Bryan Matheson began playing the viola at age 3. His brother, Kevin Matheson, followed on the violin at age 2. “He’d come with Mom to my lessons and beg to be allowed to play, too,” Bryan said.
Neither boy was much bigger than the instrument he was trying to conquer.
More than two decades later, both are stringed instrument instructors for Virginia Tech’s Outreach and International Affairs' Fine Arts Initiative, part of the university’s commitment to music education in rural areas of southeastern and southwestern Virginia. The Mathesons remain excited about their music and their profession, so much so that they say it’s difficult for them to pinpoint what they like most -- teaching, performing, or learning.
Teaching energizes them and they say they find reward in bringing world-class music to small communities in southwestern Virginia. Their students range in age from about 3 to about 75.
“I like to teach and share the music and passion with our students,” said Kevin, who is four years younger than Bryan.
“The students are like our own kids,” Bryan said.
The Mathesons say they see the same musical ambition they felt as children in their students, some of whom are winning musical competitions.
Julian Ayres, a 12-year-old from Bassett, Va., who takes lessons from Bryan, won the Renaissance Academy Concerto Competition, the first time a violinist has taken the top prize in the junior division.
Kathryn Amaral, an 8-year-old from Elk Creek, Va., who trains with Kevin, placed third.
She also won a division of the Florida Federation of Music Clubs competition and the Silver Medal in the American Association for Development of the Gifted and Talented competition. For that win, she has been invited to perform in the association's Passion of Music 2011 concert at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall in New York City.
The prize-winning students are following in their mentors’ footsteps: Kevin and Bryan won the IBLA Foundation’s international competition in Italy. That success led to a debut performance at Carnegie Hall.
The Mathesons discovered music when their father took a faculty position in the Pamplin College of Business and moved the family from Seattle, where the boys were born. In Blacksburg they found David Ehrlich, the person they consider their musical mentor. Ehrlich is a renowned violinist, administrator of the Fine Arts Initiative programs, and a founder of the Renaissance Music Academy.
“We were so lucky that David was right here in Blacksburg and we didn’t have to travel to have such a high-quality musical education,” Kevin said.
Ehrlich returned the compliment. “Bryan and Kevin are very special in all they do -- their music, their teaching,” he said. “We’re blessed to have them here in outreach because they are proof that you can do great things in the world of music when you’re from a small town.”
Ehrlich and the Mathesons worked on Viva Virginia, the international music festival held last summer at Virginia Tech. It featured world-renowned opera luminaries and chamber musicians teaching young professional singers and stringed instrumentalists for two weeks. The Mathesons said they learned some new things during the festival, especially while performing with opera singers.
“A highlight of the festival was being coached on these pieces by the great American baritone, Sherrill Milnes,” Bryan said. “The vocal master classes were especially interesting because as string players, we often try to imitate the sound of the human voice.”
The Mathesons are bringing music to small-town audiences in other ways. Kevin is the new director for the Chatham Concert Series in Pittsylvania County, Va. He and other professional musicians are sharing their music with a community that normally wouldn’t have access to live classical music.
In February 2011, the brothers performed with a visiting group of 27 Chinese youth musicians, ages 5 to 20, from Hong Kong and Macao.
They joined 24 Renaissance Music Academy members and musicians from the Fine Arts Initiative for six concerts together. Three of the performances were at southwest Virginia schools. The finale was a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
“The experience of playing with the Chinese musicians was amazing,” said Kevin who was the concertmaster for the combined orchestra. “We practiced three times a day for three days and then gave five 1 1/2-hour concerts.”
Bryan and Kevin Matheson love playing music, teaching music, and performing music. See more pictures from a day spent teaching in this photo gallery.
Also, see the brothers in action in this video.
The Outreach and International Affairs Fine Arts Initiative was launched in 2005 by David Ehrlich, Outreach Fellow for Fine Arts at Virginia Tech, as part of the university’s commitment to music education in rural areas of southeastern and southwestern Virginia.
In partnership with community leaders and educators and the Renaissance Music Academy of Virginia (founded by Ehrlich and his wife, Teresa), the Fine Arts Initiative has established two music education programs for school children in Virginia: the Chatham Arts Initiative in Pittsylvania County and the Wythe Music Initiative in Wythe County.
Bryan and Kevin Matheson are stringed instrument instructors for the Fine Arts Initiative programs. Kevin also is director of the Chatham Concert Series, which gives arts initiative students in that community the opportunity to practice and perform with professional musicians. Bryan assists his brother in organizing the series.
In fall 2010, Bryan and Kevin Matheson joined with Canadian musician Kevin Zakresky to record a CD as The Rainer Trio. Bryan played viola, Kevin played violin, and Zakresky played piano, an unusual combination of instruments for a chamber music trio.
The CD includes pieces by Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Fuchs, Mikhail Glinka, and Darius Milhaud.
In March 2011, Bryan and Kevin were finishing their second recording, this time as duo.
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