Marti's Blog


I think it's strange that Morton Feldman had such a low opinion of Beethoven. Convinced that Beethoven's music was structured solely according to functional tonal harmony, Feldman missed the most important aspect of Beethoven's work- a deeply organic expression of form, proportion, and scale; an aspect that Feldman's music shares.

While Beethoven's music in many ways exemplifies Common Practice tonality, the paths he takes to move from key area to key area show that, for him, balance and proportion are paramount. My favorite examples of this are in the first movement of the Waldstein sonata. Instead of stating the second theme in the key of the dominant (G major in this case), Beethoven finds his way to E major- not one, but four sharps away. What key, then, should the second theme be in when it's restated in the Recapitulation? It's supposed to be in the home key of C major, but Beethoven understood that the strangeness of the key area for this theme in the Exposition required a corresponding key of balance in the Recap. Since E major is the major version of the mediant, it would be satisfying to balance it with A major, the major version of the submediant- and that is exactly what Beethoven does. 

The end of the Development section has another example of Beethoven's attention to proportion and balance. In order to prepare the listener for the return of the original key and first theme, it was customary for a composer to state thematic material on the dominant chord at the end of the Development section- the Dominant Pedal. In the Waldstein Development section, Beethoven never stays in one key for more than a few measures- usually just one or two. By the time we get to the end of the Development section, we have no idea where we are harmonically; we need a dominant pedal to make the arrival in the home key of C major satisfying and inevitable- Beethoven achieves this with a dominant pedal that lasts an entire page. (I love to point this out to my music theory students in order to show them that harmonic rhythm is often more important than harmonic progression). The longer this passage goes on, the more we crave the resolution.

The Development section itself has a counterpart that shows Beethoven's awareness of the importance of balance. The Development section is so long that it requires another slightly shorter development section at the end of the piece- more typically known as the Coda. There are examples of this- Coda-as-Balancing-2nd-Development- in many of Beethoven's pieces; it is a hallmark of his works in Sonata form. It's a product of his keen architectural awareness.

Morton Feldman was as keenly aware of architectural structures in his own music. He was a composer who was able to conceive of vast musical expanses of time and to create coherence and structural beauty within those expanses of time. Only a composer who had a deep sense of proportion and scale could compose pieces that last 4 hours (or more). Each gesture spins organically to the next in a way that always keeps one engaged; to my ears, not different from the way Beethoven, or Mahler, or Sibelius constructed their large-scale forms. 

One of the most profound expressions of musical proportion and balance is in Hans Abrahamsen's Schnee. Schnee , for large ensemble, is made of 5 pairs of canons with three interludes. Each pair of canons gets shorter and shorter so that the piece seems at once like it's staying completely still while at the same time rushing towards an end point in the horizon. The interludes exist to achieve retunings within the ensemble. Abrahamsen has talked about trying to replicate the Doppler effect in this piece, both with the telescoping form as well as with the retunings in the Interludes. The lengths of the movements create a perfect sense of balance and scale, one that at the same time creates a profound sense of nostalgia and loss. (And, I think the one lone tam-tam strike happens at the Golden Section!)

I believe that the formal shape- the proportional map of the piece- is more important than any other aspect. The most beautiful or interesting sounds mean less without a clear, artistically meaningful container to put them in. In Beethoven, Feldman, Abrahamsen- just to mention a few- the brilliant attention to structure and shape is what makes the music so moving, so meaningful.

Two Upcoming Premieres

Hi Everyone!

I have two premieres coming up in May 2016.

Monday, May 2, the Ludovico Ensemble will premiere Mary Magdalen, my cantata for mezzo-soprano (Jennifer Ashe) and cimbalom (Nick Tolle).  This concert is a CD release concert for Ludovico's new CD of music by Mischa Salkind-Pearl, and features music by both me and Mischa.

