For years, Matthew Clayton dreamed of becoming a professor and passing his knowledge of music to the next generation. Now he has that opportunity as the new director at the Kardon-Northeast branch of Settlement Music School, 3745 Clarendon Ave.
Clayton assumed the role in September, and even though the majority of the school’s all-age musical and dance programming has gone virtual, that doesn’t mean the students or staff have lost their passion for the arts.
“In three months I’ve really seen the dedication of the Settlement community and the amazing talent we have,” he said.
The school offers music and dance lessons and creative arts therapy for individuals at any age and skill level, with students as young as 6 months old participating in the children’s music play shop program. About 500 students a week take lessons at the Northeast Philadelphia branch, with about 5,000 total learning from the school’s six branches. The school was first established in Philadelphia in 1908, originally founded as a traditional settlement house.
As branch director, Clayton hopes to build a strong relationship between the school and community, such as holding performances at schools, libraries or other community events once in-person gatherings are held again.
Clayton took piano lessons as a kid, but it wasn’t until he picked up the saxophone in fourth grade that he found his love for music. He grew up in a house that loved jazz music and in a city that had a strong tradition of jazz musicians like John Coltrane, Lee Morgan and the Heath brothers. When he got older he performed in Philadelphia’s all city jazz band and the National Grammy High School Jazz Band.
“When I got into college I knew I wanted to major in music, it really was the thread that united many different parts of my life,” Clayton said.
He studied at Yale, where he formed the quartet Jazz Dialect that played popular concerts on the school’s campus. He later enrolled in Harvard University where he studied ethnomusicology, the study of the role music plays in cultures around the world.
After graduating he fulfilled his dream of becoming a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked as the Director of Jazz Combos for eight years. Finally coming into Settlement, Clayton hopes to inspire someone with music the way he was inspired when he first picked up a saxophone.
“I see this position as an opportunity to share what I know with the next generation and help strengthen the future of arts in Philadelphia and the Northeast,” Clayton said. ••