Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Beloit native Matt Pickart could never have imagined his childhood dream of becoming a professional musician would not only come true, but it would do so in such fantastic fashion.
In addition to performing in such iconic venues as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, the violinist/violist/jazz musician/teacher has studied at the feet of modern music’s most recognized names. He holds both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, violin performance, and is working toward a doctorate in musical arts, viola performance. Pickart has shared the stage with the likes of Barry Manilow, Bernadette Peters, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and others, and he is founder of the Clazz International Music Festival held annually since 2016 in Arcidosso, Italy.
Pickart, a 2003 graduate from Beloit Memorial High School, discovered his joy for music at home from parents John Pickart and Martha Dunegan, both cellists and teachers. He also was a student of renowned Fort Atkinson music teacher Alison Lee Jewer.
In addition to jazz, Pickart enjoys delving into other genres. As a soloist, he has appeared with orchestras throughout the US, in Italy and in the Netherlands. When not touring to perform, Pickart is an assistant professor of music at Webster University in St. Louis, where he resides.
Pickart has two local performances planned, including one at 7 p.m. today at the Janesville Woman’s Club, 108 S. Jackson St. A fundraiser for the Clazz festival, the show will feature Pickart performing with his parents, with Jewer and with friend/colleague Zachary Peterson.
Pickart will make his conducting debut at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 7, while guest directing the Turtle Creek Chamber Orchestra at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 749 Bluff St., Beloit.
To learn more about Pickart, visit MattPickart.com.
1. How old were you when you decided playing violin was going to be your thing? I grew up surrounded by music. Both my parents are cellists and retired orchestra teachers. My older brother was pretty serious about the violin growing up, as well. So it was just a normal thing, I guess. I started lessons when I was 3. There were a few pivotal moments along the way that strengthened my resolve. Getting to see Itzhak Perlman play Brahms’ “Violin Concerto” with the Rockford Symphony when I was 7 was one of them. For the next few months after that concert, I couldn’t put my violin down. My parents had to plead with me to stop practicing at night. Brahms’ “Violin Concerto” and Itzhak are still two of my absolute favorites, 27 years later.
2. How does a kid from Beloit get on stage with the likes of Barry Manilow, Bernadette Peters and Trans-Siberian Orchestra? I’ve been very fortunate to know the right people at the right times, booking the orchestras. Of course, I’ve had to work very hard along the way to be in the pool of talent that is considered for these performances. Just a few weeks ago, I got to play in an orchestra for The Who.
3. Has there ever been a time where you thought reaching for your dreams was going to be too hard and considered giving up? I think almost every musician goes through tough times. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to give up, thankfully, but there has been a fair share of hard times. I always try to surround myself with better musicians to learn from and to be inspired by. I listen to amazing music daily, and getting to teach the young is my greatest source of inspiration.
4. Your performance skills are world-class. Did it all come from hard work, or is some of that talent God-given? It is hard work and a lot of experience. I think being a third-generation musician is something that helps gives me confidence.
5. You have an extensive background in orchestral and jazz music. Ever just sit down and jam out to old-school rock? Oh, for sure. I’ve actually recorded and played with a number of different rock bands over the years—everything from punk to indie electronica. Classic rock is some of my favorite music, too. I used to gig with some bands around Pittsburgh playing a lot of classic hits, and I also have done a fair amount of Beatles tribute shows.
6. The violin is an extremely versatile instrument when you consider the musical genres in which it is featured. Does it get the credit it deserves? I don’t think people perceive violin as diverse of an instrument as it really is. You can literally play any genre on the violin. That’s part of what I am trying to explore in my own career.
7. People would be surprised to find out that I: Used to take figure skating lessons growing up. I loved it, but I had to drop it after four years when it became too intense with all the music studies.
8. You have traveled the world to perform. What venue left you most in awe? I think getting to play with Robert Rodriguez at Dizzy’s Club for Jazz at Lincoln Center overlooking Central Park in New York City was pretty jaw-dropping.
9. I would think it takes a lot of energy to perform as a professional musician. Do you employ any particular workout regimens to make sure you’re on top of your game? I should. I keep telling myself I’ve got to get back on the bandwagon with that. I used to run years back.
10. You live in St. Louis these days. What do you miss about Beloit? I haven’t lived in Beloit since 2003, and in between I was in Madison; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Lansing, Michigan. I definitely miss my parents and friends still around the area, but I try to come back often. I think I miss the feeling of how simple life was back then. I always enjoy taking walks and reliving memories when I return.
11. At Webster University, you teach classes in “music entrepreneurship.” What is that? Musicians need to know how to survive in the real world. It’s tough. A huge part of what I teach in the classes is how to have the right mindset, how to create your own opportunities, and how to reach your goals.
12. When it comes to jazz, who are your musical heroes? Oh man, there are so many. Two of my classic favorites are Stuff Smith and Oscar Peterson.
13. If someone else paid for the experience, would you go bungee jumping? I’ve always had a fear of heights, but it’s gotten better the older I get. I think I would be down.
14. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Realistically, I think I would want to be an expert cook. I love food, possibly more than music. I’m just lazy about leveling up my cooking skills. Beyond reality, time travel would be pretty awesome.
15. Who is your favorite Muppet? Animal was pretty cool. He likes music and food.
16. Do you have any pre-gig rituals? I have a lucky bicentennial dollar coin I always have in my pocket for performances.
17. My kid plays guitar and video games, and he claims the two complement each other when it comes to quick thinking and dexterity. I think he just wants to play more video games. Is there something to his theory? Maybe if he’s playing “Guitar Hero”? Yeah, I think he’s trying to pull a fast one on you.
18. If you could perform with any group/person across any genre, living or dead, which/who would you choose, and why? Bach, definitely Bach. As a performer and improviser, he was incredible. You can hear that in his amazing body of compositions.
19. Do you play any other instruments? I play viola as often as violin. I did my doctoral studies at Michigan State University primarily on viola. I enjoy singing with jazz groups. I took bass guitar, guitar and piano lessons when I was younger. I accompany my younger students on piano in lessons and occasionally perform with my beginners.
20. Do you believe in karma? I think people who treat others well often find themselves to be successful.