May 2, 2016 8 p.m. St. Paul Church at 15 St. Paul Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. Free Admission.!current-season/c21ax


Thursday, May 12, The New Gallery Concert Series will premiere weavery, my new piece for soprano (Carrie Cheron), baritone (Brian Church), bass flute (Jessi Rosinski), and cello (Nicole Cariglia). My piece is a collaboration with the amazing video artist, Deb Todd Wheeler. The concert also features works by David Rakowski and David Cucchiara.

May 12, 2016 7 p.m. Community Music Center of Boston at 34 Warren Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Admission $20, $10 students and seniors.



Marching Band is My Life

With regards to composing, I started relatively late.  I was not a child prodigy; as a matter of fact, when I was a young music student, it never occurred to me to even try to compose. I was always drawn to playing the piano, and somewhat devoted to playing the clarinet, but writing music was not even a glimmer of a thought.

And then, in 10th grade, I entered high school and became immediately immersed in the wonderful and robust music program at Harry A. Burke High School in Omaha, Nebraska. This story is a lesson on how deeply and profoundly a public school music teacher can affect his/her students. 

Dr. Steve Lawrence (aka "Doc") created an instrumental music program that consisted of an orchestra, a concert band, a smaller wind ensemble, a clarinet choir, theory classes, jazz band (which at times turned into a 50's band, Big Daddy and the Ducktails ), chamber music groups, an annual (and hilarious) variety show called Bits and Pieces, and an extremely festive and unconventional marching band (as well as its winter sport counterpart, the pep band). I believe that I played in every ensemble I had room for (and some I didn't- I was consistently late for my Algebra class because I had clarinet choir right before). To say I was bitten by the music bug is an understatement. I was making music of all kinds at all levels and felt as if I had found my spiritual home. I knew, without any doubt, that I was meant to be a musician. Dr. Lawrence had gone to the University of Iowa to get his doctorate in clarinet; consequently, I felt that getting a doctorate in music was the ultimate achievement.

One small problem with that plan: as Dr. Lawrence gently put it, there were thousands of excellent pianists out there in colleges and conservatories competing against each other. And there was never a question of whether I would major in clarinet performance; I loved (and still love) the clarinet, but was never cut out to play it professionally. Doc was NOT discouraging me; on the contrary, he was painting an accurate picture of what my life would be like should I choose to embark on the Piano Major path in college. He did something that changed my life, and pointed me in the direction I have never wavered from. He suggested I do some arranging for the marching band; I believe the first thing he asked me to do was to compose a flute obbligato. I discovered, much to my amazement, that I was good at writing music, and that I enjoyed doing it. I seem to remember other similar kinds of projects. Doc eventually told me that he felt that the combination of my talent at music theory and my creative nature might translate into an ability to compose. He set me up with Dr. Robert Beadell for monthly lessons at the University of Nebraska, and I felt as if I had found my true musical self. I started composing then- this was 1977- and I have never stopped.

Dr. Lawrence had some of us take harp lessons so he could have harpists in the orchestra; I feel that as a result I have a much better affinity for writing for harp than I might have had otherwise. Having too many clarinetists, he suggested that some of us learn string instruments. I played viola and took after school viola lessons- never really getting out of first position, but once again, developing a greater affinity for writing for string instruments than I might otherwise have had.

But, maybe the absolute MOST important thing Dr. Lawrence gave ALL of his students, regardless of talent or ability, was a love and appreciation for the community aspects of making music. Marching Band, potentially an onerous obligation for a public school music teacher, was treated as the ultimate group activity. Our halftime shows were entertaining, and the 7 a.m. practices to prepare for them instilled in us a family-like camaraderie. We were the band geeks, and we were proud. And many of us are still connected to each other, thanks to Facebook. The music itself wasn't always the highest art imaginable, but the act of playing the music together with the other students was deeply fulfilling.

