When most people think of Lebanon, blues music probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But while most of the country was listening to Arabic music, or even some American pop and rap, UMHB graduate student Michael Kattan was finding his musical influence from B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“It goes to your soul,” he said.
Kattan grew up in southern Lebanon, where he learned to play guitar in his early teenage years from his dad.
“He taught me some of the first things he knew, and that’s where I started to love music,” he said.
Since then, Kattan has built quite a resume when it comes to instruments, one that includes bass, drums, piano, harmonica and the accordion.
“Music is my life,” he said. “I don’t know why, but I’ve had this interest for music since I was really young.”
While he enjoys country, rock and the blues, there’s another genre that’s close to Kattan’s heart – worship.
Lebanon is a predominantly Islamic nation; however, there is also a fairly large population of Christians, though many do not live out the faith.
“There’s a big number of Christians, but they’re just Christians by ID, not believers,” Kattan said.
He grew up leading worship services with his father and aunt at a Baptist church in the small community where he is from, as well as during chapel at his college in Beirut, the country’s capital.
Kattan said that most of the time the two religious groups live with one another peacefully, but at times it is hard for Christians there to express their beliefs openly, something he has come to appreciate about UMHB.
“Seeing people all around from similar faith and being able to talk about faith and worship and play worship wherever I want, whenever I want, it’s different for me,” he said. “I feel more free in my faith.”
Kattan came to the university last fall to get his master’s in business administration.
Though it is his first time in the country, Kattan has had no trouble adjusting.
“I had this love for the U.S. even before I came here,” he said.
He was introduced to UMHB with help from Dr. Nabil Costa of the Lebanese Baptist Society and through Costa’s connections with the Consortium of Global Education.
During Kattan’s application process, the CGE contacted Associate Professor and Director of the Master’s Program in Business Administration and Master’s Program in Information Systems Dr. Terry Fox, who thought Kattan would be a great fit for the M.B.A. program
“He greatly impressed me and the other faculty members,” he said.
Because Fox was also impressed with Kattan’s work ethic and academic performance, Fox asked that Kattan serve as his graduate assistant.
“He’s probably one of the hardest working students that I’ve had in a long time,” Fox said.
On the first Sunday of the fall semester, also his first at the university, Kattan attended First Baptist Church in Belton, where Associate Professor and Music Department Chair Mark Humphrey leads worship.
Following the service, Kattan found Humphrey in the church parking lot to tell him that he was interested in playing for FBC. A few weeks later, he was able to begin leading worship with the rest of the band, playing guitar and, more recently, bass.
Humphrey has been impressed with Kattan’s skill.
“For a musician in a church band, he’s got pretty solid theory chops, ability to understand keys and stuff like that, so that’s not too common,” he said.
Unlike most musicians, Kattan not only had to learn all of the skills that go along with playing an instrument well, but he had to learn to do it with only one hand.
Though he was born without a right hand, Kattan does not see it as an obstacle and has not let it hinder his passion.
“I’m just blessed,” he said. “I have this love for music, and God helped me learn and play. Nothing is impossible. I want people to see that no matter who they are, no matter what they are, no matter what’s wrong with them, they still can do whatever they want.”
Instead of allowing his physical condition to set limitations for him, Kattan wants to use it as an advantage.
“I’m trying to make this an ability rather than a disability,” he said.
His confidence and openness about the subject are evident.
“He seems to me to be very comfortable in his own skin,” Humphrey said. “He’s a very unique person in that way.”
Humphrey sees the absence of Kattan’s hand as something that can serve to reflect God to the congregation as Michael plays with the worship team.
“I think it’s a unique visual reminder of the complexity of the world and the creator and the human spirit,” Humphrey said. “What a picture.”
Though he was involved with his church back home, Kattan said that playing at FBC and in the U.S. in general has been unique and something he enjoys.
“I’m just connecting with God,” he said. “I’m happy that I’m getting to connect with him in a bigger setting. Bigger people, bigger sound, bigger everything. It’s a nice experience.”
When it comes to the future, Kattan is still trying to figure out how to combine his love for music with business and maybe his undergraduate studies in computer science. But while his plans are uncertain, there is one thing he knows for sure.
He said, “Music is going to stay always with me, no matter what I study and no matter what I do.”