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March 8 Salon Series More Than Just Music


BERKELEY HEIGHTS—Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts (WIPA) sat down recently with faculty member Matthew Van Dongen to talk about his upcoming performance on the 2017-2018 Salon Series featuring an evening of contemporary and original works for guitar. In addition to works by 20th century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo including Tiento antiguo, Un tiempo fue Italica famosa, and Zarabanda lejana, the one-hour concert on Thursday, March 8 will include a Beyond the Notes Q&A with Van Dongen, covering topics from composing for the guitar today to how music theory enhances the understanding of music written for the guitar.

Q: Tell us a little about what you will be performing at the March 8 Salon Series.

I'm performing two of my original works and three by Joaquin Rodrigo.  Convergence was my first notated composition, it's dedicated to Joe Bilotti, one of my mentors and professors at the County College of Morris.  Polarity is a stark contrast from Convergence and was my first work performed when I was a Master's student at the Westminster Choir College.  Polarity, like Convergence symbolized a new beginning for me as a composer; it is my only graphic-notation score to date, and it represents a very special and exciting time in my life.  I'm very much looking forward to performing the work with the original length intended.  The Rodrigo works are very nationalistic, Tiento antiguo is based on a 16th century style of improvisation; Un tiempo fue Italica famosa is an ode to a lost city, near Rome; and Zarabanda lejana is another hearkening back to renaissance forms and the vihuela music of Luis Milan -- Although, it is much more like a piano transcription than vihuela music.

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Q: How did you choose the repertoire for the concert?

I knew right away that I wanted to play. Italica…again after all these years, and I immediately saw it as an opportunity to publicly play some of my few solo guitar works. Tiento...was a piece that I always liked to be keep in my repertoire, and just a charming, but moody piece. I felt that is was a great addition to the program.

Q: It looks like you have an extensive music theory background. How does that come into play as a performer? As a composer?

As a performer, music theory allows you easier access to having understandings of all of the music's functions and purposes.  Really, it becomes more of an interpretative tool and greatly aids memorization of any style of music, tonal or not. As a composer, you learn more about the history of notated music; basically, what's been done, and how it's been done. It makes it easier for you narrow your framework for your composition because you are not experimenting, you're utilizing. 

Q: How long have you been a teacher? What do you enjoy most about teaching? What do you primarily teach—music theory, classical, jazz?

I've been teaching professionally since October 2004. It was and still is a dream job for me. I enjoy sharing my experiences, my struggles, my challenges, and my victories with the students. Turning students into motivated students is the most deeply satisfying aspect of the profession for me. I teach guitar, both popular and classical, piano, music theory, and composition. I don't play jazz, but I have some training, and am a devout Alan Holdsworth fan.

Q: Is there anything else you might want to add for our audience members to know about you before the performance?

This concert would not be possible without the excellent training I received from my own teachers who saw potential in me—notably, Carol Hamersma, Steve Gibb, Amparo Fabra, and Joel Phillips. These people changed my life; I am deeply indebted to them.

The Salon Series takes place on Thursday, March 8 at 7:30 p.m. at 60 Locust Avenue in Berkeley Heights. Tickets are $12 for adults, $6 for seniors, and free for Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts students. Tickets are available online, at the door or by calling 908-790-0700.

The Salon Series, now in its third season, presents Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts faculty and local guest artists in an accessible and laid-back environment. The Performing Arts School’s black box theatre is transformed into a club-like setting where audience members sit at café-style tables, on stage with the performers, and wine and cheese is served. Performers often interact with the audience and performances are limited to an hour without intermission.

Matthew Van Dongen is the recipient of The Andrew Phillips Award for his solo violin composition, Three Nocturnes. He has been an educator in a variety of musical disciplines since 2004; past students include Chris Pennie (ex-Coheed and Cambria, ex-Dillinger Escape Plan, Fight Mannequins) and award-winning composer, Adam Kennaugh. Van Dongen’s students have gone on to become college music majors and educators themselves. Van Dongen is a select winner of the Vox Novus competition, “Fifteen Minutes of Fame.” His compositions have been performed in the New York Metropolitan area, including performances by Ruotao Mao, Yumi Suehiro, Shannon Roberts, Katie Lipow, Colton Martin, Michael McDonald, Eric Roper, Lucy Hole, Chloe Elszey, Ruth Ochs, and David A. Poli. Van Dongen has premiered his own works on classical guitar, and has made numerous recordings as an electric guitarist and session musician. Van Dongen’s 2015-2016 season as a member of the Westminster Symphonic Choir culminated in performances of Mahler Symphony No. 8 with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center which were recorded by Sony Music. Van Dongen holds a Master of Music degree with distinction in Composition from Westminster Choir College, a Bachelor of Music degree, Summa Cum Laude, in Classical Guitar Performance from Montclair State University, and an Associate of Arts degree, Summa Cum Laude, in Classical Guitar Performance from the County College of Morris. He has studied Classical guitar with Ana Maria Rosado, Steven Gibb, Darren O’Neil, Dennis Cinelli, and Carol Hamersma, composition with Joel Phillips and Amparo Fabra-Crespo, keyboard harmony with Stefan Young, Schenkerian analysis with Anthony Kosar, post-tonal analysis with Ronald Hemmel, Medieval music and notation with Carolann Buff, and tonal music theory with Joel Phillips, Joseph Bilotti, and Richard Gradone. He is a self-taught electric guitarist.


The Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts’ mission is to provide the highest quality performing arts education to a wide range of students in a supportive and inclusive environment, where striving for personal excellence inspires and connects those we teach to the communities we serve. Wharton is New Jersey’s largest independent non-profit community performing arts education center serving over 1,400 students through a range of classes and ensembles including the 14 ensembles of the New Jersey Youth Symphony which serve 500 students in grades 3 - 12. Beginning with Early Childhood music classes for infants and toddlers, WIPA offers private lessons, group classes and ensembles for all ages and all abilities..

Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts is located in Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Paterson, NJ and reaches students from 13 counties. All of WIPA’s extraordinary faculty members and conductors hold degrees in their teaching specialty and have been vetted and trained to enable our students to achieve their personal best. 

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