Matthew Brooks, D.M.A., is the director of orchestras at UNO and has been deeply involved in music throughout his life.
Brooks is in his second year of teaching at UNO and has accomplished much in his short time at the university. He conducts the Heartland Philharmonic, the chamber orchestra, the Nebraska Medical Orchestra at UNMC and guest conducts high school orchestra festivals.
Brooks, the youngest of three children, grew up in Massachusetts. He and his two sisters started music lessons at a young age and their parents encouraged their musical abilities by taking them to musical performances. Brooks began playing piano and fell in love with music – one note at a time.
“As much as I had those childhood dreams of ‘I want to be a policeman, I want to be this or that’ it really quickly focused into ‘Oh, I want to be a conductor,’” Brooks said. “Looking back now, I feel really lucky because I’ve seen so many friends that didn’t have a passion and sometimes folks just fall into things.”
Brooks went on to pursue his undergraduate degree from the University of Hartford where he became certified to teach music to students ages 5-18. Instead of immediately jumping into a teaching job, he decided to pursue his master’s degree in orchestra conducting at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He stayed in Nevada for nine years teaching and pursuing other musical performance opportunities until he moved to Virginia and received his doctorate degree at James Madison University for orchestral conducting, pedagogy and literature.
After applying for a teaching job at UNO, he received the news that the university wanted him to travel to Omaha for an interview, so he flew from northern California to the Midwest.
“I didn’t know much about Omaha,” Brooks said. “When I came out here for my interview and audition I saw that it was a city and there was this life to it. The best part for me about Omaha is that you have that city environment but with a smaller town feel. The friendliness, the access, the ease to get around – but, at the same time, you have all the conveniences that you would want or need from a city like the arts and the museums and all those things that make our lives more fulfilled.”
Once he was given a job offer, Brooks moved to Omaha and immediately jumped into the program with both feet. He helped create the Nebraska Medical Orchestra at University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) his very first year as a professor.
The orchestra is made up of half students and half faculty and staff. Anyone who is linked to the medical field is allowed to audition.
“There’s a lot of research that shows burnout, stress are huge factors. Music is often a soothing thing for them,” Brooks said.
Brooks is in charge of day-to-day responsibilities such as handling personnel issues and choosing and rehearsing music. He hopes that it will improve wellness for health providers and is grateful for the amount of support the community has given. The orchestra holds up to two concerts a semester and also performs at conferences and alumni events at UNMC.
“That support has helped us to offer new programs and to create new opportunities for our students and the community and to support the faculty so that we can go and do things that better ourselves so that we can come back and do more things for our students,” Brooks said.
Brooks is often a guest conductor and has had the privilege of traveling across the country, as well as the world, to lead orchestras that look to him for guidance.
“I wouldn’t choose to be doing anything other than music,” Brooks said.