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Matthew (Matt) Lawrence Fichtenbaum

Matt died May 20, 2022, leaving wife Judy, daughter Rachel, and daughter-in-law Sarah. Matt was born in Swannanoa, North Carolina, but moved soon after his birth to New York City, where Matt was educated through high school. After graduation, he escaped New York for Boston, which he found to be a much more manageable-sized city. He studied at MIT, where – in his words – he pursued his from-age-three interest in things electrical into bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering. While there wasn’t yet a formal discipline called “computer science,” some of his grad school courses were early versions of what would turn into that discipline. Soon after his marriage to Judy, they bought a house in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where they lived for the rest of Matt’s life.

Matt carried a deep intuitive understanding of languages, exploring Swedish, Mandarin, and C++. In 1976, Matt and Judy had an opportunity to live their interest in languages. They spent their junior year abroad (ten years late) in Linköping, Sweden, where he taught computer science in a relatively new department at the University. He stated that his Swedish improved during “fika” (coffee break) when there were multiple conversations happening!

At the time, Sweden was undergoing a folk music revival. Matt signed up for a course to learn to first build and then play the nyckelharpa. His nyckelharpa followed him back to Chelmsford, and he frequently played for Scandinavian dances and at music festivals in Boston and around the country. He soon added fiddle to his repertoire, and later in life enjoyed studying classical violin.

Matt was well known for his sense of humor. He constantly played with language and deserved his reputation as a master punster. He was always on the lookout for alternative interpretations and ways to put a funny twist on language. He would often remind his friends that “Rome wasn’t burnt in a day.” His wordplay was not limited to English. One of his favorites was “I had a chair, but it was stolen”, where “stolen” means “the chair” in Swedish. When making a particularly clever joke, he would often turn pink trying not to laugh before the joke’s recipient did.

In the mid-90s, Matt became involved in the nascent American Nyckelharpa Association, serving on the charter board and for many years after. He also wrote extensively for the Nyckel Notes newsletter, including many of the Spela Bättre (play better) articles and he wrote most of the initial articles dealing with the basics of how to play the harpa, a much-welcomed service in the days before easy Internet communication. He also did a lot of transcribing of tunes, which was and will continue to be of much benefit to many.

Matt enjoyed getting to solve interesting problems and work with brilliant colleagues, and never opted for retirement; for the last years of his career, he chose part-time work to allow time for him and Judy to explore their interest in music and travel. They traveled to China, Australia, Italy, Spain, and Greece, as well as trips back to Sweden to see friends and attend folk music camps.

For the last seven years of his life, Matt was treated for multiple myeloma. He continued to be active in the music community. At the end, Matt enjoyed hearing from his friends and colleagues, and reflecting on all the people he had collected along the way. He was particularly touched by people he had been able to help, in our nyckelharpa community alone that was a very large number of folks.

Matt will be greatly missed.