Professor, which provides interactive online training on how to use WebPT’s very popular PQRS service. And it won’t be long before Michael and his colleagues start designing training materials for WebPT’s soon-to-be-released ICD-10 tool. “I love that I have the ability to own projects,” Michael said. “It really balances out my creativity and my analytical skills.”
When he’s not coming up with fresh ideas for educating WebPT’s growing Member base, Michael spends as much time as he can with Lindsey and their kids, three-year-old Oliver and 18-month-old Rowan. And while he doesn’t have much time to write and perform music anymore, he does give the occasional private concert to his family. Oh, and every day at about 2:00 PM, he starts drumming his fingers on his desk—a habit his coworkers have affectionately dubbed his “percussion.” So, the music is still very much alive inside of this former Mozart-in-training.
And even though his name might not appear in musical theory books alongside the likes of the great Amadeus, Michael is more than happy with the way his notes have fallen into place—and he’s excited to find out what other rhythms, melodies, and key changes life has in store for him.
Fave Five with Michael
- Favorite food: Pancakes
- Favorite movie: Snatch
- Favorite sports team: Phoenix Suns
- Favorite musician: Sufjan Stevens
- Favorite place: London