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Matthew Zachary: Scribblings

AAJ Staff By

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If Matthew Zachary’s debut release, Scribblings, is new age music, it is because he has entered into a new age of life – having fought off cancer. What a start in musical recording.

Matthew Zachary began what he thought would be a life in music by studying the piano at age 11. He began performing when he was 16 but, by 21, life looked very different. Zachary was diagnosed with medulloblastoma – a malignant form of brain cancer usually found in kids. He went from being a senior at SUNY Binghamton (majoring in music) to being on deathwatch.

Doctors successfully removed a golf ball-sized tumour and told Matt to forget about playing again. He said “No, thanks.”

Scribblings, released on Matthew’s own Mission Possible Music label, heavily ebbs and flows. The uncomplicated beginning, “Simplicity,” gives rise to the mountainous crescendo of “Misticisms” – one of four improvised pieces on this record. Matthew Zachary’s strenuous musical training, pre-cancer, has lived and is boldly stated in this journey through aural emotion. By the third track, “Headway,” we get a clear understanding that even the titles of the pieces represent this young man’s experiences as he lived them on death’s doorstep.

“Awakenings” stirs the listener with very personal emotion. Its climbing melody lines and complementary chording paint a visual image of uncompromising honesty.

While Matthew Zachary was training motor function back into his left hand, he hopefully clung to the initial plan: to write and record music. The left hand really did not know the right hand. During his brief periods of playing (ten to 20 minutes a day) while in high-dosage, craniospinal (full-body) radiation therapy, Zachary scribbled melodies and chord progressions onto staff paper. In 1998, those scribblings became this album.

The phrases contained in this 63-minute collection possess a clarity that exudes optimism. ”Rain” moves from an opening of rain itself to music that personifies the many moods that rain can evoke. Although “Innocence” starts as delicately as a baby’s breaking smile, it builds with a force of will. “Moire” is improvised within the boundaries of a classically fundamental understanding of music – clearly a legacy of all of Zachary’s musical training as a boy. “One More” introduces some nice bluesy elements into a flexible framework. Scribblings packs as many musical ideas into ten songs as a child’s imagination paints in one picture.

Matthew Zachary possesses outstanding inventiveness. Each of the album’s four improvised pieces is significantly longer than the rest and they move in passages that push to the edge of volcanism only to pause in relaxed stutter. At other times, they're beautifully rambling in scale. If they occasionally emote, it is to draw us from the emotion. Throughout, we go along for the ride—and the improvisations on this album are quite a ride.

“This album is a musical offering of hope to bring comfort and courage to patients and families who are dealing with a catastrophic illness,” writes Dr. Marcia Greenleaf (Ph.D.), Health Psychologist with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

If checking out Scribblings is your way of appreciating the resolve of cancer, the great music within is his blessing. With this record, Matt has emerged from the drama of truly understanding his own mortality. The only other alternative almost had its way.


Track Listing: Simplicity; Misticisms (Improv #1); Headway; Awakenings; Rain (Improv #2); Innocence; Moire (Improv #3); Nage Ska; One More (Improv #4); Recovery.

Personnel: Matthew Zachary, piano.

Title: Scribblings | Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Mission Possible Music

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