A Spotlight on Martha Jhoana

Marina McLerran

Editor, McLerran Journal

Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Martha while we were both studying at the SFASU School of Music. She is kind-hearted and immensely devoted to her faith and to her music. 

 

Martha Jhoana is a talented composer, musician, educator, and conductor from the Dominican Republic. At the age of only thirty-four, she has mastered the piano, harp, guitar, and is currently learning the violin. The youngest of three siblings, Martha was born into a family of musicians with deep roots in the Church. She began to take unofficial singing lessons from her father (a guitarist) at the age of only 1.5 years and officially started singing for Church services at the age of three. From a young age, Martha desired to learn the violin, but the impoverished area did not have a skilled lesson teacher for the instrument. At the age of eight, she had the opportunity to begin taking piano lessons from the church music director. Martha’s family did not have a piano at home so she improvised and practiced on a drawing of a keyboard on the family kitchen table. Two years later, when it became apparent that she had a natural talent for music, her parents decided to begin driving her into the city (an hour from home) on a weekly basis in order to get her a higher quality music education. The following year, at age eleven, Martha was enrolled in the Estudio Dina de Educacion Musical (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic) to study piano more seriously.

For most of her life, Martha has believed that it is “God’s will that [she] do music” and worked tirelessly to earn a scholarship to study in the United States. When she was eighteen, Martha traveled to the Conservatorio de Musica de Puerto Rico to begin a degree in harp performance; she was one of only five full-scholarship recipients and did not yet speak English. She graduated only two years later, in 2010. During the same period, while visiting relatives in Lufkin, TX, she had the opportunity to play an original composition for her cousin’s private music instructor and was referred to Dr. Andrew Parr (Professor of Piano) at Stephen F. Austin State University. Dr. Parr, impressed with her immense natural talent, offered her a graduate position in the SFASU School of Music. Martha joyfully accepted the offer and moved to Texas in 2011 to begin a Master’s in Piano Performance. During her time at SFASU, she was exposed to courses in composition and also discovered a passion for orchestral conducting. Martha’s proficiency in nearly all musical subjects and her ability to play multiple instruments at a superior level quickly earned her recognition in the School of Music and the field. She graduated in 2014 and began teaching private lessons in the region.

Since completing her studies at Stephen F. Austin State University, Martha has had the opportunity to perform regularly for multiple local churches and was also selected to play an original work for piano as part of the pre-shows for the Superbowl 2016. When asked about her composition process, Martha shared that she simply has music in her heart. Her mastery of the multiple instruments is such that she does not usually have to write anything down first. She begins with a simple melodic idea and expands on it. The composition is later named and written down. Eventually, Martha would like to pursue a doctorate in either composition or conducting, but currently has no plans to do so. 

The constant motif in Martha’s life has always been the Church. It was the birthplace of her passion for music as a child, the medium through which she was introduced to classical music, and is (literally) her home currently; she lives in a studio apartment that used to be a fellowship hall. To young musicians, Martha gives three rules; “put God first, never complain, and never give up.” She has personally overcome an astounding number of obstacles and hopes to someday start either a school or foundation to provide aid to impoverished areas. Her main goal in teaching is “to give children like [her] a new vision of life” through the power of music.  

 

Martha’s Recommended Composers:

Franz Liszt

Johann Sebastian Bach

Felix Mendelssohn