They say the way to Carnegie Hall is to practice, practice, practice, but to get to the Kennedy Center in Washington, you might need more than that.
In December, local composer, musician and West Virginia Public Broadcasting afternoon music host Matt Jackfert had one of his arrangements debut with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Sitting behind the microphone in WVPB’s radio broadcast studio, he said, “What happened was back in February, I wrote a piece for West Virginia State University. It was a small violin concerto.”
Charleston Chamber Orchestra played the concerto at the Kennedy Center as part of their program during a festival.
Jackfert went along.
“It went really well,” the 31-year-old Charleston native said.
During the festival, he met up with West Virginia Symphony Orchestra principal timpanist Scott Christian.
Christian is currently a member of the National Symphony Orchestra, serving as acting assistant principal timpanist.
The two had dinner. Christian told him to send in some of his work and offered to put in a good word with the National Symphony’s pops conductor Steven Reineke.
“I ended up writing him an email and sending all my scores, explaining where they’d been played,” Jackfert said.
The local composer has had works played by the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra and by symphonies in Colorado, Ohio and more.
Nothing happened for months and months. Half a year went by. Then Jackfert got a text from Christian. It said, “Looks like we’re doing a Jackfert this year.”
Jackfert said he texted back, “Oh my God. What? That’s amazing.”
Christian had not been aware that Jackfert did not yet know.
A few days later, Jackfert said he got official word from the National Symphony that they wanted to use his arrangement for “I Saw Three Ships,” a traditional Christmas tune that has been played by the WVSO.
“That’s probably one of my best arrangements,” he said. “It’s not really just an arrangement. It’s a resetting of the song. It’s very different than the original version.”
The piece would be performed several times in December. Jackfert was invited to attend a performance and be recognized during the concert at the Kennedy Center.
“Which is a once-in-a-lifetime thing sometimes,” he said.
Jackfert’s arrangement of “I Saw Three Ships” was well-received, he said, and he got to stand and take in a little applause from the audience.
That might have gone better, Jackfert said.
Just before the concert, Jackfert picked up something to drink in the hallway before he took his seat.
“They were out of regular bottled water, so I took a Perrier,” he said.
A couple of pieces before “I Saw Three Ships,” he opened the bottle, which erupted in a shower of fizzy water.
Jackfert was drenched and thought, “I’m going to look like a hobo.”
Luckily, the lights weren’t that bright. Nobody seemed to notice and the moment wasn’t spoiled.
After the concert, Jackfert said he hung out with members of the National Symphony, Reineke and the guest vocalist, Leslie Odom, Jr., the Tony Award-winning Broadway actor best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in the musical “Hamilton.”
“It was a great night,” Jackfert said.
The composer doesn’t know what’s ahead for 2020. Getting a piece played by the National Symphony was an unexpected high point to 2019, but Jackfert said he’s keeping busy. He’s currently working on a couple of arrangements of “Country Roads” for the WVSO and is in talks to write something for Charleston Ballet.
Jackfert also has his regular Classical Music radio shift at West Virginia Public Broadcasting and is a member of popular local band, The Company Stores.
“It’s a lot to balance everything,” he said. “I’m always trying to find time to do everything, but I don’t have kids and I don’t watch TV, both of which probably help, honestly.”