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Lee Capristo
Director of Publications
Email: lwcapristo@smcm.edu
Phone:240-895-4795
Anne Arundel 100

Alum Captures the Music of a Desert Ghost Town

Written by Barbara Geehan, River Gazette Editor

Professional musicians Matt Sargent '06, left, and Chris Kallmyer '07 are composers-in-residence at the former booming gold mine in Rhyolite, Nevada, now a combination ghost town and sculpture park.  (Photo by David Lancaster)

What do the sirens of music say to someone who is constantly around it? Matt Sargent, who graduated magna cum laude from St. Mary’s in 2006 with a double major in music and English, and now is a professional musician, professor, and composer, explains:

“After a thousand pages of fantastic travels around Spain, there’s a moment at the end of Don Quixote where there is a small paragraph in which Quixote hits the Atlantic Ocean. (Author) Cervantes doesn’t dwell on it within the text, but it’s the first time that Don Quixote has ever seen the ocean. In the book, he is always filled with verbosity about every situation he finds himself in, but in this case, he’s silent – the ocean is too big for him to fi t into words. For me, finding that moment for myself, that’s what my pursuit into composing and the arts is all about.”

Sargent, who is currently a composer-in-residence at the Goldwell Open Air Museum in the desert town of Rhyolite, Nevada, describes how music has shaped his life:

River Gazette: When did you first get interested in music?

Matt Sargent: A knack for music has floated around my family. My great uncle was a professor at Eastman School of Music and my grandfather was a gifted amateur trumpet player. My sister is a soprano and a music major at Indiana University. In middle school, I found a guitar in my grandparent’s attic one Thanksgiving, and obsessively learned by ear and strummed away on my favorite rock songs. I spent a lot of my time in high school in Annapolis playing in rock bands, writing songs, and playing in youth centers and basements.

RG: You also compose.

Sargent: I think about my writing as providing a specifi c place or experience to the audience. Often the experience is one that I want to leave unexplained within the music. It’s kind of like taking a friend on a walk in a place that you’ve been many times: it’s tempting to point out everything you like along the way, but that would ultimately prevent your friend from discovering his own favorite things about the space and forming his own history and experience. I find that really good music simply hangs in the air and lets me find things to love within it. The composer Robert Ashley said it best: “it has to be a secret, about your self and about the world.”

RG: How did you go from strumming guitar to writing pieces?

Sargent: Like a lot of St. Mary’s students, I was on several paths through college: a creative track as a composer, a performance track as a classical guitarist, as well as a simultaneous route through books, literary theory, and creative writing with the English department. I really valued the opportunity to do all of that at St. Mary’s; however, composition gradually won out as my main focus, and I think is the creative form where I feel the most at home.

RG: How would you describe your works?

Sargent: I compose contemporary concert music and sound art. It’s a kind of music that is not on many people’s musical radars, but is nevertheless going strong. As within the other arts, there is a rich field of contemporary music available, with musicians striving to find sounds and forms that respond to the multi-sensory 21st century life we live. My own music typically uses a hybrid of natural found objects with technology. Often, this is as simple as spending a great deal of composing time deeply listening, and trying to create music that encourages others to listen to their environments a little more deeply as well. Other times it gets a little more tech-y; for my sound installation here in the desert, I have been recording and documenting wind patterns and am building some custom computer programming that will turn this “EKG” of the desert’s breath into musical materials.

RG: What is it like to hear a piece you wrote, such as when “Ghost Music” was played at the college last year?

Sargent: It’s always wonderful to hear my own music performed very well. Bill Solomon, the percussionist who I composed “Ghost Music” for specifically, performs the piece beautifully. Because we had been performing at St. Mary’s as part of a larger tour, I already got the anxieties and worries out of my system at earlier performances. There was also a very large storm out on the river the evening of the performance. I am really interested in listening to nature and taking inspiration from the movement and pacing of nature, so the rumbling wind provided a really wonderful counterpoint to the performance.

RG: Please give a couple of examples of your collaborations with other artists.

Sargent: I really value working with artists in other media. We’re headed in the same places, but traveling in different vehicles. John M. Adams, a D.C.-based visual artist, created a wall drawing based on “Ghost Music.” Because “Ghost Music” is a lengthy, slowly unfolding piece of music, he was able to create a real-time drawing during the music performance. We recently did a video shoot of this process at the Arlington Arts Center, and I’m looking forward to editing and releasing a video on my web site. (www.mattsargentmusic.com) I’m currently out in the desert at Rhyolite, collaborating with trumpeter/composer Chris Kallmyer (Class of ’07) on a piece for the Goldwell Open Air Museum. This piece has been collaborative from concept to realization. We each have been taking recordings within the desert landscape, sketching music, collecting potential music objects (old mining parts, etc.), and hiking around the abandoned towns, mines, and mountains in the area.

RG: You recently married. What music did you have at your wedding?

Sargent: We actually had mostly pop music at our wedding. The classical guitarist who performed the ceremony had a wonderful arrangement of “In My Life” by the Beatles that seemed to fit perfect for the Brome-Howard Inn. I was a big proponent of a sansdancing reception, so we had some background music, but most of the reception was catching up with old and new friends, relatives, and professors along the St. Mary’s River. Life is musical, productive, fun, and good. When not in the desert, I live with my wife in Hartford, Connecticut,and work as a music professor at Capital Community College. I also teach private lessons, arrange and edit music, present music workshops, conduct/direct youth ensembles, and perform in a variety of genres as a guitarist. One hundred percent of my income since graduating has come from music, which I can’t be more thankful for.