Marta Richardson has associated herself with poets and painters, “like-minded” people who, as she describes, are wired the same as her.
“They can have a whole different genre, a whole different art form,” she said. “But when we collaborate, we really connect.”
The violinist is a veteran of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and has worked as a music teacher with Guilford County Schools.
In a recent interview, Richardson talked about playing the electric violin, one of his favorite songs called “Work” and incorporating kindness into his sound.
How did you get interested in music?
I’m originally from Greensboro. I went to Lindley Elementary, Lindley Junior High and Grimsley, then went to UNCG and went to music school.
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I played in the Youth Orchestra, played in the Greensboro Symphony for 20 years.
My first musical experience, we had a kindergarten teacher at the Lutheran church I went to, and she let me in early, and she let me play the piano in the community hall. I had no vocabulary for musical terms, like release, tension and harmony. But, I was sitting at that piano, and I think that’s where my love of sound started, and I was doing harmonies. And the sunlight was coming through, and I felt really close to God.
As a teenager, I was invited to go to another church, where there were hippies playing guitar, drums and keyboards. And someone said, “Marta bring your violin.” It was the coolest thing, and that’s where I started learning to improvise and play by ear, and that’s where I learned to play in the moment. Back then, people didn’t know what to do with a violinist in a band. We were kind of an oddity in the 70s.
What are some of your musical influences?
I love listening to Jean Luc-Ponty, the jazz violinist. I wanted to be in the jazz ensemble at UNCG. But, they were all guys, there were no women then, and I was too cowardly to try. I’m still sorry for not having tried.
I love Joni Mitchell. I think Joni’s music has helped a lot of young women embrace their femininity, especially if you come into a male-dominated culture with conductors and teachers and studio guys. You have to know how to manage all that. She helped me understand some things.
And I love Phil Keaggy’s music. He is better known in Christian circles. But he’s an instrumentalist, and he worked a lot with looping stations, before most people knew what a looping station was, and that’s kind of my thing now, working with looping stations loop.
How would you describe your music?
It depends who I’m playing with. I am quite flexible. My personal style, however, is more improvisational. People have described it as ethereal, evocative.
It’s not so abstract that people can’t enjoy it. I’m looking for a sound that’s beautiful, that people like, and that I can go in a lot of directions with. And I like to play with painters, singer-songwriters and poets.
What does your creative process look like?
When I play spontaneously, I pray for the sound. Sound can change the atmosphere of the room. It can change the state of the human heart. I want some kindness in my sound. With (the poet) Josephus Thompson, I played some pretty tough stuff about people going through tough, traumatic stuff. And when you get to play with a person, who uncovers their soul and their wounds, it’s a complete and total honor.
Can you tell me about the electric violin you play?
My acoustic violin comes from my grandfather in Germany. I only got to go once, and he told me if I could play the violin, I could take it home. It’s a bit beat up, but it got me through college.
But I started having neck problems, and it’s hard to do two and a half hours, several nights in a row if you have neck problems. So someone suggested I consider an electric violin. I went to a store in Durham and fell in love with a store behind a glass door.
I came home, I said to my husband: “I found the violin of my dreams. And he was like, “No way, it’s more than our car.” So I applied for a regional artist scholarship, and while I was waiting for that, I went to a church in High Point, and this woman came up to me and said, “Do you your own CD?
I said, “No, not yet. I’m saving for this instrument. I’m waiting to hear about a grant. And she said, “Whatever the grant doesn’t pay, I’ll pay the rest.”
I didn’t get the one behind the glass door, because there were some things I needed to have, and it needed to be light. But I have one made by John Jordan, it has maple veneers, it’s made from Royal Paulownia wood, which makes it light. It has five strings, instead of four.
If you could open an exhibition for any artist, who would it be and why?
I don’t know who wants a solo violinist, but if Peter Gabriel or David Gilmore called me, I’d probably mortgage the house to go play for free.
Do you have a favorite song or number that you like to play?
I like to improvise. I love working on my loop station. I can do this for hours and hours and hours. There’s a song that I kind of composed myself. It’s called “Work”. It was when I was in a band called Songs of Water, and when we went to record it, all of a sudden there was this thunderstorm and this rain, and it’s not that you want when you save.
So in my heart, “Work” was about how God’s heart is for people who feel far from him. And they took the microphones and put them on the porch, and picked up the sound, and as soon as we finished recording the storm started. It’s just a little two-minute piece, but I love performing it and telling the story.
What is the most unusual thing that has ever happened during one of your performances?
Something unusual happened in the studio. I was working with Tom Rowan at Sound Lab. He was in the control room, setting the levels, and I was in the recording space, wondering what was taking him so long. I was warming up and getting an idea of the room. After a few minutes he came out and said, “You didn’t hear any of that, did you?” I said, “Heard anything?” He said, “I played, thinking you could hear what I was playing, and whatever you were playing matched the rhythm, sound, key, everything.”
I made a podcast with a friend of mine, and I’d like to archive it. We’re also going to do workshops at Sawtooth in Winston-Salem. Also, I plan to attend church for the first time in three years, Gate City Vineyard.
I love playing in wineries and art galleries, and hope more will open (as COVID-19 recedes).