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  • Writer's pictureW.S. BARNETT

Ronald Matthews: The Maestro Making a Difference

Beethoven said "To play without passion is inexcusable!" Eastern University's 10th president's extraordinary mix of creativity, leadership and passion are interwoven into the fabric of his life, work and relationships. His inspiring music and contagious joy touches the heart deeply. The Beethoven series features some of the most distinguished artists who are making a difference. Ron's story will inspire you!

Ronald A. Matthews joined Eastern University in 1992 and was appointed the 10th President of Eastern University effective March 1, 2018. Prior to this call, Dr. Matthews served as Professor of Music, Chair of the Music Department, and since 2010, Executive Director of the Fine and Performing Arts Division.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Dr. Matthews graduated from Central High School. Having received a Philadelphia Board of Education music scholarship, he did his undergraduate work in Church Music and Organ at Westminster Choir College where he graduated magna cum laude and received both the Senior Class Conducting Award and the Christian Leadership Award. Dr. Matthews received the Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting from Temple University, during which time he was invited to conduct the Jerusalem Chamber Orchestra for a recording project in Tel Aviv.

At the age of 23, Dr. Matthews was invited to join the faculty of Nyack College as the Director of Choral Activities. He received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Combs College of Music in Composition with an emphasis in Orchestral Conducting. From 1982-1992, Dr. Matthews was the Chair of the Department of Music at what is now Cairn University. For several years, he was a Thomas F. Staley Foundation lecturer/artist and served on professional and denominational boards and task forces. From 2005 until 2018, he was the Pastor of Worship Arts at Church of the Saviour in Wayne, PA.

Dr. Matthews is married to Pamela R. Matthews. Dr. and Mrs. Matthews have two adult sons. David Matthews lives in San Francisco and works for BrightInsight. Andrew Matthews lives in Philadelphia and works for Merck & Company.


What is your favorite Beethoven musical work? And why?

As conductor and singer: Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125. It is epic architecture, expansive performing forces, and strong textual proclamation of the human soul, as a pianist: Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13. It is the first Beethoven Sonata that I learned as a child, and it has been a lifelong relationship of discovery and interpretation.

As an accompanist: Sonata No. 5 in D Major, Op. 102, No. 2. The last movement is a fugue that explores tonality almost to the limit. For me, it is a difficult fugue to play, but the upside is that it feels new every time I play it!

How has Beethoven’s master artistry inspired or influenced you as a creative?

Eastern University discovered an original Beethoven manuscript in our seminary library in 2005. The work was an autographed manuscript of the Grosse Fugue in Bb Major for piano four0hands, Op. 134. I had the opportunity to examine the score and saw Beethoven’s corrections, edits, and fingering. There was even a page that he had glued to the next to cover his changes and permit continuity. It demonstrated his almost obsessive approach to getting his ideas notated precisely.

It was inspiring and awesome, influencing my own composing by heightening the importance of patience in thoroughly completing projects. This virtue can affect every aspect of my life, if I’m open to it.

Beethoven was a man of great faith who saw music as a medium that could be experienced anywhere. What are your thoughts on the power of the arts to transform lives?

The arts and healthy artmaking are a microcosm of the ideal society – individual discipline and achievement, personal expression for common benefit, dependency on and engagement with others for beautiful performance outcomes, curiosity, diversity, equity, inclusion, enjoyment, and humility. As a conductor, a role that involves not even touching a musical instrument, the collaborative dependency on others is an ideal leadership model – affirming the gifts of others, unifying and, at times, suppressing the egos of excellence to produce an experience of transcendence and transformation. The arts identify, intensify, and interpret feelings and ideas that deepen and inform our lives.

What is your creative talent, craft, or profession?

Instruments: organ, piano, trumpet; Voice: bass-baritone; Conducting, and Composing.

How did you get started on your creative journey?

I come from a musical family. My two brothers and I began piano at age 4, thanks, Mom?! I added trumpet at 8, organ at 12, and had my first church position at 14. I majored in organ performance and church music and minored in voice in college, then did my masters in choral conducting and my doctorate in composition, with an emphasis on orchestral conducting.

Where are you now on this journey?

After 40+ years (O my goodness) serving fulltime in higher education, parttime in church music, and maintaining a touring schedule, I was called to serve as president of Eastern University. The experiences and skills related to my music career have been divinely and surprisingly reconfigured to serve this amazing community. I am honored to have been entrusted with this opportunity, especially amid the difficult times facing higher education. I still practice just about daily and released a jazz piano Christmas album entitled, Holly and Ivory in 2018.

"The experiences and skills related to my music career have been divinely and surprisingly reconfigured to serve this amazing community. I am honored to have been entrusted with this opportunity, especially amid the difficult times facing higher education." Dr. Ronald Matthews

What are some of your accomplishments (published works, awards, etc.)?

My brother Gary and I have six recordings and have recently conducted music tours to Ireland and Italy. Several of my choral works are published through OCP publications, and I do commissions for organizations through my digital company: RAM Music Publications. I get to accompany some amazing musicians including David Kim, the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. For 12 years, I was the Jubilate Deo Chorale and Orchestra’s music director and conductor, performing in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, touring Europe, and participating with the Sistine Chapel during a significant service involving the elevation of 31 bishops and archbishops.

How do you connect your art to your faith?

2 Timothy 1:9 states. “Who [God] saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Everything I am is for God’s glory, and God graciously provided music as a way for me to serve God and others. Music is a form of worship and praise mentioned throughout scripture and is included in the vision of celestial worship in the last biblical book of Revelation.

What can you, as an artist, inherently do to make a difference in the world today?

Be Spirit-filled by the grace of God; offer my best; listen, love, learn, and lead/serve effectively.

Copyright 2020 William S. Barnett

No portion of this content can be copied, electronically stored, or reproduced without the express written permission of the author.

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