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Christopher Martin - Violin

 

Looking back on my lifelong odyssey with music, the violin, and my now nearly 30 year career in the Grand Rapids Symphony, it all began as wish fulfillment for my mother, Colette Martin.  Growing up the oldest of six children during the Great Depression she was forbidden to pursue her love of music professionally in favor of a more practical endeavor, nursing.  When I started taking lessons at the age of seven (with her learning along with me) I had no idea how big a role the violin would play in my life. Eventually, through various defining experiences of playing orchestral and chamber music (youth orchestras and playing string quartets with friends in high school)  in my hometown of Worthington in central Ohio, it became clear that I wanted to a become a musician myself. During the summer of 1978 when I attended Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, NC as a student (along with Wynton Marsalis?!) it became clear that I didn't want to do anything else but play violin in an orchestra. Something about the collective effort of being part of something so much bigger than what you accomplish as an individual made a deep and lasting impression on me. And then there was, of course, the music itself: the Kodaly's Concerto for Orchestra, Tchaikovsky's First Symphony, and pieces by Anton Webern, the Passacaglia and Symphony, Op. 21 are pieces I will always remember with particular fondness because of that amazing summer in Greensboro.  I think it was about time it also became clear that music can take you so many places without literal, physical travel. That summer I got a sense that what I loved doing was something that was universal; that there were people from all over the world who were interested in what I was interested in. The year I won one of the three newly added full time violin chairs here in Grand Rapids (1988) I was also thrilled to become a member of the faculty at EMF, a position I held for eleven years.

Of course, since then a lot has happened and it's amazing the things that a music school education doesn't prepare you for! I've been part of four contract negotiations, chaired the Orchestra Committee (which helps administer the Master Agreement –said contract--between the Symphony Society and the Musicians on a volunteer basis) a couple of times, participated in strategic (twice) and artistic planning (many terms—the most fun!), and have been on various search committees and task forces as well as serving as the Musicians' representative to the Symphony's board of directors (twice). I have also landed back on the board of American Federation of Musicians, Local 56 for a second tour of duty, and have represented the GRS musicians at national orchestra players' conferences over the years (including an entire week in Las Vegas?!).  Thankfully, there is a common denominator. The cooperation and trust which is so crucial to us as orchestral musicians also comes into play in committee work (no, really).  I distinctly remember writing a homily years ago to my wonderful colleagues as the chair of the Orchestra Committee about the importance of drawing on our skills as chamber musicians (listening, trusting each other, working together for a common goal) when working together on non-musical challenges.

Circling back to mom, I know how lucky I am to be doing what I do because at 90, and suffering from Alzheimer's disease when my mother hears that my wife, Laura, is currently studying to be a nurse she repeatedly expresses a very unfiltered sense of disbelief that speaks volumes about her frustrated wish to have spent her life making music. I know this is a little late for Mother's Day but I will be forever grateful to her that she put that 1/4 sized violin under my chin.

 

Factoids:

Won my Symphony audition and had the first date with my now wife Laura (Diana Krall's first tour!) at St Cecilia Music Center where I am now involved in artistic planning and a member of the board

Shares a Heritage Hill home built in 1888 (same year as Mahler's 1st, Tchaikovsky's 5th, and Franck's d minor Symphonies) with his wife Laura and four cats

Currently plays chamber music in both Ensemble Montage and the Perugino String Quartet

Got to play Frederic Rzewski's "Natural Things" in New York City with Kalamazoo's new music group Opus 21 at the 2009 Chamber Music America commissioning concert (the weekend that US Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson River)

Attended the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in 2004 and 2006 (car camping in the heat and humidity of Tennessee in mid-June—peak experiences)

Has recorded (the CD "Viewpoints") and toured with Folias Flute and Guitar Duo (Andrew Bergeron, guitar and Carmen Maret, flute—got to play on the patio of Blackrocks Brewery in Marquette, very fun)