Martha Mier is an internationally recognized composer and clinician whose educational piano music for students of all levels has made her one of today’s most popular composers. Students worldwide enjoy playing her music, including the popular Jazz, Rags & Blues series and the Romantic Impressions series. We had a chance to catch up with Martha and learn more about her start in music and teaching, her favorite compositions, and her biggest inspirations.
How did you get your start in music?
I grew up with 5 older brothers, each of whom took piano lessons, so I could hardly wait until it was “my turn!” My oldest brother was playing Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies and Chopin Waltzes when I was only 3 or 4 years old, and I was so inspired by his playing, and was greatly influenced by him.
Do you remember your very first piano lesson?
I can’t say I remember my very first piano lesson, but I remember several of my early pieces which thrilled me! One was a little waltz where I got to cross over with left hand to high C! Fun, fun!
When did you know you wanted to teach?
After teaching music in a Jr. High School for 1 year, I decided I would prefer a one-on-one relationship with students, thus began my piano teaching career. It was a wise choice.
Do you have any advice for a new teacher, or what is something you wish you knew when you started teaching?
Treat students as individuals, and tailor a curriculum to fit that particular student. Attend workshops and join local music groups to continue your education. Always be enthusiastic about the music, and your student will pick up on that enthusiasm.
Tell us about a memorable teaching moment?
Memorable teaching moments come when a student understands a concept and can then apply it to his or her playing. Those “AHA!” moments are satisfying and memorable.
How do you motivate students?
Students learn to love music by playing music that they love. I try to select repertoire that will appeal to the student, then I will know he will practice it. Studio contests and rewards are helpful, but true motivation comes from within each student.
What is one of the biggest challenges you overcame as a teacher?
Learning to be totally organized in order to stay within time limits. Planning each lesson is helpful and essential.
What inspired you to start composing?
I began composing in high school just for the fun of it! In my teaching, I would write little pieces for my students when I could not find a piece that presented what that student liked or needed.
Do you have a favorite composition of yours?
A couple of my favorite compositions of mine are 1) “Lady Brittany’s Ballad” for its romantic, modal sound, 2) “Celebration Scherzo” for its rhythmic vitality and fun octaves, and 3) “The Purple Hills of Heather” for the romantic sounds.
Do you have any advice for young composers?
My advice for young composers is to keep writing. Continue to explore and create.
What do you love about jazz? What drew you to it?
When in high school, I discovered “Blues in the Night” and “Basin Street Blues,” and I was hooked for life! It speaks to my heart.
Who are your jazz inspirations?
I am inspired by the older jazz pianists, such as Count Basie.
Do you have a favorite piece or type of music to play for fun?
I love all styles of music, and play from Classical to Jazz.
If you could have dinner with any musician, past or present, who would it be, and why?
I would like to have dinner with Chopin. I would love to learn his personality to know where his beautiful romantic style came from.
I remember hearing two stories about Chopin. Can’t prove either of them. 1.) Chopin wanted to be friendly and kind but this was difficult with a student who was not progressing. He hated telling a failing student that there was no hope. 2.) During lessons it was not uncommon for Chopin to tell his student to “play it again, all the way through” while he would duck out for a quick coffee, returning before the student had completed his piece. I do know he nearly married but could not because it was the beginning of his TB. Sad!
How do I get in touch with Martha Mier? I play duets with a close friend at least 4-5 times per week, and perform for concerts to raise money for disabled people in third world countries. Martha’s duets are part of our repertoire, and are our favourite pieces. Unfortunately, we need more of her books for duets. We would really love her to write more duet books, and particularly a Book 6 of Jazz, Rags, & Blues for Two. Annette
Dear Martha, We met at a Workshop you gave for the Pittsburgh Piano Teachers many years ago . I just wanted to tell you how much my students and I love your music!! Our newest find, Silhouette Moon, is just wonderful,
Thank you, Martha Babbitt