Mat Wilkinson is in the Chat Room

Mat Wilkinson

Mat Wilkinson

Age: 30

Family: Married to Jeanine Wilkinson

Occupation: Maryville High School orchestra teacher/freelance musician

As Mat Wilkinson stands at the Clayton Center for the Arts Thursday before the Maryville High School orchestra and the combined choruses of four high schools, it will no doubt look a lot different from his own high school days. Wilkinson will direct the Maryville High School Orchestra during their annual concert, which also features choirs from Maryville, Heritage, William Blount and Lenoir City high schools.

He says he will have come a long way from where he went to school.

“Coming from where I did in Peoria, Ill., they shut the high school down because of gangs and shootings and drugs,” he says.

The Peoria, Ill., native started playing cello at age 4, learning from his mother who also played the instrument. “Out of the string instruments, it is the best,” Wilkinson said. “It is closest to the human voice and is soothing. The wide range of sounds you get on the cello is a lot different than you get on all the other instruments,” he says.

Mat won a cello scholarship to the University of Oregon and after earning his degree worked in orchestra. When he and his then girlfriend both got scholarships to the University of Tennessee for their masters, they moved to Knoxville. He earned a Master’s Degree in Education, and she earned a Master’s Degree in cello performance.

Mat says he was never exposed in high school to the kind of instruction he needed, and it was the negative influence of those days that ultimately led him to the classroom.

“They were not very nice, didn’t teach us anything about music and that rubbed me the wrong way,” said Wilkinson. “So when I had the chance to go back to school and get an education degree, I thought this is a good way to help someone.”

After he finished his masters, he got a job teaching orchestra at Karnes high and middle schools. When the program was cut, he heard about the opening at Maryville and applied.

Mat and Jeanine met when they were in college, were together five years and returned to their college town to marry after earning their respective graduate degrees from U.T. “We finished school and got married two years ago at a winery in Eugene,” he says.

Mat says he is amazed at the quality of students he sees in the orchestra at Maryville High School. “There are a lot of talented students here,” he says.

Mat says he is also thankful the community appreciates the arts and education in general. “To see the community aspect of this school is great. You don’t get that sense of community at every school.”

The combined choral performance will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23, at the Clayton Center for the Arts. Admission is free.

Here is Mat Wilkinson:

Who are you most like, your mother or your father and why?

“I am like both my parents. They are both musically and artistically educated, and I followed in their footsteps with regards to my career choice. Also, my father has a very good sense of humor, and that is one of my stronger characteristics.”

What is your favorite material possession?

“I live a very simple life so I don’t have many possessions. However, my mother bought me a cello in eighth grade that I have kept ever since.”

What are you reading currently?

“ ‘Hip Hop America’ by Nelson George. I don’t listen to hip-hop very often, but I am always interested in the development of certain musical genres.”

What was your most embarrassing moment?

“I played on the offensive line for my eighth grade varsity football team. After the first game, we were taking our jerseys off to have them washed. Apparently I had put my shoulder pads on backwards, and, of course the star quarterback noticed. For the rest of the season I was known as the kid who sat the entire game with his shoulder pads on backwards.”

What are the top three things on your bucket list?

“Travel to Thailand and New Zealand. Start a family before I am too old. Buy a big house in the woods and start a self-sustainable bed and breakfast with my wife.”

What is one word others often use to describe you and why?

“Laid back. I rarely get upset about anything.”

What is your passion?

“I have a huge passion for education, travel, food and good music.”

With whom, living or dead, would you most like to have a long lunch?

“My Grandpa. He passed away when I was in college, and I really didn’t see him very much towards the end of his life because I moved away from my hometown for college. He was a great person, and he taught me so much about respecting other people. He was a very hard worker, and I think that is where my dad and I achieved a strong work ethic.”

If you could go back in time for a week, what time period or year would you visit?

“The decade I would like to spend some time in would probably have to be the 1960s. Some of the greatest musicians lived during that time, and they produced amazing popular music.”

Other than your parents, who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

“There have been many musical influences throughout my career including my mother, but my first cello teacher had a huge impact on my musical life. Ko Iwasaki, who is a well-known cellist around the world, became my teacher when I was in eighth grade.”

Do you Myspace, Facebook or Twitter?

“I have a Facebook account that I use every once in a while to find old friends from high school and college.”

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

“I am a huge dog person, but the only dog I ever had was when I lived with my parents. She is 13, and her name is Tela. I named her after a song from my favorite band in high school, Phish.”

What’s the worst job you have ever had?

“The worst job I ever had was re-shelving books at the Knight Library on the University of Oregon campus. This didn’t last long because they caught me sleeping on the job.”

What irritates you?

“I am a pretty laid back guy, but the thing that irritates me the most is when I see people throw trash on the ground. That is just a total lack of respect for our surroundings. Also, when my wife turns the air conditioner off. We constantly battle over the thermostat temperature.”

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself at 18?

“The best advice I could give anyone at 18 who is going on to college is: Go to class and stay organized. No matter what you did the night before, just make it to class. The professors will know who you are, and you will pick up things that you will remember for those tests.”

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