One of the great beauties of tending The Cultivating Project over the years has been the discovery of artists whose work not only shapes and sustains our readers but does that for me as well. Matthew L. Fisher is such an artist. His music has that very peculiar quality of feeling like it was written for me personally, and yet it ‘sings’ to countless others, stirring things in us we can barely give words to. I remember to this day the very first time I heard one of Matthew’s pieces – The Almighty – and how it riveted me like no other piece of music has except Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I remember writing him nervously, hoping he would be willing to do an interview for Cultivating (this was before Cultivating had become a magazine) and how much I wanted to find out more about his music that I was listening to on repeat. I remember too how completely amazed I was to find out how kind, gracious, and generous he was. Fast-forward five years. Matthew is now an award-winning composer for films, movie trailers, television, and games, and he produces full-length albums of piano and instrumental music. He is, however, still kind, gracious, and generous, and I am still breath taken with his work.
This past year I was ill for 10 months and wondered if I would ever come out of that. Matthew’s music sang courage to me in dark, dark places where I really thought I might not be able to go on. It sang so much to me in fact that when it came time to select the music for the Oaks of Righteousness video project for Cultivating, it was Matthew’s music that we used for it.
Allow me to introduce you. May Matthew’s music be good company to you and give you courage, too!
LES: Matthew, as hard as it is for me to believe, we did our first interview together five years ago. I don’t know about you, but at this point, my past five years feels more like ten! What are some milestones in your life during this time and how has your life changed since that first interview in 2015?
MLF: The last five years have flown by. Back in the fall of 2015, we moved into our first house and I finally committed to doing music full time. I built my first official home studio in the basement in 2017. Our first child was also born in September of 2015. Hard to believe that he just turned 5 this past week! We also had our second child in October of 2018. They have definitely made our lives busier than when it was just me and my wife! They bring challenges each day, but they also bring so much joy and fulfillment to our lives. I wouldn’t change it for the world!
2018 and 2019 were also hard years for our family. My wife’s brother fought a hard battle with a rare brain tumor and was eventually taken into glory in January 2019. Bree and I had written the album, “Shelter” just prior to when he was diagnosed. It was written for anyone going through struggles like this, so the fact that it was already written and recorded for Bryan to listen to was such a God-ordained event. The family still has good days and bad days, but we take comfort knowing he is in perfect peace and pain-free in Heaven.
As far as work is concerned, I have found opportunities that I never thought I would have been presented with. Those include creating the score for a full-length feature film titled, “Tortured for Christ”. This is based on the life of Richard Wurmbrand who was an underground preacher who faced much persecution for his faith. I strongly encourage your readers to check it out. It was such an incredible project to be a part of. I also had the opportunity to write the music for The Ark Encounter exhibit located in Kentucky. Over the last few years, I have been working on documentary music for a company called, “Our Daily Bread Ministries”. They tell the stories of Jesus and many of His apostles and how their impact on the world affects the cultures around the world today. In 2018, I started working with a company called Ghostwriter Music. In this company, I’m composing music for trailers and advertisements for family fantasy/adventure films which is an interesting experience as well. In addition to that, I have gotten connected with a wide variety of licensing companies including Musicbed, Audiio, and a few others. The last five years have really been a whirlwind!
LES: How does the introduction of children into your life affect the way you compose? Do your children change the “why” you compose?
MLF: I think that when we had our children, I felt more of a sense of urgency to find a reliable source of work in the music industry. As a father, I wanted to be the provider in the household, so that my wife could focus on performing the challenging work of taking care of the kids while I’m working. I have spent much time in prayer about this and through God’s grace, He has put me in various positions to be able to do this. There are times when it takes a bit more patience to get work done since I work from home and the kids are around each day. I take those times as God’s way of telling me to take a break and play with the kids for a bit!
LES: When we first started talking you were composing independently and offered a lavish range of musical genres. Since then you have streamlined your approach, now produce music largely for movie trailers and advertising, and work with Ghostwriter Music. All this represents a really big transition in your life. Is the streamlining and going to work with Ghostwriter Music a natural flow for you as you grow in your career?
MLF: My work with Ghostwriter was something that I sort of fell into. I met someone on Facebook who knew I wanted to compose orchestral adventure music. That had become my niche style from a marketing perspective. Ghostwriter represents a wide variety of projects and content varying from film trailers and video games to tv advertising. My focus on them remains mostly in the family adventure category, which is something I love!