I am the musician I am today in no small part because of my public music teachers- Dr. Lawrence, Jeffrey Sayre, Glenda Kalina, and of course my dad, who was never actually my teacher in school, but whose own Marching Band experiences in the Carson-Macedonia (Iowa) school system gave me my first exposure to the wonders of the Marching Band communal music making.

I am forever grateful to all of these people. I would not be who and where I am today without them


My First CD!

Thanks to the incredible support of the Ludovico Ensemble and the Kittredge Fund, I am happy to announce that the first CD of my chamber music is going to be released on November 24th, 2015! To celebrate, there will be a recital the evening of the 24th at Boston Conservatory Seully Hall at 8 p.m. featuring two of the pieces from the CD, hothouse. and Hypnagogia. Admission is free, please come!!current-season/c21ax





Website or Blog?

Welcome to my website! My blog is the homepage- feel free to ignore it and peruse the rest of the site, where you can listen to some of my music if you'd like. If you would like to read the blog posts, you can read about my thoughts on handwriting, on being a composer-hockey mom, on the connection between baseball and Morton Feldman's music, etc.

On November 24, 2015 at 8 p.m. at Boston Conservatory, the Ludovico Ensemble will be presenting a concert of Hypnagogia, an evening-length piece I wrote for them. This concert is to celebrate the release of a CD of my chamber music featuringHypnagogia, amongst other things. Watch this space for other concert announcements, news, and blog posts.


This week I lost someone with whom I had a relationship for 33 years that was more sibling-like than nearly any other friendship I have had. It turns out you don't have to be related to someone by blood to feel bonded to them. I met Rick the first day of graduate school at Boston University and we bonded instantly over the injustice of being forced by the department chair to take a class called Contemporary Techniques. I complied; Rick defiantly told the chair, "I teach Contemporary Techniques at Berklee, I'm not going to take that class!" We suffered through Intro to Grad Studies together- the course work, NOT the professor. The professor was our beloved Joel Sheveloff; we also, along with every other student who had ever been to Boston University, were united in our love of Dr. Sheveloff.

We also bonded over our love of another professor we had in common, John Daverio. Rick and I and several other graduate students were taking a class on the music of J.S. Bach, and we boldly invited John to have a drink with us after class. I felt that I had finally found my "people"; musicians who loved music so passionately that after being in a two hour class we needed to continue the conversation long into the night.

John Daverio was one of a kind. There will never be another person like him. This eulogy is about my friend Rick, but it is also about John since my friendship with Rick was intertwined with my friendship with John. John Daverio was not only one of the most brilliant musical minds I had ever encountered, but he was also the most inspiring and engaging teacher any of us had ever had. When he agreed to come out with us that night after Bach class, I felt as if a celebrity had agreed to join us. John and I started playing chamber music together, and we gave four recitals of violin and piano music. Eventually he taught me how to make risotto. He taught me German (or tried to) and became one of my closest friends.

In March 2003, John disappeared. He didn't show up for a doctoral exam, something he undoubtedly had never done in his life. He was missing for a week. Then, when I heard on the news that a body had been found in the Charles River, I knew it was him. What happened remains a mystery to me. His death, because it feels so impossible, is unfathomable. I still grieve for him. But in a way, I always feel his presence. I frequently see his face on people I walk by on the street. And every time I enter a classroom to teach, I channel him- his perfect blend of knowledge, wisdom, and humor was how I learned to teach. I emulate him every day of my teaching life.

A year or so before John died, my ex-husband and I had a dinner party that John came to as well as Rick and his wife and a few other friends. You know it's a successful party when someone breaks out the Grove Dictionary of Music and starts doing dramatic readings. John wanted to have a late-night infomercial on TV for "Best Loved Antiphons". Rick thought we should have a festival celebrating Notker Balbulus. We were such geeks. It was wonderful.

