Combining talent with an entrepreneurial mindset

Music doctoral student becomes first full-time strings faculty at Webster University.


Matt Pickart (right) studies with MSU Professor of Viola Yuri Gandelsman. Matt said he was inspired to earn his doctorate after watching and listening to Gandelsman play chamber music and seeing how he collaborated with other musicians.
Matt Pickart earned the position of assistant professor of music with a unique focus on strings, improvisation and music entrepreneurship at Webster University in St. Louis while completing his doctorate at MSU, (credit: Isoa Chapman)

Matt Pickart grew up around musicians and debuted with his hometown’s symphony orchestra at age 11. Today, the soon-to-be-alumnus of the MSU College of Music Strings area is charting an innovative path as a versatile performer, entrepreneur and educator in a position aligned with his talents.

In June, the Beloit, Wisconsin, native accepted a full-time position as the first full-time strings faculty at Webster University. The post, like Pickart, is multi-dimensional, and enables him to guide curriculum on multiple genres, improvisation and entrepreneurship.

“I never would have imagined taking the path I took,” said Pickart, who will complete his doctorate in viola performance this academic year. “A career in music is never a straight line, and you have to be very open to different angles. I got a ton of support and inspiration from a lot of faculty at MSU.”

Making choices

Pickart said his mom and dad never pushed him into the musician’s life. His parents, both cellists and music educators, introduced him to violin when he was 3. When he was a little older, he became part of a professional string quartet that consisted of him, his mom and dad, and brother.

“I considered doing a few other things, but it was always my heart’s content to do music,” he said. “Music is simply a whole other world of sound, emotion and collaboration. You can spend your entire life learning about music and just scrape the surface.”

The classically-trained Pickart has built a varied career as violinist, violist, jazz musician, entrepreneur and teacher. As a performer, he’s been a soloist, concertmaster, principal and section player for prestigious symphony orchestras, ensembles and groups throughout Europe and the U.S. As an innovator, he is the co-founded and director of Clazz—an international music festival in Italy that features educational sessions and concerts led by jazz and classical luminaries. And as an educator, he has worked with K-12 schools and academies, as a private teacher and coach, and for colleges and universities.

“I love those opportunities when I get to play and teach outside the classical realm and play genres like jazz and bluegrass,” said Pickart. “I’m also getting into applying more improvisational skills in collaboration with my colleagues. I just love good music and believe all music is connected.”

Making connections

Pickart earned his bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his master’s from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. In 2013, Pickart made his connection to another university in the Midwest: Michigan State.

That year, Pickart met MSU Professor of Viola Yuri Gandelsman at a festival in Italy. It was an experience, he said, that cinched his decision to refine his artistry, technique and musical knowledge by earning his doctorate of musical arts.

“Yuri was there teaching and performing with his students, and I was just blown away by his approach to music,” said Pickart. “Two things I loved about him was watching and listening to him play chamber music, and seeing how he collaborated with other musicians and used the bow with so much finesse and ease.”

Pickart came to East Lansing the following year. While Gandelsman was his major professor, he also sought out and took lessons from Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker and Professor Emeritus of Music Walter Verdehr. His orchestral experience, Pickart said, was greatly enhanced by the challenges presented by Professor of Music Kevin Noe, director of orchestras and graduate orchestral conducting.

“Matt is a very unique and brilliant student,” said Gandelsman. “He is good at everything, and has so many different interests. He is not hesitant to go into any new area he doesn’t know very well. We can all learn from his energy. He’s unstoppable.”

Taking ownership

Pickart reflected that MSU allowed him to develop and take ownership of musical ideas while also strengthening his abilities to collaborate. One example, he said, is the support he received for founding the Clazz International Music Festival.

Christine Beamer, director of career services and entrepreneurship for the College of Music, first met Pickart when he arrived on campus as a doctoral student. She said he was just beginning to lay the groundwork for his music festival, and was eager to talk about ideas and direction that could help.

“Matt believed in his idea and made it happen,” said Beamer. “He embodies the successful outcomes that come about when musicians diversify their skills beyond their initial comfort zone. I think of Matt as an effective community developer, organizer, great violist and dedicated teacher. That’s what makes him so successful on so many fronts.”

David Rayl, director of choral programs and associate dean with the MSU College of Music, agreed that Pickart represents a new breed of music faculty at colleges and universities.

“Matt is an outstanding classical artist and pedagogue with additional experiences in genres like folk music and jazz that value virtuosity and improvisation,” Rayl said. “Moreover, he has combined all those talents with an entrepreneurial mindset. With that background, he was the perfect choice for Webster.”

Pickart believes his success is rooted in the encouragement he’s received since the day he first put a bow to a string. That support, he said, started with his family, and extended to all his teachers and professors who inspired him to break down barriers, and explore multiple genres, instruments and teaching methods.

“I’ve been fortunate to have so many wonderful teachers and to study and now work with such impressive people,” he said. “I want to focus on being the best musician, teacher and collaborator I can be.”

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