"Scribe the light!" ~ Judith
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A Short Composer Story
I’ve loved biographies since I was a young child. Arms loaded with heavy books, I’d leave the library with another’s world to live in for the week. Looking back, I see these helped me develop expectations I’d probably never have had otherwise.
I am not famous…at least yet…nor is it some goal I’ve had since birth. Nor do I have an endless scroll of accomplishments as a composer to inspire and learn from. I’m not defined by those things. Actually, up to age 65, I had no idea I was a composer, nor had I ever had a composition course. I was a performance major in The Juilliard School’s Master’s program, teaching assistant to the late great Leon Russianoff, an orchestral principal clarinetist under the esteemed Louis Lane, and a director/teacher from elementary through university level. A composer, I wasn’t.
So, what makes me think I have something special to offer about composing? I guess it is my attitude that everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, has a special story to tell that can encourage and empower others. Even my last dog has a story that might inspire many. From their seeming insignificant narratives, I am richer for taking time to listen, really listen behind the words of others, for the takeaway lessons. Therefore, I have faith that my own walk can help others, so this whole website/blog is formed around the challenge of becoming who we truly are, removing the hindrances, and having the courage to step into the fullness of our callings.
Secondly, I don’t know too many seniors who changed from success in one career to a different one at ground zero, and I want to be an encouragement to seniors but young people as well. Do not let a cultural handicap or unusual timing limit your vision of the future. Maybe it was supposed to happen as it did.
I’ve read some younger composers’ bios, for instance, that said they started late. Maybe they were 20 or even 40, and many had some sort of advanced theory and orchestration in school. I had to chuckle, since I had nothing other than a simple theory class as an undergrad over 40 years before. However, I understood that in the normal scheme of things, that was late. Subsequently, my hope is my choices to believe the impossible at 65, when people think you slow down and become obsolete, will give everyone the courage to discover and invest in their full destiny.
A life fully lived is worth any price you pay.
Although I am privileged to have gone to a great conservatory and to have performed in some amazing venues, my love for my students has been an equally important passion. I’ve seen them grow in their confidence and skill, which is thrilling to me. Some enriched their lives and went into other professions that fit them. At the same time, some have been admitted into music schools at all levels, won competitions, been accepted into district, honors and marching bands and orchestras, undergraduate and graduate music programs, have been awarded superior ratings at solo and ensemble festivals. Some teach at respected universities and perform in professional classical, jazz, and worship groups now. I owe much to My Three-Step to Success Method, which brought this comment from an adjudicator:
“I’ve adjudicated for many years. In all that time, I’ve never heard students sightread as well as yours do! What’s your secret?”
Secret? No teacher can succeed with a great technique if her students don’t use what they are taught, so bravo, guys and gals!
After a near-death experience and a true miraculous healing, I stopped university teaching and performing classical music for nearly 30 years. During this time, I recovered from past abuse and changed direction. Though I had hated the God of my understanding for years, I focused on finding out more about the living God that had actually healed me. As I gained strength, I taught part time, got married, and raised three men I’m so very proud of.
Out of necessity, I dabbled with arranging for my band/orchestra programs as a private school teacher. How do you balance three trumpets, one flute and five drummers? However, I still didn’t consider that as composing nor myself a composer…nor did I have a secret wish to be one.
During this time, if I wanted to ever play again, I was “forced” to learn to improvise because of the current contemporary worship band environment. I had no idea how nor did I believe I could. That’s the truth right there! To this day, I think that was a divine set up to help me discover a buried call.
You see, I was raised in the south where I had never heard of a woman composer.
Slowly, with the love and support of those around me, I bumbled through improvisational set after set until I’d developed a rather unique style–one based on not knowing much. LOL
I also pursued an Associate of Theology and created a program to empower classically trained musicians like myself to improvise in a contemporary worship setting. Thus, my heartthrob, Global P.O.W.E.R. Network, Inc., was born to further help them use their gifts to serve those in need.