This was part of the nature of my friendship with Rick. One of our favorite conversations was arguing about how to analyze various harmonies in certain Bach fugues. But we also had animated discussions about sports, religion, science, food. We were roommates for about 3 years, hosts of wild grad student parties featuring interpretive re-enactments of the original Rite of Spring choreography. When the Celtics won the championship in 1986, Rick encouraged me to smoke a cigar, which nearly made me throw up in the middle of a concert we went to afterwards.

We also had a brief falling out for a couple of years, which was absolutely precipitated by me being a jerk. I would do anything to go back in time to redo those two years. When I started teaching at Berklee I called him to patch things up, unsure of how that would be received. Rick, one of the kindest people I know, was happy to have me back. I am so grateful for that.

When I had gone through an especially horrible breakup, Rick and his wife Rosey made me come stay with them so they could help take care of my broken heart. They didn't have children, but they loved my child. Rick encouraged me to become involved with the Berklee Faculty Union; we experienced the wonder and boredom of contract negotiations together. Rick was my office mate and my confidante, and ultimately someone whom I was so close to, I took it for granted.

Four years ago, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer and given 12-24 months to live. Having an indomitable spirit, and brilliant doctors, he impressed everyone around him with his resilience and persistence. Whenever I felt terrified about the possibility of him dying, I would call him up. Hearing his voice, hearing him be himself always gave me great comfort. I had convinced myself that he would live to very old age, managing the cancer as a chronic disease.

That was a fantasy; a few weeks ago, his body had decided that it had had enough, and Rick spent the next 12 days dying. I have been thinking a great deal about the nature of grief and mourning. Rick was in terrible pain at the end, and his death was mercifully peaceful. Mourning, in that context feels terribly selfish. I am trying to convince myself that the end of his suffering is something to be grateful for. But I don't feel the gratitude yet. All I feel is a deep sense of loss and regret.

When I was 7, my 5-year old brother was killed when he ran in front of a  furniture truck. I remember vividly how I felt the morning after. Nothing looked the same. I felt, not like a ton of brick had fallen on me, but more like I was trapped under something unyielding. When I woke up yesterday morning- the day after Rick died- I felt exactly the same way. And I am trying to remember how I got out of it, when I started to feel better, when things started to look normal again. I know that time passing will ease the pain of all of us who loved him. But it's not possible to be aware of the potential of that time passing when you are at the beginning of the process.

Yesterday I sat down at the piano to play the Prelude from Bach's English Suite in F major, something I do every single day. All of a sudden, my Wonder Woman action figure (that's another story) flew off my piano and landed on the keys while I was playing. I realized why grieving people want so badly to believe in an afterlife. The thought that somehow Rick's spirit had sent Wonder Woman crashing down off the top of the piano gave me a great sense of relief. Of course, being a rational person, I know that when a person is gone, they are really gone. And Rick would have thought the idea that he could throw Wonder Woman at me from the great beyond completely preposterous. "Martini," he would have said, "that's just silly." And, that's precisely why I miss him so much.


Jean Sibelius

I used to hate the music of Jean Sibelius. This was based on two things- a very unfortunate arrangement of Finlandia we played in high school band, and an even more unfortunate performance of the Symphony no. 2 I heard when I was a student. I had no idea what the big deal was. The melodies were trite, the structure was muddled, nothing made sense to me.

When I was in college at the University of Colorado, I had gone to a piano faculty member's All Chopin recital to try to learn what it was I hated about Chopin (yes, I know, it seems crazy now that I would dislike those two composers so much!). In that process, thanks to the programming of the Op. 27 no. 1 c# minor Nocturne as the first piece on the program, I fell immediately in love with Chopin's music. The illumination of the music revealed by a great performance completely changed my mind, and I was now able to see and hear how imaginative and creative Chopin was.

