James Martin, Music Faculty at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and an operatic baritone, will sing in Columbus twice this weekend, with pianist David O’Steen accompanying, at newly restored Poindexter Hall on the campus of Mississippi University for Women. The African American singer gave an interview with The Packet by telephone on Wednesday, Oct. 24.
The Packet: Describe your upcoming visit to Columbus.
James Martin: Pianist David O’Steen and I are excited to come to Columbus to perform for the Decorative Arts and Preservation Forum on Friday evening on November 2, at Poindexter. The concert will have a River theme, to tie into the Forum’s. Selections come from Art Song, Broadway, Classical, and Spirituals. The concert will repeat for the general public at no charge on Saturday afternoon, November 3.
The Packet: Where was your upbringing, and was it musical?
James Martin: My family had a strong musical tradition. I began on piano, then oboe. We left West Point, MS and moved to Chicago. I studied music at Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington, then the Juilliard School in New York City.
The Packet: According to you web site bio, you have sung opera on both sides of the Atlantic. How does opera in Europe contrast with opera in the USA?
James Martin: Opera in Europe is subsidized by governments, as are other arts. Therefore, opera is available in every community. Another contrast is that opera houses in Europe are smaller than their American counterparts.
The Packet: Is there any composer that suits you best, or any roles?
James Martin: The operatic composer that suits me best is Mozart. My favorite Mozart roles are Don Giovanni, Figaro, and Papageno. Another composer that suits me is the twentieth century African American Harry Burleigh, who composed arrangements of African American Spirituals.
The Packet: Coming from the Juilliard School in New York City to Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, what impresses you about the classical music scene in Mississippi? What does it need?
James Martin: I am impressed with a big desire in Mississippi to hear classical music well performed. What Mississippi needs is an education system that sustains arts education. Studies have shown that education in the arts improves general education. My colleagues in Music Education, at every level of education, believe we are making a difference here in Mississippi.
The Packet: Your web site bio also states that you attend St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church in Jackson. Is your affiliation with that denomination related to its music?
James Martin: Definitely yes! When at Juilliard, I sang at Trinity (Episcopal) Church on Wall Street, which transformed me as a Christian, and a musician, especially after September 11, 2001. I eventually changed my affiliation to the Episcopal Church, from the Presbyterian Church.