Matt Jackfert is an icon to me. I am in awe of his being a composer of world class music while living here amongst us in Charleston. During our telephone interview his seriousness, depth, and modesty came through loud and clear. His responses to my questions were thoughtful and on point. He took me places I didn’t know I would go, just as his music can do.
Our interview confirmed that Matt is a multi-talented musician who is dedicated to creating and promoting music that people can enjoy and connect with on a deep emotional level that does not involve words. His work falls into three major areas.
His day job is to host classical music and present the early evening news for WV Public
Broadcasting. He enjoys showcasing and breaking down recordings that he loves.
During the pandemic he has also brought local performers into the station to play live with safety precautions as well as streaming music from elsewhere. He believes – and I totally agree with him – that classical music is needed more than ever during these trying times.
I remember a revelation during the turbulent sixties when I first heard a late Beethoven string quartet. When someone set me up to listen to a stereo record through earphones, I fully grasped that classical music was timeless and universal because it still spoke to me in the current moment.
This is the world that Matt lives in, is fully connected to, and is committed to sharing for the benefit of the rest of us.
Matt has a second job as a freelance composer for whatever comes his way that he has time to do. His compositions include pieces for concerts, radio, TV, commercials, documentary films, and video games. His music has been played in Charleston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, Washington DC, and other cities and on a total of four continents.
I was intrigued by Matt’s response to my question about how he composes. He starts at the piano with a nugget of an idea before moving to the computer. He creates different fragments and then goes back to compose a whole piece around them.
Matt answered my question about the kinship between music and math with the confidence of someone who experiences this kinship all of the time. He told me that both music and math include patterns, recognition, intervals, and transpositions.
One of the specific variables that he identified was the rate of change of a piece; a high rate correlates with an uneasy feeling and a low rate with a pleasant and stable one. I later thought about how this principle was demonstrated in a few specific scenes of movies that I have loved. These include “Jules and Jim,” “Matewan,” and my all-time favorite Fellini films – “La Strada,” “Juliet and the Spirits,” and “Americord.”
I was curious about how Matt’s education related to his music. He graduated from George Washington High School in Charleston, where he had an excellent music teacher. He studied music theory on his own and started composing with computerized performances after his teacher loaned him a music notation program.
Matt earned two bachelor’s degrees from WVU. One was in music composition and the other was in Chinese studies. He played the euphonium in the WVU wind ensemble. During his time there he had a piece read by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and he studied in China and Taiwan.
His master’s degree from the University of Texas in Austin was in music composition. His compositions were played by the UT wind ensemble and the UT symphony orchestra. For a year he conducted his own choir in both old and modern music.
Highlights of Matt’s college experiences included writing for ensembles for live performances and being critiqued by live musicians. He also enjoyed his experience conducting in a style that varied by the experience, with a preference for what he characterized as “medium hands on.”
I was surprised to learn that Matt has a third job playing trombone and keyboards for The Company Stores. He describes the music they play as Appalachian rock, which also includes drums, trumpet, electric fiddle, electric guitar, and electric upright bass. The band also includes an excellent vocalist.
The band plays mostly on weekends within West Virginia and surrounding states, including North Carolina and Virginia. They have also played in Maine, Florida, San Diego, and Seattle and performed for a national audience on Mountain Stage and recently began to record their third album.
Matt is very enthusiastic about everything he does now. I was also totally surprised to learn that his dream is to be able to earn a living as a composer of music for video games. He told me he grew up as a gamer and has a vision for how deeply resonating video music can be.
Two of Matt’s upcoming projects for Fall 2021 are a commission by the Tucker Community Foundation to compose a Canaan Valley Suite for a small chamber ensemble and a new piece for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra that will premier in October 2021 at the Clay Center in Charleston. This second piece, called “Social Dissonance,” is about the events that unfolded in 2020, including the pandemic and social unrest. Both of these new pieces promise to take us to new levels in our comprehension of places and events we may know well through our shared experiences here in our state.
When I asked Matt to share his thoughts about his sense of place here in Charleston, he said that he has the best of both worlds by having steady work here while also exporting his music to major cities. He likes the small town vibe, the peaceful community, and the easier lifestyle he experiences in Charleston. He feels life here is more manageable than it would be in a bigger city.
I asked Matt how he opens doors to be able to export his work. He said that it can be tough sometimes but that it helps that he is involved with a radio network that extends into five surrounding states. He has been able to branch out into other public radio programs, including NPR’s Morning Edition and APM’s Performance Today.
He also benefits from his band traveling outside of Charleston and his compositions getting picked up by other major orchestras beyond our state.
It was clearer than ever from talking with Matt how he is firmly rooted in West Virginia while still creating music that can be meaningful to the rest of us wherever we are. His work is a great gift to our state as well as to the world.
You can listen to examples of Matt's compositions and connect with Matt by visiting Matt's artist profile