It’s fair to say that 2023 has been a big year for marimba player Mateo Seghezzo.
Not only did he become a Gold Medalist in the Young Texas Artists Music Competition’s Winds, Brass, Percussion, Harp, and Guitar division this year, Seghezzo also won the U.S. Army Band National Collegiate Solo Competition.
As winner of the solo competition, Seghezzo had the opportunity to perform “Prism Rhapsody for Marimba and Wind Ensemble” by Keiko Abe with the U.S. Army Band in Washington, D.C., and make a professional recording of the concerto.
“I can’t believe it still,” said Seghezzo, who also earned his Bachelor of Music degree in percussion performance this year from Sam Houston State University (SHSU), where he plans to pursue his master’s degree in early keyboard studies.
Also meaningful to Seghezzo: His audience in Washington included a trio of supporters who followed him to the capitol: Debbie Rawlins, one of Seghezzo’s SHSU instructors; Rawlins’ friend Judy Robert, a Montgomery County resident who happens to be a YTA audience member and volunteer; and Rawlins’ 11-year-old grandson, Jaidyn Maalouf, a Conroe student who is learning to play the trumpet.
“That was incredible,” Seghezzo said. “Ms. Rawlins is an amazing professor. She had planned to go to Washington, D.C., but she didn’t know when. When I told her I was doing this, she said, ‘OK, I’m going to Washington when you perform. That was really nice of her.”
On the Right Path
For Seghezzo, the back-to-back competition wins were greatly appreciated votes of confidence, not only for his musical abilities but also for his choice of instrument.
Seghezzo, who was born in Argentina, played drums when he was growing up and aspired to be a jazz musician. He has always loved classical music — Baroque music in particular — but he didn’t see a pathway to making it his career.
“But when I auditioned to be in the percussion program here at Sam Houston, they required me to also play with a certain level of proficiency on the marimba,” Seghezzo said. “When I had to learn this fabulous instrument, it just blew me away. It connected the passion I had for classical and Baroque music. So I stopped playing drums right away and went straight on to marimba.
“So these kinds of competitions really mean a lot,” he said. “You can’t help but wonder if you messed up. Did you make the right decision? These are assurances that, thankfully, someone appreciates what I’m doing with the marimba, and I’m on the right track.”
Seghezzo certainly could have used an advance on that assurance when he was still an applicant for the U.S. Army Band National Collegiate Solo Competition. At the time, he saw it as an incredible opportunity that, most likely, was beyond his reach.
The national competition, offered by the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” is open to college students up to age 27 who play percussion or winds. Only one person wins. Contestants can be at any stage in their education, and for the last several years, the winners have been doctoral candidates.
“I was an undergrad, and I thought, I’m not winning this,” Seghezzo said. “Then I got a call a couple of months after I submitted my application. I almost hung up because my phone showed an unknown number. I only picked up because it was from Washington, D.C., and it might be important. The competition didn’t cross my mind.”
But the call was about the competition: Sgt. First Class Eric Seay (who has since been promoted to master sergeant), program coordinator, called to inform Seghezzo that he was, indeed, the 2023 winner.
And during the second week of June, Seghezzo found himself in Washington, D.C.
“We did a recording session at Fort Myer, and then the concert was at the Lincoln Memorial,” Seghezzo said. “My view, if I looked up from the marimba, was the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument. It was kind of a movie-like experience. I was playing a couple of steps from where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”
Another big highlight for Seghezzo was being received by the Argentinian ambassador to the U.S., Jorge Martín Arturo Argüello. The ambassador gave Seghezzo a tour of the Argentinian embassy and attended his performance.
“That was incredible, to have such a high level diplomat of my country there,” Seghezzo said.
So Seghezzo had a strong base of support in the audience, both Argüello, representing his home country, and the trio that followed him from Texas.
Robert said she made the trip to Washington both to spend time with her friend, Rawlins, and for the chance to hear Seghezzo perform. While Robert hadn’t heard him play the marimba before then, she was very familiar with the high caliber of talent that competes with YTA.
“It’s such an outstanding organization,” Robert said, and hearing Mateo was even more than I anticipated. He is so, so talented. With the Army band behind him, it was just so nice. I felt very fortunate to be there.”
Rawlins, an adjunct professor, was Seghezzo’s “Studies in Music for Children” instructor last spring. The young musician very quickly made a positive impression on her.
“He is very humble,” Rawlins said. “He’s grateful for all of the opportunities that he has here. And he has excellent perseverance: When he wants to do something, he starts it and follows through until he reaches his goal.”
Rawlins said she admires Seghezzo for his creativity, too, and his success adapting pieces written for other instruments for the marimba.
Strong Foundation, Bright Future
In addition to his YTA Gold Medal and U.S. Army Band National Collegiate Solo Competition win, Seghezzo is a winner of the SHSU Concerto Competition. In 2022, he was the first international student, first male, and first music major to ever receive the Texas State University System (TSUS) Regents’ Student Scholar Award, which recognizes academic achievement.
As a graduate student at SHSU, he will be under the direction of Mario Aschauer.
Seghezzo said his goal is to understand baroque music from a historically informed perspective and then translate this knowledge insightfully to the marimba.