As a new feature, every month ICA will be presenting a new “composer of the month,” featuring a living composer with a significant body of work for the clarinet
ICA COMPOSER OF THE MONTH, JUNE 2021
ICA: Welcome, Theresa Martin, we’re very happy to have you as our June 2021 composer-of-the-month!
TM: Thank you so much for the invitation! I’m glad to be here.
ICA: Tell us a bit about the featured composition, Paragon for clarinet and piano.
TM: In some reading I was doing at the time of the commission, I came across the term paragone, which during the Italian Renaissance was the idea of competition between creative artists, who debated which creative endeavor was the most worthy. In English, the term paragon came to mean a model of excellence, an ideal or standard. While writing the piece, my uncle passed away, so the piece became about the perfect life. It would begin with birth and a soul being surrounded by love, move through phases of learning, joy, amusement, and adventure, and would come back full circle to all-encompassing love into a peaceful departure from this world.
ICA: What other works have you written for clarinet?
Unaccompanied works for Clarinet
Grit ’n Grind (Bass Clarinet solo) (2012)
Light and Shadows (2012)
Postcards from Belgium (2013)
Faerie Suite (2006/2013)
Sweet Feet (2014)
Calcipher (E-flat Clarinet and Piano) (2006)
Growth Spurt (2007)
Peaches at Midnight (2010)
Solstice (Basset Clarinet or “A” Clarinet and Piano) (2013)
Solar Flair (2004)
Riptide (Clarinet and Bassoon or Bass Clarinet) (2009)
Live Wire (2010)
Fire and Ice (2010)
Dark Embers (Two Bass Clarinets) (2011)
Pulse Break (Two Clarinet and Percussion) (2012)
Double Take (with Concert Band, or Piano Reduction) (2014)
Dragon’s Breath (2019)
Clarinet Trios and Quartets
Autumn Art (Quartet) (2001)
Monstress (Quartet) (2011)
Destiny (E-flat, B-flat, and Bass Clarinets) (2016)
Other Chamber Works with Clarinet:
Time Lapse (2013)
ICA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
TM: I grew up in Appleton, WI. After receiving my doctorate, my husband and I moved back to Appleton. I began a private teaching studio while I continued composing and looking for professional musical opportunities. I am currently enjoying the flexibility of being a musical entrepreneur as a composer, performer, teacher, and self-publisher.
ICA: How would you describe your music?
TM: I would describe my music as lyrical and metrically complex, often with intricately woven themes and driving rhythms. I would also characterize it as colorful, passionate, thoughtful, and personal. I like to think of each piece of music as an onion, with many different layers of meaning. Only those closest to me know the interior layers. My goal as a composer is to create an experience which provokes thought, stirs emotions, recalls memories, and allows people to find a common ground through their shared human experiences.
ICA: What are some of the important influences on your work?
TM: I find inspiration in the world around me every day. I even keep a journal of title inspirations or concepts whenever inspiration strikes. I often draw inspiration from things such as images, literature, nature, current events, and personal experiences and relationships.
ICA: What is your composing process like? Do you have a regular routine/time of day you like to work? What tools do you use to compose?
TM: Before I even write one note, I spend a lot of time thinking and sketching with pencil and paper, deciding on a concept or title. Then I go to the piano (or in some cases the clarinet) and imagine the sound and start improvising until I come up with something that fits the mood or concept. I quickly sketch these motives and themes on manuscript paper with a pencil. Once I feel I have done enough sketching, I start inputting it into Finale and continue to manipulate it.
Fortunately, I can compose at any time of the day. Whenever I can get a chunk of uninterrupted time in my studio, I can quickly “get in the zone” and get work done. My preference is to start mid-morning and work all day, and do this for a few days in a row until the piece is finished. But when you have children and other professional responsibilities, this is not always possible or realistic. My family is very supportive of my composing, so they give me time when I need it.
ICA: How does being a clarinetist yourself impact your writing for clarinet? Do you approach it differently than writing for other instruments?
TM: I approach it with confidence because I know its flexibility, technical capabilities, and its extraordinary range of color. I know how the other instruments sound, but I know how a clarinet “feels” so it is more personal. I can try out, or even make up, the fingerings myself.
I also think that being a performer myself gives me an inside perspective, so that I write things that engage and connect with the performers. The performers, then, are able to interpret my intentions into music that captivates the audience.
ICA: How do you balance your composing and performing activities? Do you consider yourself more a “composer who plays clarinet” or a “clarinetist who composes”…or something else?
