Tag Archives: interview

Composer Q&A: Getting to Know Martha Mier

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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.

Teaching an Idol

An interview with Meredith Clayton, Garner Magnet High School, NC
Music teacher of Scotty McCreery, winner of American Idol, Season 10

We imagine that teaching Scotty McCreery at Garner Magnet High School was great fun for you, Meredith. Tell us about his musical background.
Scotty has grown up participating in choirs at each of his schools and at his church. When Scotty entered Garner Magnet High School as a freshman, he started off as a member of my Beginning Mixed Ensemble, which is mostly 9th graders. He was a great music student and had a lovely vocal tone. He jokes with me now, because I actually made him sing tenor back then. He could have sung bass, but every freshman boy wanted to sing bass. He was one of the only ones that understood his head voice at that time, and I needed him to sing tenor to model to other young singers. We knew he was special the day he sang a solo for us with his guitar for the final exam.

His sophomore year, he was a member of my Intermediate Chorale, which is a mixed ensemble with mostly 10th graders. I finally had enough balance in my choir and could switch him to bass, where he belonged. His mom said that was one of his happiest days that year! Of course, the low notes you hear now are even more developed than they were back then! That year, Scotty traveled with us to Busch Gardens and performed the lead role of Conrad in our spring musical production of Bye Bye Birdie. He also sang a solo at our Spring Choral Concert and during the Choral Awards Banquet. I programmed his solo last, knowing he would bring the house down!

Scotty was also one of the main pitchers on the baseball team. In many schools, students must chose between sports and music. How does this work at your school?
I am very fortunate not to have had many conflicts with the athletic department. Over the years, when students have had scheduling conflicts with sports, the coaches and I work together to share the student. We make sure that the student feels rewarded for being well-rounded, and not made to feel guilty or punished. If I have a rehearsal during a game, the student will miss my rehearsal and go to the game. If I have a concert during a sports practice, the student may miss the practice to participate in the concert. If a concert and a game fall on the same night, we let the student decide in which event they will participate. If the student misses the concert, I’ll give an alternate make up assignment. We work together very well.

Can you give us any insight into Scotty’s audition for American Idol? Did you work with him on his country-style audition songs?
I didn’t even know Scotty was going to audition for American Idol—never in a million years did it cross my mind. He was kind of quiet in class, and wasn’t the type to try to stand out. His mother called me that summer after the audition and said, “Guess what we just did?!” I think it was spur of the moment for them!
And no, I did not ever work with him on any country songs or vocal coaching. That is out of my league! I don’t think he needed my help on that, anyway. I mentored Scotty on other things, like confidence, work ethic, humility, staying grounded, being flexible with instructors, etc. But the country music thing—he did that all on his own!

Tell us about the reaction of the other singers and faculty at Garner Magnet High School.
The reaction around Garner Magnet High School, after his audition aired, was pure excitement! Throughout the rest of the school year, there was a positive buzz of energy around the school, the students, and the faculty. It was all great! It never distracted from our learning environment, and we went along . . . business as usual, but it gave us all something happy to talk about. Nothing but blessings came our way after Scotty went on American Idol, and for that, we are all very grateful.

Has being involved with Scotty in the American Idol experience changed you in any way? Your choral program?
YES! The many, many blessings that have come my way this past year as a result of Scotty, his family, and American Idol, have definitely changed me. I was reminded in a huge way that teaching can really impact someone else’s life, and we may never know where that influences ends. Most times, teachers don’t know if we’ve touched someone, and we certainly don’t always get rewarded . . . so for me this past spring was amazing. I also realized that we may never know when a student may do something really big and change our life. How often do we overlook some students more than others? It’s easy to get busy, only building
relationships with the students that are highly involved in our activities, while others might get “lost in the crowd.” But you never know what kind of talent is sitting quietly in that chair . . . something big could happen to one of them, and they may remember you in their journey. It could happen to any one of you, at any time.

This experience has made me realize the importance of taking time to care for individual students and their families, and build that rapport—as well as the importance of making connections in the community. It has certainly reminded me to stay humble and grateful for all that I am blessed with on a daily basis. I am also feeling supercharged and motivated to be the best teacher I can be this school year. I feel like a lot of eyes might be watching now, and so I’d better measure up! I have 20 more freshmen signed up in my beginning choir this year than normal, so I’m sure this has all played a role in recruitment for me as well. In that first ensemble, I have 34 BOYS on my roster! Can you believe it? In ONE class . . .34 boys!! Thank you Scotty! I hope that this year continues the upward climb . . . and thanks to all of you for your support!

Scotty’s first big single “I Love You This Big” was recently arranged by Jay Althouse for Alfred. Tell us how you’re planning to surprise your students and Scotty with the premier performance of this arrangement.
I haven’t told any of the students (or Scotty) yet about this choral arrangement. I’m excited to tell them face to face during the first weeks of school! I plan for us to learn the song, and then surprise Scotty by singing it to him one day this fall. I know he is going to just love it! And of course, I’m sure we’ll have to perform it for parents at our Winter Concert!

Scotty was only a junior when he won Season 10 of American Idol this past spring. Do you know anything about his future plans?
Believe it or not, Scotty plans to return to school to finish his senior year as soon as he is done with the American Idols’ Live tour. He will be back around mid-October. He will be very busy during certain months, but his peers and our faculty are going to do all we can to ensure that he has the most normal as possible senior year. I think it’s very admirable and noble of him to want to finish his education. While it may cause a stir in the beginning, I do think that the town of Garner and the students here respect him enough to let him focus on being a student once more. I am thrilled to have his beautiful voice back in my choir this year. It will bring joy to me everyday, and will add excitement to our class!