EL: If you had your choice, what would you be doing primarily? Composing, performing, recording, what kind of pieces?

MM: I began my musical life as a performer – though I was composing songs with my sister way before I touched the viola. It was a very organic process to composing, when I realized my musical tendencies were towards something that I wasn’t being taught in school. So my “alternative” electro-acoustic viola playing developed on a parallel path to my improvising and composing. Therefore, composing and performing are on the same level. Of course, the wonderful thing about being a performer is that I can also perform other composers’ works while as a composer I can only compose my own! Recording is an extension of both composing and performing – very humbling and satisfying when I can record my own works and gratifying when I record other people’s music.

EL: Do you ever contemplate harmonizing lifestyle and creative goals?
MM: I discovered a long time ago that music is my career and my primary hobby. I’ve set up my lifestyle in this way – consciously or not. The important thing to realize is that it’s always a matter of choice. A violist friend of mine is also a serious mountain climber – she makes time to do this and it balances her life. I’ve taken up yoga and it’s a wonderful gift I give to my mind, body and spirit.

EL: What constitutes success for you? for others?
MM: Peace of mind. There’s a lot under that blanket, but if you have peace of mind, it means everything else has fallen into place.

EL: Do you think you may have done more if you were a male? Do you think there is a hidden glass ceiling for females? Did any of that affect you at any point?
MM: For myself, I’ve never let the glass ceiling allow me to not pursue my endeavors. My course in life has been to create, challenge, overcome, etc. I have seen many glass ceilings – gender, racial, social, etc. so I know they exist. If anything has held me back from my goals it’s that I may be too considerate and polite to push my way up! Time always tells who was ultimately qualified – one only hopes it happens during one’s lifetime!

EL: What pieces of yours are most important to you?
MM: “Most important” is different than “favorite” I suppose. Each piece I have created has been part of my evolution, so they are all important – whether they are good or not is something else. When I was in college at SUNY Albany I composed the theme song for the annual telethon to support children with disabilities. It won first prize in the song competition and I got to perform it at the opening show on local TV. Everyone in the audience, including the kids, were given the words and they sang along with me. It’s called “Special Children with Special Dreams”. Some other milestones are “News” which is the first solo piece I wrote and notated, “Terminal Baggage” which was recently made into a music video by filmmaker Ian Ross, “Café Mars” which is the title track of my duo CD with guitarist Randy Hudson. My two string quartets also have great significance: “Quantum for Quartet” is my transcription (with new material) of the original piece for electric viola and electric guitar, and it’s been performed electrically by my electro-acoustic string quartet SCORCHIO and had it’s acoustic premiere by the Staten Island Chamber Players (3 of whom were former teachers of mine as a young student growing up in Staten Island). It was a wonderful moment for teachers and student alike! Another quartet, “Circa 5” will be performed by members of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s on April 1 and 2 as part of their “Second Helpings” series curated by Joan Tower.What are your criteria for appreciation of other people’s music?

EL: Do you sometimes feel we are so busy dealing with our own music that there is not too much aural space left for anyone else, and that it may be necessary in order to maintain one’s identity?
MM: My only criteria for appreciating someone else’s music is if it speaks to me on any level. I like to listen to and play as much music as I can. I’ve had weeks where one night I’m playing a Beethoven symphony and Mozart overture, recording a Philip Glass film soundtrack the next day, that night play a Broadway show (I’m currently subbing on 4 shows) and the next sit in with my friend Marc Anthony Thompson (a/k/a Chocolate Genius) at Joe’s Pub. For me, it’s like eating a balanced diet. It’s good for the soul. I can’t imagine not playing or listening to other people’s sounds.

EL: What kind of institutional support would you recommend? What is it like to be a Yamaha-sponsored artist? Does this entail compromise or is it cool?
MM: I am proud to be a Yamaha Performing Artist/Clinician. They are very supportive of music in education and contribute a great deal of resources to that end. I signed on with Yamaha when they had only the prototype of their first electric violin and they’re now several generations forward and ongoing. I’ve consulted with their design team and work closely with the band and orchestra division. I recently returned from Kansas City where I presented 2 clinics (“Violas on the Verge” and “Playing with Five, strings that is”) at the 2006 American String Teachers Association National conference. In June I will be a featured artist at the 2006 International Viola Congress in Montreal – also sponsored by Yamaha. They have been solid in their commitment not only to education, but also to the development and expansion of string instruments in all styles of music. At my (strong) suggestion, Yamaha has had a table at the past two Chamber Music America conferences. For me this was significant as a “crossover” (another term I’m not fond of – along with “alternative”) player to have electric strings on display at a conference that still has such strong traditional roots. I played a Yamaha 5-string electric custom made viola at Zankel Hall in November with the American Composers Orchestra. Composers (other than myself) are beginning to write for this medium (I’ve already premiered about a dozen new works for electric viola by fellow composers). It’s only a matter of time…

More information at: www.marthamooke.com

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