Mattern makes an instrumental impact

On Thursday, May 18 music director John Mattern led his last student performance at Redwood. Since 2004, Mattern has been cultivating the music program by directing sophisticated symphonic and jazz bands and creating the curriculum for the Performance Workshop courses. Recently, he worked toward organizing spring performances as well as a celebratory alumni night on Friday, May 19 highlighting his current and past students.  

Prior to teaching, Mattern’s own years in high school marked his investment in the music industry. 

“[In] third grade, I started learning the accordion. Then in fifth grade, I got into a band because my friends were in it and I played the saxophone. [But] I was never very serious at all and didn’t practice. When I [was] a junior in high school, I saw the banjo being played by someone. It [made] me want to play the banjo. That’s when I got serious about music,” Mattern said.

Laughing alongside guest artist and past student Ricky Mier, Mattern reminisces.

In addition to writing and singing, Mattern plays the saxophone, guitar, steel pedal guitar, banjo, piano and more. As his interest in various instruments grew, Mattern’s love for playing music expanded into a love for teaching it. He developed Advanced Performance Workshop (APW) and Intermediate Performance Workshop (IPW). In order to make this possible, Mattern devoted his time to writing out the class structure and then submitting his work to the University of California (UC) system to receive UC credit. Thus, his efforts elevated and expanded music programs not only at Redwood, but also across the nation, making Performance Workshop courses registered for credit in the UC system. 

Performance workshop student and senior Julia Ginsburg reflects on her time in Mattern’s classes. She underscored the process of feedback from Mattern during class presentations, resulting in improvement in preparation for culminating semester performances. 

“[Mattern] teaches us a lot about music. But he [also] teaches us a lot about life and how to go about being a good and genuine person. He can spend ages telling us all about the history of music and about all of these different musicians and artists. I love that you can see he has such a clear passion and interest in music,” Ginsburg said. 

Holding a clear philosophy in teaching, Mattern prioritizes the applicable nature of music to all aspects of life. Throughout the years, Mattern has recognized his unique teaching style.

On stage, Mattern honors the last group of seniors he will work with at Redwood.

“Interestingly enough, I capture the attention of most kids because I expect as much as I can get out of them. I expect their absolute best and beyond. And they always rise to that because they want that [too]. They want to be challenged,” Mattern said.

In her freshman year, Ginsburg took IPW to receive the mandatory art credit needed to graduate. Beyond her first year, Ginsburg’s commitment to music has grown with Mattern’s support and feedback. As a singer-songwriter, like Mattern, Ginsburg is inspired by his accomplishments.  

“[Mattern’s] music tastes have had such an influence on me, like bluegrass and folk guitar-esque music. Behind him is a lot of smart music theory and lyricism that I admire. One day I hope to have similar intelligence,” Ginsburg said.

This diverse music taste has influenced his own music. He has produced two full albums, “Fire Girl,” about his wife, and a jazz record “John Madden Quartet,” along with additional singles. With the extra time that he will soon have, Mattern plans to focus more on his songwriting pursuits. Describing his retirement as “bittersweet,” Mattern reflects on his time moving on from the Redwood music program with more investment in other endeavors. 

 “It’s time for me to go; I want to go do my own musical life. I’m a great farmer up in Mendocino County. I farm vineyards; I want to do that and just slow down and have more space for me, my wife and travels,” Mattern said. “But I’m not going to slow down really, I’m just going to shift from having the huge task [of] this program. I’m very proud of [the music program] and it’s hard to let it go.”

“I knew that music was going to be something in my life. I [got] a guitar, I went to music school and the rest is history,” Mattern said.