As I learned to improvise for worship, I began to jot down little fragments of tunes and toss them in a drawer. Out of sight, out of mind. Then I became frustrated with boring, over-simplified current songs, so I thought I’d figure out how to analyze classical composers’ music and write a better one. I still didn’t call that composing, but looking back, I see a composer began to develop in me outside of my awareness.
When we moved to the Nashville area, I met an amazing composer/teacher/worship leader and musician colleague, David Moser McKay, who saw me for who I am. David has helped and continues to help fill the holes from my lack of compositional training.
In August of 2019, five years later, I was privileged to mentor with Joan Tower. At 71, the fact that I truly was a composer became a no-brainer. I asked her if she thought it a waste of time to expend significant energy in my short future developing something at this late in the game. She was quiet as she listened. Then she said something I’ll never forget, something I desperately needed to hear:
“You asked if it would be worth your time. For you…absolutely.”
That’s all I need to hear and from someone who would truly know. Since that day, I haven’t looked back, though there have been some defeats–common to us all, I suppose. Some day, I may have a page of accolades to scroll through and an award or two, so don’t count me out. But if not, I don’t care. I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been.
Thanks for listening. Following is a quick breakdown of events beginning the first year of my private lessons. I hope they inspire you to believe in impossible dreams.
After a year of weekly private lessons and four hours a week on her own, 2014 brought 66-year-old Markovich’s first classical work, The Looking Glass, which is now published by Trevco Music. Two shorter versions–King for a Day and Three Reflections are available. King for a Day was one chosen to be performed at the International Composers Festival, Sussex, UK, in 2022.
So far we have received over 700 compositions and your work has shown to be a very special one,
one that we look forward to perform next year very much! Polo Piatti, Artistic Director, ICF
“This is fantastic! Amazing! So fun and light and wonderful.” Composer Joan Tower (about The Looking Glass)
I absolutely love it…your creative, soulful heart and genius have taken flight!” Franklin Cohen, former principal clarinetist, Cleveland Orchestra
Notes flew by in 2018, accents aligned, and sounds filled the pages as Markovich finished work on Hallelujah in the Darkness. It is ready for performance, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. After a year that challenged her status quo, musical understanding, and patience, this composition represents a huge breakthrough in sound for her. Dedicated it to her husband, Richard, who fought a battle against cancer from 2015-2017 and won, this composition takes hallelujahs through the happy times and the sad.
2018 also brought Beyond the Noble Way for brass quintet, written for a dear friend and colleague who was ripped up by the loss of his dear wife. Its premiere in the fall of 2020 by the Akron University Faculty Brass Quintet was postponed.
“Beautiful, Judith! Such deep, thoughtful writing.” Rebecca Vendemo, conductor, trumpeter
After that composition, a new work, Emergence: Tone Poem on the Hymn Tune “Purpose,” was commissioned and premiered by conductor Rebecca Vendemo and the Spring Hill Orchestra on October 26, 2019. What an exciting night for all of us as we were joined by members of a Brazilian Women’s Philharmonia. It was especially significant because this is the season that women composers, performers, and conductors are emerging into their purposes and moving to the forefront after generations of hiddenness. Tiny motifs emerge, as does our purpose, and grow into an emotion-packed, multi-metered soundscape.
“Wow! the music is beautiful, delightful and majestic…absolutely the fullest admiration for your work. If I had been a composer, this is just the sort of thing I would have composed. So delicate and full of joy too.” Isobel Platings, granddaughter of Martin Fallas Shaw, composer of the hymn tune.
2020 bore the birth of a new string quartet called Lament for Piano Quintet and Empty Chair, following the devastating news of the death of a dear friend and colleague, Laura Flax. This piece expresses the depths of Markovich’s numbness, anger, denial, and eventual surrender. Not for the light-hearted. The premiere by the Lockdown Ladies, a group formed on Facebook from South Africa, London, and Calais, France, was postponed, but a premiere is pending in the Nashville, TN area.
