Student Profile: Matthew Williams

This dedicated Boston native puts his faith in drums and the divine.

December 12, 2008

Boston native Matthew Williams started his drumming career early as the toddler star of the Kitchen Cabinet One-Man Band. But he didn't get serious about music until his high school years, when he attended the Roland Hayes School of Music, and Berklee's Five-Week Summer Performance Program on a SYSTEM 5 scholarship from City Music Boston. Despite trials and tribulations, music and his faith kept him on track. For his efforts, he earned the four-year, full-tuition Berklee City Music Continuing Scholarship.

Now he juggles an r&b/neo-soul band called the Feel Good, a gospel group, his high school band director's jazz trio, the City Music All-Stars, volunteer commitments, and college—where he's majoring in professional music and considering adding a major in music synthesis.

Despite his busy schedule, Williams keeps closely connected to home, living with his mother in Mattapan and playing in the band at his childhood church. "I grew up in the church, and I'm not going to leave. Everything I do is for God. Jesus Christ is my foundation," he said.

How did you start drumming?

I started on pots and pans. I set up the pots in the kitchen. I would get forks and spoons and play. My mother, she always knew that I liked drums but at the time she couldn't really afford lessons. Later on she made me play the violin, and I hated it. She noticed that drumming was my gift. She figured, okay, I'm going to let him follow his dreams.

What kind of music are you studying?

Right now I'm studying jazz. My motivation came from my jazz band director in high school. He forced me to be in a jazz band because there was no other drummer. I really grew into it. I love jazz because it always changes. It's spontaneous.

How does your Berklee training affect your music at church?

I bring a kind of different approach to gospel because of playing other styles. Latin styles—a lot of that's coming into gospel now. A little bit of jazz. I incorporate it to make the music a little different. I thank God he's blessed me with a gift to share with others. I want to be remembered not only as a great musician but as someone with a great character.

How did you originally connect with Berklee?

The director at my high school, he's really familiar with the City Music program, and a couple of my teachers were alums from Berklee. I came into the Five-Week Summer Performance Program my sophomore year. Then Berklee City Music invited me to attend its Saturday Upper School.

What did you learn through City Music?

The City Music program—I really thank them a lot. It kind of gave me a different mindset. I've always played music, but it didn't grow into a passion until I started the program. Being around a lot of different cultures and individuals made me enlightened about what is out there. It helped me a lot with my fears of playing in front of people. I also learned how to conduct myself better business-wise. I've learned how to lay out a schedule and deal with financial stuff.

I met a lot of people. We started playing together outside the program. We didn't just build a connection inside Berklee—we actually built relationships. We still have that close relationship. We just can't get rid of each other!

On a more personal level, how did City Music change things for you?

I found myself developing as a person, more than just a musician. I've matured a lot. I've had some people that I know that have either died or been in some kind of violent situation. Throughout the storms I've learned to trust in God. It's really good to get into positive things when you're young. Focus on your dreams and goals now—the future is closer than you believe.

As a person, you always want to grow. Once you grow, you're able to lend a hand to someone else. Your effectiveness may change somebody's life. It falls into the next generation.

So are you involved with helping the next generation?

I give music lessons—it can be challenging sometimes, coming up with lessons, but it's very fun. I volunteer sometimes at my friend's church to give lessons and share my experience. I've also given a clinic at my high school. Recently I took up the opportunity to be a mentor for the Berklee City Music Program.

Matthew's Top 5 Albums

  1. Israel & New Breed, Live from Another Level
  2. Herbie Hancock, Empyrean Isles
  3. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
  4. Brian Blade, Brian Blade Fellowship
  5. J Dilla, Welcome 2 Detroit (Instrumentals)