How Matt Levy Thrives with Many Careers (Composer, Teacher, Engineer)

by | Feb 8, 2021

Meet Matt Levy. He is a multi-careerist who wears many hats. He’s a recording artist who helps to manage PRISM Quartet, an arts ensemble. At the same time, he’s a university professor. Matt is indeed a remarkable artist whose capacity to handle his busy schedule with grace is certainly inspiring.

Matt’s careers:

  • Saxophonist, Composer
  • Executive and Co-Artistic Director of PRISM
  • Producer, Recording Engineer
  • Professor, Teacher

On his motivations for having multiple careers

“My interest in many facets of the music industry was borne partly out of necessity, and a desire for independence from risk-averse presenters, record labels, and managers, but also from a genuine aspiration to coalesce interconnected roles that contribute to the realization of my creative ideas.”

On how long he’s had these careers

“I co-founded the PRISM Quartet as an undergrad at the University of Michigan back in 1984 as a platform for my playing and composing. We formed our nonprofit in 1991, and I began producing and engineering recordings in 2000, and started our own label (XAS Records) in 2015. I also started teaching at Temple University since 2015. From 2000 until 2011, I directed the music program for The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.”

Advice for aspiring multi-careerists

“I’m a strong advocate for pursuing multiple professional interests. One can feed and illuminate the other(s), and help make connections across disciplines, or within different practices in a single field. Versatility is inherently derived from having multiple careers. It can mean greater opportunity and place you in positions of leadership. I’d prefer to be an agent of change rather than a passive beneficiary (or victim) of change.”

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On overcoming obstacles

“The most personal setback I encountered and continue to experience is actually a health issue. I developed a difficult case of tinnitus and hyperacusis almost 10 years ago. These are common ailments for musicians, and I struggled mightily with them for a long while. For me, tinnitus manifests as perpetual phantom sounds, like a rainstick is embedded in my head, and the complete absence of silence (don’t take silence for granted!), accompanied by a hypersensitivity to high pitched sounds. Sounds that we think of as benign, like fire crackling, floors creaking, or silverware rattling are drastically amplified and difficult to tolerate for people with hyperacusis.

I had to step away from music for many months to get a handle on things, and learn to accept a different way of hearing. I was fortunate to have a great doctor and the support of my family and friends and my PRISM Quartet band-mates, as I eventually returned to playing music. I also give seminars on ‘Playing Healthy’ to help students protect their ears and bodies from the risks inherent in making music.

On how multiple careers are mutually beneficial

“All of my careers fall within the field of music. So I’m self-reliant in leading projects along a timeline, from concept to completion. It’s much easier to plan a project when you understand every facet of its development and implementation. The first step is always curatorial, creating a programmatic idea that is powerful, connects to the world around me, can stand on its own without relying on the celebrity of artists involved. Then casting (selecting musicians, directors, lighting designers, etc.), fundraising, marketing and promo, concert production and documentation/recording. I’ve also been teaching saxophone and chamber music at Temple University for about five years, and have found a lot of inspiration from interacting with my students, and watching them grow into wonderful musicians and educators. They keep me on my toes.”

On managing personal time

“My wife Willa and I have a two-year-old daughter, Mae (named after my late mom), who brings joy and light into our lives. Finding personal/family time can be hard if I’m on tour, or have especially long days with no down time. Like many, I’ve been working almost entirely from home during the pandemic. The silver lining is that I’ve had more time with them this past year. I usually watch Mae before dinner and put her to bed every night, and get to see her and Willa throughout the day. Willa and I have date nights to nurture our relationship. I’ve also been in touch with some very good friends with whom I’d lost touch over the years. Planning for personal time is very important, and I’m trying to be better at it.”

On something he wished he had learned earlier

“My career evolved organically simply by pursuing lots of interests simultaneously (learning by doing), but I do wish that schools addressed entrepreneurship and dual careerism when I was a student, back in the day. That sort of training was not part of academia, but is more so now. I encourage students and emerging musicians to explore their most meaningful interests and forge their own paths, which could be a combination of two or more careers. Training for a single career could limit you professionally, personally, artistically. When I was starting out, I sometimes felt like I was inventing the wheel, when I would rather have been reimagining it.”

A Day in the Life

For example:

  • 7 am – Wake Up, Make Coffee
  • 8 am – Work out

“I’m reluctant to give a blow by blow schedule, since there is so much variation from day to day. For the PRISM Quartet, I spend a big chunk of each day administering our nonprofit: producing concerts, developing grant applications, planning educational and outreach programs, managing finances, and working with my staff on booking, advancement, and publicity. My favorite part of this work is on the programming side: developing curatorial concepts that form the foundations for new commissions and collaborations, and working with my bandmates to bring them to life. Otherwise, I bounce back and forth between practicing, composing, and producing and engineering recordings. And I teach at Temple University part time. I try to jog every two or three days, but am woefully inconsistent.”

Where to find Matthew

  • Facebook
  • PRISM Quartet: FacebookInstagramTwitterWebsite
  • Mending Wall – a PRISM Quartet project. It is stage directed by Jorinde Keesmaat with lighting design by Aaron Copp and will be premiering in NYC and Philadelphia in Feb 2022. I’m also putting the finishing touches on an upcoming PRISM album called “Heritage/Evolution, Volume 2” with Ravi Coltrane, Chris Potter and Joe Lovano. I have a piece on the album called Forbidden Drive that features Joe. I’m really excited about the recording which is six years in the making!

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Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner, as well as New York Times bestselling author of sixteen books. His debut feature film production Fandango at the Wall is streaming on HBO Max. Follow: LinkedInInstagramFacebookTwitterSpotify, YouTube

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