By Mary Starr
In the Old Testament, the Psalmist instructs believers to “make a joyful noise” seven times. The pronouncement occurs in Psalms 66, 81, 95 and 98 (twice each) and 100. The congregation at Wesley United Methodist Church, led by their new music director, Matthew Ganong, is doing its best to follow this command. In his few months at Wesley, Ganong has introduced a new concert series and hopes to continue to bring in well-known musicians for classical music concerts for the congregation and the public to enjoy.
It seems Ganong was destined at an early age to pursue a musical career. He began the formal study of music at the early age of 7, in Columbia, S.C., and learning piano under John Ervin. He later studied the piano under his first teacher’s teacher, John Williams, at the University of South Carolina from 1986-1993. He attended Peabody Conservatory, in Baltimore, Md., and studied piano under Boris Slutsky and Ellen Mark, and harpsichord with Webb Wiggins. Ganong earned a Bachelor of Music in piano performance from Peabody Conservatory in 1997, with a minor in harpsichord performance and continuo.
“As a kid, I really had a breakthrough moment,” he said. “I was 9, and listening to ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ and had a revelation; the music had such meaning and I wanted to understand it.”
Although Ganong has immersed himself in classical and church music, he enjoys all types of music, as long as it “comes from the spirit,” but he is quick to state classical music is his love. He’s won numerous awards for his piano work, but is equally comfortable composing or improvising music. Ganong’s extensive resume states he has been a performer in “miscellaneous concerts and musical events since 1980, as soloist and collaborator, with all types of instruments, voices and ensembles, in a wide variety of musical styles from around the world and throughout history.
Ganong’s church music background is extensive, as is his career as a freelance musician. His work as a solo and collaborative pianist and singer in various vocal ensembles is well-documented. In fact, his experience in opera and choral arts is surpassed only by his long-time involvement in chamber music. He has played in ensembles and recitals with numerous instrumentalists on every major instrument in the modern symphony orchestra. He was a member of Chicago’s chamber music performance society, Anaphora, led by violinist/violist Aurelien Pederzoli and clarinetist Cory Tiffin, with whom he formed the Carma Trio, and the Advent Chamber Orchestra, led by violinist Roxana Pavel Goldestein and violist Elias Goldstein.
“I’d like to invite them,” he said.
There may be opportunity for such an invitation. During he recent Lenten season, Ganong founded and directed the noontime Lenten Concert Series at Wesley. And even though Lent has officially concluded for the liturgical year, the concerts are continuing on Thursdays through the end of May. There is also a special concert coming up. At 7 p.m. May 24, Ganong and his friend, cellist Daniel Gaisford, will play a program of sonatas for cello and piano by Bach and Beethoven.
“He’s one of the greatest cellists of all time,” Ganong said.
People who listen to Ganong play may be treated to improvisations on classic musical pieces, or his own compositions. Occasionally, he goes into marathon mode; in the past, he has presented a couple of feats of endurance — during 2014-2015, he was the artist-in-residence in the Patrons and Friends of the Arts concert series at Ebenezer Lutheran Church. In this role, he presented a concert of his original chamber music for piano, violin and cello; a harpsichord recital, and a complete performance, from memory of J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” books one and two, in a marathon concert that lasted more than four hours. The following year on the same series, and on the same program, he performed Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations and the Art of Fugue.
Now ensconced at Wesley, Ganong and his family have settled into St. Simons Island life, and he can’t say enough about how wonderful a spot Wesley is in which to work. He’s thankful for the gifts music brings to a congregation, including giving people the opportunity to allow the melodies and harmonies to tap into their souls.
Music, he said, taps into our more fundamental level of being.
“It precedes language,” he asserted. “A lot of people find a special connection to music.”
For some people who are struggling with various problems and issues, music can be the conduit to begin the healing process.
“Music is medicinal,” Ganong said. “It has an effect on the spirit; it can get us in touch with our heart.”
He summed up the power of music in one statement.
“It’s ephemeral,” he said. “The goal is to have it make a crack in our resistance so we can be open to the spirit.”