LES: Is there a trade-off in this transition to working with others that you would change or is it the right fit that you needed at this time in your family’s life and your musical career?
MLF: I think that making music for specific projects or larger scale projects has given me a bit more of the stability and security that composers and musicians are searching for. It is definitely a hard road, and for many, it remains something that is done as a hobby on the side. On the creative end, it can sometimes limit you if something is needed for something very specific. However, it’s nice to have a focus/goal instead of composing music without a direction. I still continue to let God lead me on this strange journey, but at the moment He has put me where He needs me.
LES: One of the things I wonder about in this transition is what it is like to be writing music that supports and enhances a movie trailer but for which you are not credited by name. How do you navigate the attendant obscurity that comes with being a ghostwriter? Does it offer a kind of shelter, a space of peace behind the curtain, or is there a loss from the lack of publicly recognized credit?
MLF: I’m not one that likes the spotlight on me! Even when performing my piano pieces live, I was always so scared and anxious. However, creating music behind the scenes is something that I really enjoy. The real satisfaction comes from creating something that is moving and affects people in a positive way. I just do the best I can and if it gets noticed and I get recognition for it, then that’s just a plus. 🙂
LES: How do you see the Lord using this in shaping you as a musician?
MLF: I think that being able to stay at home and be a behind the scenes composer has allowed me to have a unique perspective on life. I spend much of my time alone in my studio, but at the same time, my family is all around me every day since my studio is at home. I have a lot of time to think some days while composing while I wait to be suddenly struck with some sort of inspiration for a song. In those moments I have had some of my deepest and most heartfelt conversations with God. At the same time, I have been able to experience the stay at home parent life that my wife is going through each day and the struggles that come along with it. I have seen first-hand how hard it is for stay-at-home moms in dealing with small children in the house. It has deepened my love for her and my respect for her as a God-fearing woman and I’m so grateful for it.
LES: When you are working in an industry that is largely secular and has tremendous societal influence (and tremendous spiritual powers), as a practicing Christian how do you keep yourself rooted in Christ and walking the narrow path Homeward?
MLF: This is a great question. I have probably had hundreds, if not thousands of conversations about this very thing. I have spoken with close friends, elders, ministers and other various people from my church about how to navigate this career and the answers are never simple. I can’t tell you how many tearful prayers I have had, not knowing what to do and if something is right or wrong. There are many. We live in an imperfect world and there are times when you have to use your best Christian discernment when taking a job or not. Sometimes I don’t even know my music is used in certain projects. God has put me in a field where it can be uncomfortable and awkward to share my faith, but when He gives me the opportunity, and He always gives the right words to say. All that to say, I have been blessed to have a loving family and church body who have all offered their advice when making the hard decisions of which jobs to take and when to say no. I have turned down quite a few jobs that I felt uncomfortable with. Some were obvious and some took a little more time in prayer. However, whenever I turned something down, God opened a new door and kept pushing me forward. All of this is something that I pray about daily. I’m sure I don’t always make the right decisions, but each decision I make in my music career is brought to God. My journey is not over on this earth, and I know God is still shaping me through all of these experiences I’m going through to lead me where I’m ultimately supposed to be.
LES: Matthew, one of the projects you did in the past three years beyond your projects for movie trailers, is an exquisite album called “Shelter.” That album has had a great influence on me personally. So much in fact, that with your very kind permission, we used the song “Seasons” from it as the single piece of music for the Cultivating Oaks of Righteousness video, which we’ve released in this issue of Cultivating. This piece of music has become a particular theme for Cultivating, and I find it particularly telling that its title is Seasons, something elemental to Cultivating itself. What is the story behind the song “Seasons”? As an idea, how did that even come up?
MLF: “Seasons” was a song that was composed to represent the emotions I felt with each passing season. It starts out sparse as if something is coming to life. This represents Spring in my mind. Then it grows and develops more movement as things bloom and blossom into summer. We sit in the beauty of a musical representation of summer for a bit in the song as the melody plays. The song then slows down as the season shifts into fall. The descending piano notes represent the falling leaves around the 2-minute mark. Swirling beauty is all around us in the fall season and the song reflects that until ultimately ending with the peace and tranquility of winter before coming to a close.
