That Single Moment of Truth

james martin smiles

James Martin, outside of the Weiss Center for the Arts, home to the Department of Music. Photo by Dan Loh.

Office Hours: Assistant Professor of Music James Martin

by Tony Moore

Assistant Professor of Music James Martin earned his M.M. from the Juilliard School and has won awards for his performances in opera, musical theater and concert as a singer, actor and entertainer. He regularly teaches such courses as Keys to Music 1: Overture, Performance Studies and Voice and also works as a teaching artist for young people in inner-city programs.

I’d guess that when people think of where to go to study, say, voice as a discipline, they think of places like your alma mater, Juilliard, where they grind students down to a nub of their former selves while turning them into incredible musicians. (Whiplash was a true story, right?) But why should Dickinson be on students’ radars as where they should be studying music?

A Dickinson student is not only curious about their discipline; they’re curious about how their music helps to make our world, and our culture, function and thrive. Our program strives to provide for just that. Students can actually learn the languages they will use in their profession, take dance and acting classes that further their skills, engage in courses that inform their art and expand their worldview. Most important, they will learn how to develop meaningful relationships with colleagues and mentors in a supportive and nurturing environment where they are encouraged to be their personal best.

YouTube is riddled with “reaction videos,” and one series has classical musicians watching pop, metal, punk etc. videos and reacting with shock and sometimes awe. When was the last time you heard music that took you out of your comfort zone and shook you up?

I must admit, I have not seen these videos. I barely have time to practice these days, let alone watch someone else react to a video that somebody made of some other musician’s music-making! But the last time I heard something that rocked my world was a few weeks ago when the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds was in residence here at Dickinson. They played music that was nontraditional, and it took me out of my comfort zone in a good way. It was exciting, fresh and inspiring. It was jarring, gritty, rough, but real at all times. That kind of experience is a shot in the arm. It’s good for you!

It’s hard to imagine people who wouldn’t want to spend their lives studying and helping others study, appreciate, and develop their music, because it seems like a dream job. But what drew you into your career path, and what about it keeps things exciting?

When we find those things that light our path, it is our responsibility to be a light for others. I have a real love for what I do and have been blessed with a wealth of experiences that I can share with my students and my audiences. Music doesn’t exist without the performer and the audience. Without the performer, it is just notes on a page. And without the audience, the performance is moot. But when the two are present together in that single moment of truth, creativity is present and possibility abounds. We are able to bear witness to something that lets us know we are alive and what a precious gift that is. To share that every day as a job? That is my privilege and my joy.


Published December 13, 2023