I was a student at the Tanglewood Music Center for the first of two times in 1986. Being at Tanglewood changed my life in many ways (and more on that in a future post). One of those life-changing experiences was meeting Leonard Bernstein. When I found out that he would be conducting the Sibelius Symphony no. 2 with the TMC (Tanglewood Music Center) orchestra, I decided to attend as many rehearsals as possible in the hopes that I would have a similar experience like the Chopin revelation I had in college. If anyone could convince me of the worth of Sibelius' music, it was Bernstein.

I remember what happened as if it were yesterday. I remember where I was sitting in the old theater at Tanglewood, I remember what I was wearing. Bernstein was rehearsing the first movement and had gotten to the climax. The students weren't giving him exactly what he wanted- they weren't going SLOWLY enough. Finally, he got them to stretch the tempo so drastically that the shape of the climax suddenly became clear. And, I know this sounds silly, but I felt as if the roof had opened up, revealing the truth to me- the truth that Sibelius was not the worst composer ever, but possibly the greatest. That one little moment caused me to listen to his music with brand new ears; it was as if a switch came on, and I became the Sibelius fanatic most people know me to be.

Because of that experience, I came to realize that Sibelius' music has a certain endless expanse, a certain timelessness that I aspire to achieve in my own music. It is very much a product of his internal and external landscape. It is strange in all the great ways; it is a vast vista of ice and sun that is more beautiful every time I listen to it.

There was a concert in 1987 at Symphony Hall in Boston of Sibelius Symphonies 5, 6, and 7 performed by Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The hall was only half full so the sound was even more lush and enveloping than usual. I will never forget that concert. I saw my former composition teacher, Charles Fussell, in the audience. He and I had not really gotten along well; I felt that he didn't understand my music, and he felt that I didn't listen to him. But when he saw me there- it was almost like a secret society of people who had just discovered each other- he said, "Oh, NOW I understand you."

hockey mom/composer mom

I spent the first 39 years and 364 days of my life absolutely certain I would never have a child. I liked kids, but more as a peer than as a prospective parent. I was not only sure I would be a terrible mom - at once overprotective and neglectful- but I also could not imagine how I could manage my schedule as a composer, pianist and teacher with caring for a tiny little human being. The decision to not have children felt completely comfortable and right.

Then, on my 40th birthday, I witnessed some adorably precocious behavior from a cousin's 2 year old daughter, and my mind changed with the immediacy of the flick of a light switch. I could not believe I had decided not to have a child- and having just turned 40, I was sure it was too late. My boyfriend and I decided that we should get married and try- and I felt a great sense of both relief and urgency. Sometimes I think that urgency was because my son needed to be born, and we were the ones responsible for making that happen.

I have been a mom now for almost 13 years, and I think a lot about how being a mom influences my music, and how being a composer affects my being a mom. There are logistic, time-management issues. Sometimes one must sacrifice a musical obligation for a parental one and vice versa. There are issues of identity. Sometimes I hear that being a mom must enrich my music because it makes me who I am. I don't accept that- I believe that an artist's work transcends who they are as people; I MUST believe that in order to keep some of my compositional heroes, some of whom were heinous people in their personal lives (but that's another blog post!).

The various hats I wear- mom, composer, pianist, teacher, too-frequent-Facebook-poster- all exist in tandem with each other. I believe that they co-exist inside me, together make up who I am as a person. But I am just not sure how much they influence each other.

But, here's what I do know. Last night I had dinner with 8 other mom's of kids from my son's hockey team. We defy the stereotype of a Sarah Palin-esque hockey mom. We are lawyers, brilliant business people, assistants to college presidents, law librarians, jewelry makers, doctors, and musicians. And we are loving, caring, compassionate, devoted moms. We are teaching our children that it is possible to be a mom in tandem with many other things. We are showing our children by example that women can have rich and complex lives, that women can be anything they want- in addition to being moms- without negative impact on their motherhood. And maybe this concept will expand and become more and more normal for each subsequent generation so that one day there will be no gender stereotypes with regards to who and what one decides to be.

To my son, it is completely normal to have a mom who's a composer. Normal is good.