LES: Would you tell us the story behind creating this album and why you titled it “Shelter”?
MLF: “Shelter” was created as a way for the listener to experience an escape from the business, anxiety, and fear of this present world. The world is loud and competing for our attention. Struggles and worry bombard us daily. We are faced with so much pain in this present life both physical and spiritual. I wanted to provide some relief from all of this through music. We all need to remember that our shelter from the storms of this earth is found in God. They are found in the peace that only He can give. When we quiet our minds and look up, we begin to understand that the shelter from this world is found in the Lord.
LES: There are two particular songs on this album that offer hauntingly vocals – “Fall” and “The Road”. The vocals on these two songs turn out to be you and your beautiful wife, Bree. Would you tell us about these two songs – the only vocal arrangements on the album? What prompted you and Bree to make them and who wrote the gorgeous lyrics? Why include vocal music on an album largely dedicated to instrumental?
MLF: Doing vocals was always something we wanted to do. We experimented a little on my “Glorious Christmas” album when we sang Silent Night. We were so happy at how well the song was received and knew we wanted to do some more of that kind of thing. My wife has always loved singing. Even when she was a little girl, she would stand on the couch and sing along with the radio and pretend she had a microphone in her hand! She has such a passion for it, and it’s something we are doing more and more of together as time goes. We wrote the lyrics together in the evenings, while she was pregnant with our second child! We never really understood how difficult it was to write lyrics, so we now have a newfound respect for lyric writers! I think for those two songs, the music just wasn’t enough to convey what I wanted to express for those songs. We wanted people to have words that they could recite to themselves as reminders instead of melodies that are left to interpretation.
LES: Working in the music industry is a unique experience – kind of a world unto itself in many ways. You have been drawn into this industry through your calling to compose a certain kind of music made to produce specific effects. Do you feel that God has built things into you from the beginning to fit you for this industry? Do you think He did the same with Bree to prepare and equip her for this calling or is she having to figure out how to adapt on her own?
MLF: Yes, it is very much a unique world! I grew up in a big family, but I was the youngest by quite a bit. My closest sibling is 9 years older than me! I spent a lot of my time by myself. On top of that, I was a more emotional and introverted kid growing up. I never really found my “thing”. Some kids succeeded in academics, some in sports, and so on. It wasn’t until High School that I found that music was a way I could express my feelings without words or an audience. This was therapy to me and completely changed my life in so many ways. I’m so thankful to God for it. I still thank Him all the time for giving me a mind for music! It all comes from Him! Bree has had many struggles in her life and music was always something she gravitated to in order to give her the peace she needed in those times. She feels a strong pull to use her voice to be a blessing to others. I think God is giving us more opportunities to do this as we get older which is exciting!
LES: The environment created by our core relationships has a tremendous influence on each of us, for better or worse. In my observation, the rootedness that comes from a strong sense of community allows artists of every genre to do our most daringly creative work. How would you say being married to Bree has influenced the way you write music and pursue work in the musical field?
MLF: Being married to Bree has been so healthy for my music and more importantly my growth as a human being and follower of Christ. I’m someone who tends to overthink things a little too much. She has been teaching me to give more to God and put less pressure on myself and my own abilities. Without her support, I may never have really taken music to the next level as I did. She is always the person I consult with before doing anything in my career, and I know I would have made a lot more mistakes without her advice, love, and concern for me. She is the biggest reason we ended up doing any songs with vocals at all! She wanted to make music that was spiritually moving and heartfelt.
LES: Matthew, where do you see particular evidence of the Lord’s faithfulness to you? How does His faithfulness shape the possibilities of what He has called you to?
MLF: This question is a special one for me. The older I get, the more I’m able to catch glimpses of God’s hand in my life. Looking into my past I can see the web of people that He perfectly aligned in my life to lead me where I am today. It’s such an amazing thing! I have had lots of ups and downs in my career, but God is always faithful to see me through. He has allowed me to find the work I needed to support my family, but more importantly, He has used my music as a tool to help others find peace in this world, and I’m so humbled to know that God has given me that opportunity.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about disciple making. Reflecting an irresistible calling to the intersection of faith and the arts, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. An inveterate book collector and giver, Lancia loves website and garden design, beautiful typography, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips and being read aloud to by Peter. She cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.