What Music Can Be

By Michelle Choate
Violinist and composer Matt McBane ’97 is the founder of the Carlsbad Music Festival, which celebrated its 15th year in summer 2018.

After graduating from the University of Southern California’s prestigious Thornton School of Music, violinist and composer Matt McBane ’97 found himself back in his hometown of Carlsbad, California, looking for a way to gather together local musician friends to jam. A quick visit to the Carlsbad Arts Office for logistical guidance resulted in a $2,000 grant to fund the first-ever Carlsbad Music Festival. Now entering its 15th year, the festival has evolved from a handful of concerts on its initial weekend in 2004 to about 50, most of which are free to all attendees. Billed as “Adventurous Music by the Beach,” the three-day festival is held each year in late August.

McBane serves as the festival’s artistic director, so it’s no surprise that the event’s eclectic mix of music—from contemporary classical to indie rock to world music to electronic—is a reflection of his own musical interests and talents. “One of the things people love about the festival is that they get to hear new things and have their horizons expanded about what music can be,” says McBane. “That includes cutting-edge musicians doing really creative, innovative things.”

McBane’s own musical journey began when he started playing the violin at age three. By the time he arrived at La Jolla Country Day School as a sixth grader, he was an accomplished and curious musician. It was the AP Music Theory class he took as a freshman, however, that helped clarify his musical calling. “Music Theory was the beginning of my composing,” he says. “Going through that class gave me the musical foundation and the confidence to know that it was possible for me to become a composer.”

McBane has worked steadily as a freelance composer. He’s been commissioned to create musical pieces for all kinds of projects, mediums and musical instruments. “Collaboration is critical for me as both a musician and a composer,” says McBane. “I collaborate with artists in a variety of genres, which I really enjoy. I’ve written for a variety of ensembles, including string quartets, percussion ensembles, orchestras and my own band, Build. I also work quite frequently with choreographers, writing music for dance.” Despite his classical training, McBane often introduces elements of electronic, rock and jazz to the pieces he creates.

In addition to composing and performing, McBane would like to become a music professor. To that end, he is halfway through a five-year Ph.D. program in music composition at Princeton.

Despite how full his musical plate is, organizing the Carlsbad Music Festival is a priority, and he always participates musically, whether performing himself or having a piece he’s composed performed by others. This year’s 15th-anniversary celebration takes place August 24–26.

Prior to the festival, McBane will be hard at work on a new album of violin and piano solos for which he composed all the music. He expects the album to be released in fall 2018.  

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