Farewell to Matthew Westgate

Westgate becoming Director of Wind Studies at UMass | July 15, 2014

Matt Westgate

Earlier this summer, the Xavier Symphony Orchestra toured Europe from May 24 through June 1. The band and orchestra students represented Xavier extremely well with successful performances in Vienna and Prague. There were many memorable adventures, and it was a life-changing trip for all involved. The final concert in Prague was especially emotional and powerful. It was Matthew Westgate's final performance with the Xavier instrumental groups.

During the second-to-last week of the spring semester, Matt was in Massachusetts for a two day on-campus interview. Not long after, he was offered and accepted the Director of Wind Studies position at The University of Massachusetts. While it was not an easy decision to make, he simply could not turn down such a great opportunity.

"I love being a member of this department and working with our terrific students, but this new position is my 'dream job,' and living between Boston and NYC is a perfect location to plant some family and professional roots," he said of his decision. "Things are going in such a positive direction at Xavier! The instrumental program is bigger than me and I am excited to see where these amazing students, and the new faculty members take things in the years to come."

During the summer before Westgate's last year of doctoral school at CCM, he received a call from Dr. Merrill asking if he was interested in helping out the department by filling in as a “visiting assistant professor” for a year. Matt had taught a Methods course the previous year and apparently did a good job! Even though he was going to be a full-time student (finishing doctoral coursework, taking comprehensive exams, and putting together recitals) at the same time that he would be working at Xavier and conducting the bands, he could not turn down the opportunity. It ended up working out really well! The next year Westgate went through the national search process and got the job while completing his dissertation.

Matthew Westgate served as the Director of Instrumental Activities at Xavier from 2008-2014, where he conducted the Symphonic Winds, Chamber Orchestra, and Pep Band, and taught courses in Instrumental Methods and Advanced & Beginning Conducting to graduate and undergraduate music education students. The instrumental department has grown a lot during Westgate's tenure. Symphonic Winds and Pep Band now have about twice as many players as when he arrived in 2008. The Chamber Orchestra began in the spring of 2012 with only five members and now there are over 30 regular, talented players.

"I am so proud of the students in all of the ensembles," Westgate said. "They are truly dedicated to music making at a high level, and that is what has brought more and more people to the groups every year."

While at Xavier, he created a groundbreaking conductor mentorship program for undergraduate music education majors, started an annual "Young Composer Commissioning Project" to connect musicians to up-and-coming composers, and brought in Xavier's first Ensemble-in-Residence: Double or Nothing Ensemble.  In spring of 2013, Matthew was awarded Cincy Magazine's "Outstanding Educator" Award for his work as a teacher and conductor in Cincinnati.

Westgate has so many great memories from the past six years. The following are ones that came to mind along with some of his personal thoughts:

Symphonic Winds:

  • performed at Xavier University’s commencement exercises for the first time in 2010 (now a regular part of the ceremonies).
  • collaborated with the university choirs multiple times. Dr. Merrill was Harold Hill in an arrangement of "Ya Got Trouble" from The Music Man.
  • accompanied Chris Kiradjieff from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for a trumpet concerto (2011).
  • went on their first recruitment/performance tour (2010).
  • performed a multi-media event in Winter 2011 featuring the entire Lord of the Rings Symphony by Johan de Meij, presented with a 40-minute movie produced by a member of the ensemble (Tim Graulty). Gene Marquis (adjunct professor of woodwinds) was featured as a soloist.
  • shared a concert with CCM’s Wind Symphony at Corbett Auditorium in December of 2012.
  • In the spring of 2013, performed Jennifer Higdon’s Percussion Concerto (Erica Drake, soloist) and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at a special Spring Concert Gala.
  • took their first international tour in May of 2014 to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, performing concerts in Vienna and Prague. "The final concert in Prague was one of the most memorable concerts of my life."

Pep Band:

  • NCAA tournament trips! "The year we followed both the Men’s and Women’s teams for over 23 days on the west coast was epic. Pep band has taken Xavier students (and me) from coast to coast – Boston, NYC, Washington DC, Charlotte, Atlantic City, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Sacramento, Greensboro, Boise, and more..."
  • Seeing the pep band board become what it is today.
  • Getting the students to jump up and down together at the beginning of every home game.
  • The high fives at the end of every game after playing “Respect”

Chamber Orchestra:

  • Seeing such incredible growth with such a wonderful group of players.
  • Combining with UC’s orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Polina Bespalko as soloist in Corbett Auditorium
  • The Christmas Ball
  • took their first international tour in May of 2014 to Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, performing concerts in Vienna and Prague. "The final concert in Prague was one of the most memorable concerts of my life."

"Leaving Xavier is difficult," Westgate said reflecting on his time at XU. "The students and faculty members that I have lived with for the past six years are my family. They have all been with me through graduation from doctoral school, learning how to fit in at my first university job, getting married, helping me move into a house, traveling on multiple national and international trips and tours, deaths in my family, the birth of my daughter, babysitting, all of the fantastic memories... and the list goes on.

"I feel so blessed to know these fantastic students and colleagues and I feel lucky to have them in my life. The best part about the past six years has, by far, been the people I have had the privilege of working with and learning from every day. I will forever be grateful for this time in my life."