IRONDEQUOIT — It was 10 years ago that Matt Cataldi made his public
musical debut, playing piano for his parish’s Christmas children’s
liturgy — as a 7-year-old.
Anyone who foresaw a child prodigy was right on the money. Matt, now
a senior at Bishop Kearney High School, recently won a state piano
competition sponsored by the National Music Teachers Association.
And that’s not all: How many gifted musicians do you know who also
play contact sports? Matt is in his fourth year of varsity hockey at
Kearney and enjoys lacrosse as well. Whereas some pianists have been
known to take out insurance policies on their hands, Matt said he never
worries about the consequences of heavy hits.
“It’s a completely different world when you’re on the ice. You don’t
think ‘Oh, I have a (piano) practice tonight or a concert next week.’
You just play the game,” said Matt, 17, who plays defense for the BK
A bigger challenge than risking injury, he said, has been getting
enough sleep while honoring three major commitments — piano, hockey
and studying. “It’s definitely hard to get through the week sometimes,”
he said. “Your (music) teacher wants you to be just piano, and your
hockey coach wants you to be at every practice.” He almost decided not
to play hockey this winter, but decided “I would just miss it too
Still, Matt emphasized that his top priority is music. Beginning at
age 5, he took lessons for eight years under Betty Folger, a music
teacher from his parish, St. Rita’s in Webster. These days Matt trains
with Patricia Hanson in the Eastman School of Music’s Continuing
Matt was a first-time contestant at the state competition, held Oct.
25 at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The initial
atmosphere was intimidating, he said: “I had a little spark of hope,
but I heard the other contestants playing ridiculously difficult
pieces. At that time the little spark was gone.”
But Matt rose to the challenge, dazzling judges with his pieces by
Beethoven, Debussy and Kabelevsky. “I don’t really get nervous; you
just block everything out,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you play for
two people or 2,000.”
Locally, Matt continues his longtime musical involvement with St.
Rita’s Parish; he anchors the adult contemporary group on Saturdays and
also plays at special services. In addition, he arranges music for
youth instrumentalists at St. Rita’s and helps teach them.
“Matt takes his music very seriously and is most generous with
sharing his gift,” commented Judith Leone, St. Rita’s contemporary
music director, in nominating Matt for the diocesan Hands of Christ
Award he received earlier this fall for outstanding service.
He also plays piano for Bishop Kearney musical productions, not to
mention trumpet for the BK band. In addition he’s a pianist in a trio
with the Hochstein School of Music & Dance, and he gives recitals
through Eastman School of Music. Matt also works closely with a
Rochester-area Christian composer, Stephen Robb.
For college, Matt is eyeing Eastman School of Music and Ithaca
College. Hockey will still be in the mix, through either a college team
or a men’s recreational league.
Despite his musical successes thus far, Matt said he’s looking to
major in education rather than performance. “I’d rather be part of the
lives of little kids every day, rather than be in the practice room for
10 hours. I just feel that’s kind of selfish,” he said of his career
However, there is one area where Matt will have to go it alone. He
admitted that his hockey buddies don’t have any interest in the
classical-music CDs he insists on playing in the car.
“No one rides with me anymore,” he said with a laugh.