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Pianist taking talents to next level

Matt Sieberg will soon be making his way to graduate study at the University of South Carolina. Until then, you can find him teaching piano at Headwaters School of Music and the Arts, where he and his students have a good time working together. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - Keep the name of Matthew (Matt) Sieberg filed away in your musical memory.

One future day, when you read that he is the soloist for the New York Philharmonic, you can say, "I heard him when he played for the Bemidji Symphony Orchestra while still an undergraduate student at Bemidji State University."

Sieberg knew by the end of his sophomore year at St. Claire's High School in Eagle Lake near Mankato that he needed to find a piano teacher with professional credentials as a performer.

"I was passed around to four different piano teachers as a kid," said Sieberg. "You know the little old white haired ladies who gave lessons in their homes while cats wandered about.

"They were good teachers but did not have the professional background that I needed in a teacher."

Sieberg was lucky to find Chris Rupp, a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, who had studied with Professor John McKay. Rupp recognized the nascent talent in Matt and arranged for him to take private lessons with McKay, who had recently retired from teaching.

"I was working on the Beethoven sonatas at that time, the 'Appassionata' to be exact. McKay was recently retired and he agreed to take me on as a student," said Sieberg. "My piano teacher, Rupp, drove me to a private lesson every other month and I studied with McKay for about two years and was learning quickly."

After graduation, Sieberg was accepted into five undergraduate programs at prestigious private schools like St. John's University in Collegeville and Luther College in Iowa but he took the advice of his mentor.

McKay suggested that he apply to Bemidji State University because one of his former students was teaching there. McKay was instrumental in showing the different avenues a pianist could take: teaching, collaborative pianist or certificates in other genre like jazz. Sieberg went through the application process including an audition CD and was invited to BSU for an audition as a piano performance major.

"I came up here and played for professors Bradley Logan and Steve Carlson, McKay's former student," said Sieberg. "The audition went great, I loved the town and they offered me a nice scholarship package that included room and board and I would be able to live in a different part of the state. I enrolled at BSU."

Sieberg traces his transition from piano player to pianist with McKay, who handed him off to BSU's Carlson and they launched him "straight up into the air." Sieberg said he continues to love the instrument and wants to get better and better at piano performance. Sieberg also talked about how important it is to have a teacher who is also performing for they know the music scene.

"I am completely indebted to Professor Carlson," said Sieberg. "He has taught me so much about music, about professionalism and life. I would recommend serious students come to BSU if they want a solid piano program.

"I trusted him because he knows what's up; he knows what's going on around the country and at other universities. He knows what's expected of you now, he's on the music scene right now - not just settled back into an easy teaching position."

Sieberg has played at the last three BSO concerts and is the recipient of the Conductor's Choice Award. He was also selected as an Artistic Ambassador by the Minnesota Music Teachers Association, one of only five chosen from across the state. Sieberg played keyboard in classrooms and gymnasiums for students from kindergarten to high school in the area.

"I played a couple of solos and then gave a little talk about the piece," said Sieberg. "This was a pilot program that I hope they (MMTA) continue; to be able to hang-out with other serious musicians, the camaraderie and they were all fabulous people, and the kids loved it."

Sieberg continues to share his love of piano, performing and teaching with his private students at Headwaters School for Music and the Arts. His method is just the opposite of what he had to endure as a young piano student as he believes that there is no one-size-fits-all book. The first lesson is mostly conversation with questions like: where do you want to go with your music and how do you want to learn how to do it?

"Last month a student came in who just graduated high school," said Sieberg. "He wants to go into the music business so he needs to know music, to be able to read music, do the scales, understand the basics of music and music theory. He needs to know the jargon, not just do their book work or manage them."

When Sieberg heads out of Bemidji in a couple of weeks to the University of South Carolina in Columbia he will study with Professor Charles Fugo, a pianist Carlson knows from performing. Sieberg was accepted to graduate school at all the institutions recommended by Carlson, including the University of Iowa and the University of Georgia, but chose South Carolina because they offered an accompanist assistantship - covering much of the finances.

Sieberg will be doing some accompanying every week at voice studios, prepare students for recitals and play at private voice lessons. He recognizes that a collaborative pianist is far different from sitting down and playing Beethoven. Both are very difficult and have their own eccentricities that need to be mastered.

Sieberg hopes to complete his doctorate and teach at the university level after a successful career as a soloist with famous orchestras. His passion to breakdown what Mozart or Beethoven were thinking and get a feel for what they wanted and, of course, add a little of his own interpretation. He acknowledges that some classical pianists have great showmanship while others are so absorbed in the music that they are not pleasing to watch and others use "some weird technique" to make changes.

"The thing that I love about playing in small towns in Minnesota is because the audience isn't sitting there waiting for you to make a mistake or miss a note," said Sieberg. "They are there to support the player and enjoy the music and I am happy to bring it to them."