Pioneer Spotlight: Matthew Gregg

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Pioneer Spotlight
Matthew Gregg
November 28, 2014

Matt Gregg, associate director of bands and director of the Marching Pioneers at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has been teaching at the university for 11 years. Gregg teaches marching band, Music Theory I and II, Aural Skills I and II and Music Appreciation. He also conducts the university’s Symphony Band and is the associate conductor of the Symphonic Wind Ensemble. In addition, he is a performer in the faculty group Ensemble Nouveau.

Gregg earned a Bachelor of Music Education from UW-Milwaukee and a Master of Music Education from UW-Madison. Prior to teaching and conducting at UW-Platteville, he was band director at Nikolay Middle School and Cambridge High School in Cambridge, Wis., as well as a band director at Oconomowoc High School in Oconomowoc, Wis.

He also marched in and eventually taught the Madison Drum and Bugle Corps, a world class group that is one of the oldest and most storied organizations in the modern-day drum and bugle corps activity.

When Gregg isn’t teaching or conducting, he enjoys being a dad to his two sons, Elijah and Brody. In addition to his love for the arts, he also enjoys reading, writing and staying active. He runs, swims, bikes, plays basketball and volleyball and has completed the Twin Cities Marathon and the Oshkosh Olympic Triathlon.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?
The thing I enjoy the most is empowering young musicians. Before I was in college, I was coasting on raw talent. Once I got to college and learned technique, it was extremely eye opening.

I also enjoy being a “link in a chain.” I still use techniques from my former teachers and I love seeing what my former students have gone on to do.

What do you enjoy most about conducting?
I have always been interested in dance and any physical activity, and conducting is the manifestation of music in a physical realm. As a conductor, I need to elicit a physical response from the players and an emotional response from the audience. Conducting is an opportunity to use movement skills in a musical idiom.

What is most challenging about going into music as a career?
Musicians, like all artists, take a vow of poverty. It is a rare exception to be wealthy with a music career. Music is a very competitive and difficult career path, and you really have to love it. You know you’re lucky when you can pay the bills doing what you love, and musicians can do that.

What is most rewarding about going into music as a career?
I
never dread going to work. I actually miss teaching in the summer and during winter break.

Why do you think hands-on, applied learning is so important to prepare students for their careers and life?
In my field, you need to submerse yourself in the act of making music. When you do that, you inherently learn. Music involves learning by doing; you can’t memorize and regurgitate it. Hands-on learning is also just plain enjoyable.

What is your favorite memory with the Marching Pioneers?
Any opportunity we have to perform in front of a larger audience. Many of the young men and women in the band come from small towns, so this is their first opportunity to perform in front of a large group of people instead of only a few dozen. On Oct. 2, we performed at Lambeau Field. We rotate with the other UW marching bands (Madison, Eau Claire, La Crosse and Whitewater) and perform there every 5-6 years. They did very well on a very big and historic stage. I am extremely proud of them.

What is your favorite instrument?
The French horn is my primary instrument. I started on percussion and soon switched to brass while performing as a youngster in the Madison Junior Scouts.  When I switched to brass, I wanted to play baritone bugle, like my big brother Alex. I was so little, I could not march and hold the instrument without my knees hitting the bell of the baritone. They had me try to march with the shorter French horn bugle and a career was born. It was very serendipitous.

What is your favorite kind of music to play?
I listen to and play everything. This sounds cliché, but my favorite music is anything that moves me in some way. Some songs touch my heart every time; others take some time for me to appreciate and just a few elicit no response, even after listening to them 1,000 times. As a professional musician, I must find a way to appreciate the composers' intent and express that through my horn/my baton.

Is there something you are currently working on (or will be working on) with your students that is especially rewarding or exciting?
There are a couple of individual projects I’ve been working on. This summer, I wrote a memoir about my teenage years. That was a personal project, and writing a book is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m also going to take my mom’s poetry and write an original work for Kassia, the vocal faculty ensemble at UW-Platteville. I’m not working on any student projects now, but occasionally I write original pieces for my students to perform.

Are there any upcoming events in your area that you would like to mention?
On July 27, 2015, Ensemble Nouveau will be performing at Taliesin in Spring Green, Wis. The student concerts that happen year-round are always great events. I encourage people to look at the university calendar to see what events are coming up. The events that are home grown are exceptional and very cheap. University students will not have access to many of these events after graduation, so now is a great time to take advantage of what the university has to offer.

--By Connie Spyropoulos

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