Mu­si­cal mark

P. E. I Sym­phony con­duc­tor James Mark re­flects on his fas­ci­nat­ing ca­reer

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JIM DAY

James Mark says the short an­swer, if a stranger were to ask him what he does, would be: “I am a mu­si­cian.’’

If that same stranger were to be sit­ting next to Mark on a very lengthy flight, he might have enough time to learn a por­tion of the di­verse and in­ter­est­ing de­tails of a ca­reer that has ranged from jazz to clas­si­cal, from play­ing clar­inet in sym­phonies to blow­ing the sax­o­phone in jazz clubs, and from teach­ing mu­sic to con­duct­ing sym­phonies.

Mark, who is re­tir­ing at the end of this sea­son af­ter more than a dozen years as mu­sic di­rec­tor of the P. E. I. Sym­phony Orches­tra, was set in his mind fairly early in life that he would travel down a mu­si­cal path.

How it all pro­gressed was far from, well, or­ches­trated. Rather, the course of his ca­reer work has proved more mu­si­cally me­an­der­ing, like a lively, im­pro­vi­sa­tional jazz solo.

Born in Bat­tle Creek, Mich., Mark grew up with reg­u­lar ex­po­sure to op­eras and sym­phonies.

The fam­ily was mu­si­cal. Mark’s fa­ther, James, sang bari­tone in the church choir. His grand­fa­ther was a church or­gan­ist and grand­mother had a won­der­ful so­prano voice.

Mark lis­tened to plenty of clas­si­cal mu­sic from the fam­ily record col­lec­tion.

He was three when he went to his first sym­phony con­cert. Around that time, he also be­gan pi­ano lessons. He says he re­grets not hav­ing prac­ticed more than he did.

In Grade 6, he started to learn how to play clar­inet, an in­stru­ment he would em­brace, go­ing on to earn his master of mu­sic de­gree in clar­inet per­for­mance at the Hartt Col­lege of Mu­sic in Hart­ford.

In Lon­don, Eng­land, he was prin­ci­pal clar­inet in the Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic First Orches­tra un­der Sir Adrian Boult and the cham­ber orches­tra un­der Har­vey Phillips.

He played the in­stru­ment in the U. S. Air Force Band and in 1984 be­came prin­ci­pal clar­inet of the P. E. I. Sym­phony un­der Brian El­lard.

“I really like it, I think prob­a­bly be­cause it has a vo­cal sound,’’ he said of the wind in­stru­ment that has a sin­gle- reed mouth­piece that re­quires chal­leng­ing em­bouchure to play prop­erly.

“Play­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment,’’ he added, “is an ath­letic thing . . . mas­ter­ing tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, suc­cess­fully do­ing things un­der pres­sure.’’

Mark also picked up the sax­o­phone in ju­nior high school, started lis­ten­ing to jazz le­gend Char­lie Parker as he pro­gressed in high school to the jazz band, which typ­i­cally at­tracts the more tal­ented and se­ri­ous mu­sic stu­dents.

He would later find him­self play­ing with the likes of famed flugel­horn player Chuck Man­gione, who is best known for the mon­ster jazz- pop sin­gle Feels So Good. He re­calls tak­ing to the stage with his sax in a black jazz club in Rochester, N. Y. — a very, very friendly place with a mar­velous at­mos­phere.

He met Pene­lope, his fu­ture wife and fel­low mu­si­cian, while he was per­form­ing jazz in Eng­land.

While pas­sion­ately in­ter­ested in jazz, Mark chose to fo­cus on be­ing a clas­si­cal clar­inetist.

Mark came to New Brunswick in 1979 as an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of mu­sic at Mount Al­li­son Univer­sity. He taught clar­inet, sax­o­phone,

mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion, and con­duct­ing.

Ever since his ar­rival in Canada, he has been sought af­ter an ad­ju­di­ca­tor, guest con­duc­tor and clin­i­cian. He has ad­ju­di­cated fes­ti­vals in all the At­lantic Prov­inces and has guest con­ducted Sym­phony New Brunswick, the Sco­tia Winds and the Toronto Wind Orches­tra.

Mark started mak­ing his no­table mu­si­cal mark on Prince Ed­ward Is­land in 1984 when he be­came prin­ci­pal clar­inet of the P. E. I. Sym­phony. The fol­low­ing year he joined the Char­lot­te­town Fes­ti­val Orches­tra as a mem­ber of the stage band and was a soloist for the pro­duc­tion Swing.

In 2000, he was ap­pointed to con­duc­tor of the Prince Ed­ward Is­land Sym­phony.

Margo Con­nors, a long- time vi­o­lin­ist with the orches­tra, lauds Mark’s ap­proach and im­pact on what she terms a semi- pro­fes­sional orches­tra con­sist­ing of stu­dents, univer­sity mu­sic pro­fes­sor, jazz mu­si­cians, clas­si­cal record­ing artists, bus drivers and den­tists.

“Dr. Mark is a good com­bi­na­tion of suc­cinct and hu­man,’’ said Con­nors, now in her 32nd sea­son with the sym­phony.

“He hones in on what is needed, but we still get to ask ques­tions and learn the his­tory and the why of things.’’

Con­nors adds that Mark is “ruth­less’’ in his choice of tem­pos: the faster the bet­ter.

Jen Cle­ment, also a long- time vi­o­lin­ist with the orches­tra, says Mark al­ways sets a high stan­dard for the mu­si­cians.

“He works with the whole group more than in­di­vid­u­als,’’ she said. “He doesn’t sin­gle any­one out. He just ex­pects the same thing from ev­ery­body.’’

Mark, though, tempers his de­mand­ing pro­fes­sional side with a soft per­sonal de­meanor.

“Oh, he’s a very warm, lovely per­son,’’ said Cle­ment, who along with hus­band John founded the Singing Strings pro­gram, which teaches string in­stru­ments to P. E. I. chil­dren.

“He’s bril­liant. I cer­tainly en­joy work­ing with him a lot.’’

Mark has writ­ten ar­range­ments for numer­ous artists for per­for­mance with the P. E. I. Sym­phony, in­clud­ing The Barra MacNeils, Pa­per Lion, Measha Brug­gers­gos­man and Matt An­der­son.

He adds that he is a fan of Stompin’ Tom Con­nors, whose work could not be in sharper con­trast to Mark’s fa­vorite com­poser, Jo­hannes Brahms.

“I would love him to per­form with the sym­phony,’’ he said.

Mark loves to per­form with his wife, pi­anist Pene­lope. The cou­ple has done numer­ous recitals to­gether.

At 73 years of age, Mark feels he has plenty of per­form­ing left.

“I don’t think ei­ther of us want to stop be­ing mu­si­cians any time soon,’’ he said. “We are very for­tu­nate to be able to do mu­sic to­gether.

The pair, who lives in Sackville, N. B., has en­joyed a sum­mer home in Char­lot­te­town for al­most 30 years.

“We can’t bear not to be here in the sum­mer,’’ he said.

He hones in on what is needed, but we still get

to ask ques­tions and learn the his­tory and the

why of things.

Margo Con­ners

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.