Scaling New Heights

Zach Fichter ’13 aims to be a rock star.

The University of Mary Washington music major will get another push in that direction when he interns this summer with Kyle Crosby ’94 at Richmond’s Sound of Music Recording Studios.

Zach Fichter '13 is an award-winning guitarist.

Zach Fichter ’13 is an award-winning guitarist.

“My ideal day would be to wake up, make coffee, compose, go to work as a recording engineer, then go out and perform at night,” Fichter said of his obsession with music.

An accomplished composer and award-winning guitarist, he’s determined to make the most of his talents. But halfway through his college career, he started to doubt his choice of majors. Two classes would get him back on track.

Fichter grew up in Harrisonburg, Va., with a father consumed with classical music and a mother who plays multiple instruments. Song-making was in his soul, but it took him awhile to find it. He was a high school freshman when he picked up his mother’s Aria guitar.

One strum on its nylon strings, and he was hooked.

He taught himself to play, began composing scores and set up a studio in his bedroom. At UMW, he decided to focus on music, choosing history as a second major – just in case.

Fichter also indulged his second love, running, joining the university track and cross country teams and excelling in his main event, the 800-meter dash. And he found himself a girlfriend. He was on a roll.

By junior year, though, his studies had begun to fall out of sync with his plans for the future. He started to wonder if he’d make it in the music business.

That’s when two things happened.

First, weary of writing research papers, he swapped his history major for a computer science minor. He’d loved the introductory course he’d taken with now-retired professor Ernie Ackermann.

Fichter was a member of UMW's track and cross country teams. Photo courtesy of Ted Plunkett.

Fichter was a member of UMW’s track and cross country teams. Photo courtesy of Ted Plunkett.

“It was the best composing class I ever took,” Fichter said of the course, which taught him to break coding into its smallest components and use them to create new programs – a skill he could apply to music.

Next, he signed up for an orchestration course with Assistant Professor of Music Mark Snyder ’97. It was not an instant hit. Fichter was put off by Snyder’s ultra-direct critiques.

“I’m honest. When someone tells you they don’t like what you did, it’s not easy or always appreciated, but I try to do that for my students,” said Snyder, a composer, producer, songwriter and band member. “I think Zach will always be a musician. He loves it too much to give up.”

In addition to candor, Snyder’s classes offer real-world experience. He lets students recruit performers, produce music and run events. The professor’s modern style, personal approach and honesty eventually won Fichter over.

“He literally turned my world upside down and made me bloom as a musician,” he said of Snyder.

Motivated to dig deeper than ever, Fichter started touting his original compositions. The Navy Band Brass Quartet played one, “Choleric,” this spring, and with Snyder’s help, he submitted another, “Thunderstorm,” to the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the United States’ 2012 conference.

Snyder shares another key to success with students – connections – like the one he made between Fichter and fellow UMW alum Crosby, the production engineer Fichter will start interning with next month.

The recent grad plans to soak up the experience and grow as a producer. But, like most musicians, he still dreams of becoming a rock star.

“Mark says it’s totally possible and I have to believe him,” Fichter said. “Whatever he tells me comes true.”

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