The Burlington lobby was abuzz with excitement on Friday, December 15, 2017, as parents and students eagerly awaited the Real Room doors to open for a special sold-out clinic with vocalist Matthew Sallee.
How it all started
Joined on the stage with RealJams Academy Director and instructor Bill Doss, Matthew shared his earliest musical memories growing up in southern Maryland as a member of the church choir with his father as the music pastor. "I would get up there to sing as a little kid, and my grandmother would always start crying!" Along with friends, Matthew starting an a cappella group in high school called the Ramifications (after the school mascot, the Rams).
Disappointment turns into opportunity
After graduation, Matthew left Maryland for Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, but Berklee wasn't his first choice. His dream college was Elon University, and when that didn't work out, he went with Berklee as his backup plan. And it proved to be an excellent choice, filled with incredible opportunities to grow as a musician, to perform, and to build his network.
At Berklee, Matthew was part of the a cappella ensemble Pitch Slapped, which toured China and won two International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella competitions. Named one of the top five a cappella groups in the country by USA Today, Pitch Slapped was featured on America's Got Talent in 2015.
While working at his student job at the front desk, a seemingly random person came in to ask if, "there were any students available to perform at my concert." Almost anyone can just walk in off the street at the Berklee 150 building, and Matt didn't think anything of it until a fellow student said, "that's Jesse J!" Matt eagerly shared one of his videos with her, and she invited him to join her onstage that night. Matt later learned that Cyndi Lauper had asked Jesse J to sing with her when Jesse was an unknown artist and that, once Jesse J established her career, she decided to pay it forward by regularly inviting aspiring musicians to perform with her.
The audition for Pentatonix
In June 2017, Matt was invited to send audition materials for an opening in a national touring (but unnamed) a cappella group. It wasn't until September that he finally heard that he was one of nine finalists invited to audition for an upcoming tour with Pentatonix. Once he was selected to join the tour, Matt moved from Boston to Los Angeles in just ten days.
Of his experience so far with Pentatonix, Matt said, "It has happened so quickly, and I feel so blessed to be doing this. Pentatonix has a family feel where everyone genuinely likes each other. It's just like singing with friends, and it's a dream come true."
As Matt told his story, the students in attendance hung on every word. But, when it was time for the Q+A, they let loose with a barrage of questions! Here are some of the highlights:
Question: What's it like to be asked for autographs?
Matt: It's like a surreal experience... signing autographs is so weird! The first time a fan recognized me in LA, and asked, 'are you Matthew Sallee?' And I was like, 'YESSSS! WOULD YOU LIKE AN AUTOGRAPH? How many do you want (laughs)?
Many Pentatonix fans come to concerts with gifts to give to the members. At one point, Matthew announced on Instagram and during a fan Q+A that he loved Reese's, and since then, he's been inundated with Reese's. One fan was particularly excited to give him a two-pound version!
Question: What did you do to prepare for the tour?
Matt: I set up a playlist with every song Pentatonix has ever done and listened to it non-stop so I could be prepared. I didn't want to be the one person who would bring the group down just because I was new... I wanted to add to the group and even raise the level. At one gig in Toronto, we had a last minute change to the setlist, and I was prepared for it. And this gave me even more confidence and to believe in myself.
Question: What is the process for picking and arranging the songs?
Matt: It's very hands on. All of the members help to arrange the songs. We don't just leave it up to whatever the arranger gives us. It's a group effort.
Question: Do you get hyped up before a show?
Matt: No, before a show, I stay calm and focused. But, we do have a mini dance party backstage!
Question: If you want to start your own a cappella group at school, how do you get other kids to join?
Matt: Just ask them! Get a teacher who is willing to 'sponsor' the group (it doesn't have to be the choir teacher), and then just get some friends together and go for it. That's how Pentatonix started, with some friends in high school in Texas, and that's what I did with my high school group.
Question: Who are the most important people in your life?
Matt: My mom and dad. I look up to my parents. They always encouraged my dreams and I'm blessed to have two great parents. Also, my siblings and friends. My family is my foundation, and that's why I can handle this whirlwind experience. They keep me grounded.
Question: What's your advice to musicians on how to assert themselves more?
Matt: Creating good quality content is key. Labels don't want to develop artists anymore, you have to already have a body of work. Show your work to people you admire. At first, I was intimidated by the people I looked up to, but I decided that I wanted to learn from them. You can start with a cover video, just make sure that it's good quality. If it's good and it's genuine, people will hear it. Just do it!
Question: What are your favorite games? (Matthew is an avid gamer)
Matt: I love sports, so NBA 2K and Madden... and Call of Duty.
Question: Will you come back to teach at Real School?
Matt: I would love to! Things are very busy right now, and I'm out in LA, but Bill and I will stay in touch about it.
The clinic wrapped up with a special raffle for two free tickets and backstage VIP access to the members of Pentatonix for the Saturday, December 16 concert. The raffle was won by students Jillian and Nicholas from Bedford, MA.
After the clinic, Bill Doss said, "I know how busy Matt is on the PTX tour, I'm humbled he was able to carve out sometime while in Boston to reunite with "Acavocado" his RealJams A Cappella group he led from last summer and share his story to a room full of fans. Listening to him talk about his unbelievable musical journey was an inspiring moment for both our students and faculty."
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