TM: I would consider myself a composer who plays clarinet, because I am a composer first. But I also describe myself as a composer – performer because they are sometimes equals. It has changed over the years. I began my musical journey as a clarinetist and pianist who wanted to be a composer, discovered I had a talent for it, and over time composing became the more prominent musical activity.
Balancing the two activities, performing and composing, is like a natural ebb and tide. Sometimes my activities are more composing, sometimes more performing. Certain times of year are busier for performing, and composing deadlines seem to fall opposite of those high performing times. If they both are really intense at the same time, that’s when the storm rages, but I get through it with the help of my family until things calm down again.
ICA: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your work?
TM: All in-person performances and guest lecture appearances came to a halt. Commissions slowed, and premieres were delayed. My studio shrank for a little while, but then thankfully bounced back and doubled in size, and I taught both online and in-person for most of the year.
As far as composing during the Pandemic, I wrote two unaccompanied solos early in 2020, right before the Pandemic hit. Then composing stopped for a while, as I didn’t feel inspired to write, until summer of 2020. Then I wrote two pieces back to back, a clarinet choir piece and a trio for clarinet, violin, and bass clarinet. Earlier this year I was commissioned to write a band piece for a local high school band, which I finished in April, but the premiere is delayed until the fall. In the beginning of the pandemic, composing was very difficult because I didn’t see performances in sight, and I always compose with a performance in mind. But as things got better, inspiration started pouring in and now ideas are overflowing.
ICA: Now that things are starting to return to “normal,” what is one thing you’re especially excited to be able to do again?
TM: I’m excited for orchestras and bands to be able to perform again, and hopefully I’ll get invited to travel again to universities to do guest lectures as they program my large ensemble pieces. I’m really looking forward to the premiere of the orchestral version of my City of Ambition with the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra, in November of 2021. It will be the first concert back after the pandemic. I’m also really looking forward to seeing everyone in person at the next ClarinetFest!
ICA: Tell us about a current project you’re excited about.
TM: The next four pieces I’m excited to write are a clarinet and sax duet, a clarinet quartet, a piece for wind ensemble, and a clarinet concerto! I already have titles for three of them, so I can’t wait to get started
ICA: Do you have any premieres or performances coming up at ClarinetFest® 2021?
TM: Yes, quite a few, listed below:
Grit ’n Grind, performed by Chastine Hofmeister
Toxic Cocktail, performed by Robert Spring, Stefanie Gardner, and Eva Dove (world premiere)
Oasis, performed by Amanda Morrison and Lynda Dembowski (ICA premiere)
Sweet Feet, performed by Jennifer Reeves (ICA premiere)
Dragon’s Breath, performed by Shandra Helman and Bonnie VanOrden
GUTS, performed by Katherine Breeden (world premiere)
(ICA: Please see the full ClarinetFest 2021 schedule for dates and times.)
ICA: What other musical activities/projects are important to you, beyond composing?
TM: It’s important to me that my children have a solid music education and appreciation for music, as I know how beneficial it is in so many ways and how much it has impacted my own life. So of course they are involved in music lessons and we take them to live concerts when possible. I’m also involved in my local music community by playing piano for my church, performing with community bands, and giving studio recitals in various venues such as churches, libraries, and nursing homes.
ICA: What non-musical activities do you enjoy?
TM: I love to read, and so I always have multiple books I’m reading, and of course I’m always finding inspiration for new pieces. I love spending time with my family outdoors, walking, hiking, biking, and playing badminton, to name a few activities. I also enjoy playing card games and board games with friends and family, watching movies together as a family, and cuddling with my two cats!
ICA: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
TM: It’s hard to imagine my life not as a musician, which is why it was so hard during the heart of the pandemic. It’s also difficult imagining the moment when I chose to be a musician. I think I always was one. But before I consciously decided to pursue a music career, I wanted to be a doctor and a musician, until I realized that I would have to focus all of my efforts on music if I was going to “make it.” So I chose music. But if I wasn’t a musician, I guess I’d have become a doctor.
ICA: Where can people learn more about / hear / buy your music?
TM: My music is available for purchase on my website: www.theresamartin.net, where you can learn more about my music and listen to recordings. I am self-published, and my music is also available with several retailers and on several commercial recordings, which is all on my website.
ICA: Thanks for taking the time to share your work with us! We really appreciate it!
TM: My pleasure, thanks for having me!
Is there a composer you think we should feature as our composer-of-the-month?
Are you one yourself? Email us and let us know about it!