” Absolute in meaning, the most beautiful lament ever.” Brian McDonald, Composer
February 2020 brought work on an unaccompanied viola piece. The challenge was significant, especially since it was written (purposely) for an instrument not in her woodwind wheelhouse. A multi-metered showpiece, Three Miniatures for unaccompanied viola, had its online world premiere at the Festival Komm, Bach in Paris on June 6, 2020. Brett Deubner gave a thrilling performance with great attitude, passion, and finesse.
In the spring of 2020, The Dabbling Duck for English horn and cello, commissioned by Roger Wiesmeyer of the Nashville Symphony, was composed to lightened hearts heavy from the pandemic lockdown and well-received. Due to COVID-19, Wiesmeyer had to postpone the world premiere in Nashville in September 2020, but it was premiered by Beth Wheeler (English horn) and Jacob Wunsch (cello) on the Arkansas Symphony River Rhapsodies Series on April 13, 2021, and again on ASO’s “Bedtime with Bach” by these world-class musicians. Various versions are now available, one of which was accepted for the 2022 Music Tomorrow Festival in Nashville, TN.
“…a wonderful addition to the chamber music repertoire for English horn. It is beautifully written for the instrument, is tons of fun to play, and audience members have enjoyed it so much!” Beth Wheeler, principal English horn, ASO
In June of 2020, a pensive piano improvisation from 2016, Remember, was committed to notation and made available. Brett Deubner encouraged a version for viola and a PARMA Navona Records released a recording of it with Deubner, Allison Brewster Franzetti (piano) and Michael Lipsey (chimes) on June 25, 2021. The new album is called Mother Earth. Four versions of Remember are now available: piano, chimes | clarinet, piano, chimes | viola, piano, chime | English horn, piano, chimes.
“Can’t wait for your concerto…I’m your champion!” Brett Deubner, international viola virtuoso
The draft was finished and woodshedding began on Cornerstone Sonata for viola and piano, commissioned by Brett Deubner. 2021 has also birthed Came a Drop Gently for mezzo, tenor, English horn, and piano, I Think about the Star (commissioned by Beth Wheeler) for oboe, soprano, and piano, A Call from the Woods for solo viola (commissioned by Amaro Dubois), and Living Reflections for viola and piano. As of this year, Markovich’s music became available at Trevco Music and J. W. Pepper. However, I Think about the Star, A Call from the Woods, Cornerstone Sonata and Living Reflections are not available to listen to until after their 2022 premieres.
With two festival performances, a radio interview, and three commissioned premieres scheduled so far for 2022, work continues. Initial sketches for a deeply emotional choral/instrumental chamber piece called Lost Daughters for chorus, percussion, clarinet, and English horn are being developed, as well as work on a commissioned viola concerto for international viola soloist, Brett Deubner. Markovich’s early musical, The Soul Felt Its Worth, rests in a dusty “to-be-edited” folder, along with a future orchestral tone poem, Ode for Jerusalem, awaiting its creation.
For someone who took her first composition lesson at 65, 2018-2021 has been a productive and awe-inspiring four-year period. Read the short of Markovich’s story below.
You can find audio (some computerized) on YouTube, J. W. Pepper, and Judith Markovich’s page at: https://SoundCloud.com.
Markovich earned a Master’s in Performance from The Juilliard School, not Composition. After years of performance, this award-winning clarinetist took her first composition lesson at 65…for fun. Five years later she witnessed the 2019 world premiere of her symphonic tone poem, “Emergence,” which addressed women’s emergence into their rightful careers. In 2020, “Three Miniatures for Solo Viola” premiered at the Komm Bach Festival in Paris. April 2021 saw a premiere on Arkansas Symphony’s River Rhapsodies Series. In June 2021, ASCAP’s New Music Friday featured “Remember” from Brett Deubner’s new “Mother Earth” album. Recently, the 2022 International Composers Festival selected one of her works for performance in Sussex, UK, and the 2022 Music Tomorrow Festival selected another. She has studied privately with David Moser McKay and mentored with Joan Tower. Markovich’s life shows us it is never too late to invest in a missing piece of yourself.