By Joe Begg ‘21
Dark rain falls outside of Figge Hall as Matthew Pinder ’20, this year’s Fenwick Scholar, walks into the room. He’s considerably wet, returning to our room after another long night of composing. The Fenwick Scholarship is the highest academic honor at the College, and involves a major independent project in lieu of classes. Matt’s work as a composer is well suited for the kind of solitary academic commitment that the Scholarship entails. In other disciplines, students might complete a research project and write a small book for this Scholarship. Pinder’s Composition will be 14 movements, about an hour long, with each movement representing a station of the cross.
Having attended Catholic grade school, I am, of course, acquainted with the stations of the cross and wanted to know which was the most difficult to represent: “The most challenging for me is XIII, which is, they take Jesus down from the cross,” says Pinder. “I think that we really can view the Passion best through Mary, she was watching the Passion, she has more of our perspective. I think the Pieta, the part where Mary holds her dead Son, that’s, to me, the key to interpreting the rest of the Passion. That movement will be the longest…that movement is going to be hard.”
Matt first writes his pieces by hand and later enters them into a computer program. After that, musicians learn his compositions and perform them. His work was most recently featured at the ALSCW, hosted by the Holy Cross English Department. Pinder says what he likes most about the Fenwick Scholarship is being able to write music whenever he wants: “The best part of Fenwick is not having a whole bunch of deadlines…It’s an immersion experience.”
Pinder’s most recent concert featured Artist-in-Residence Michelle Ross, Brooks Scholar Joe Cracolici ’23, and students from the New England Conservatory. His two works, a Piano Trio that attempts to convey the sprawling headspace of night-time quiet, and a String Quartet designed to create a sense of narrative, were played at Brooks Concert Hall, an intimate space that heightened the sensitivity of Pinder’s compositions. At the onset of the Trio, shrill violin notes oscillate an eventual harmony with Pinder on Piano and Cracolici on Cello, creating an exploratory mood. Artist-In-Residence Michelle Ross was a particularly enjoyable third of the trio; her mastery of her instrument was engaged by Pinder’s score, and the result was an incredible performance .
In his String quartet, Pinder uses the dissonance in the third movement to form an almost “out of tune” sounding harmony. Pinder controls tension and emotion like a skilled storyteller in this composition, and this ability, combined with the sustained and ever-transforming energy of the piece, synthesize a strong narrative feeling. In the third movement, it is hard not to feel like a dramatic character or plot development is occurring, but rather than being a soundtrack for somebody else’s story, Pinder’s composition synthesizes the whole of the narrative experience, and explains it in exquisite detail.
After Holy Cross, Pinder plans to apply to graduate school for composition, which will mean six more years of school with the ultimate goal of making a living as a composer. After that, there’s a lot of different options. Composers become professors, freelance, or work in film and video games. For Pinder, his love of music is the core of who he is, and when I see him, it feels like I’m looking at a famous composer.
Pinder’s Fenwick project will be done just prior to Holy Week: “I will have finished the piece by March 1st, and the performance will be March 25th.” His passion will be performed in Brooks Concert Hall.