Marty Schreiner Publishes New Compositions

Hemment with GSAS student
Marty Schreiner, Head of Morse Music and Media (MM&M) in Lamont Library, looks over one of his own compositions that is held within the MM&M stacks.

Marty Schreiner has always been passionate about two things: music and libraries. So it's not surprising that he combines his two interests as the Head of Morse Music and Media in Lamont Library. What may be less well known is that when not assisting students with music theory and musicology, Schreiner is busy writing his own suites and concertinos. A longtime composer, Schreiner recently published two new pieces this past autumn—his Variations for clarinet and his Suite for String Quartet (Seasons)—and will debut Concertino No. 2 for Japanese Koto and Orchestra this coming fall.

Schreiner's musical inclinations go back to childhood. When he took up the accordion at age six, he began composing songs that same year. He picked up the clarinet at nine. "My father was a jazz enthusiast," he says, "so I heard a lot of that through his record collection."

At the same time he also frequented the library in Springfield, Mass., where he grew up and where he could indulge in music of all kinds, including classical. "I was always interested in exploring just all of it," he says. "It was a place you could go and just be curious."

Later, Schreiner was among the first undergraduates who could major in composition, earning a degree in music composition and theory from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He got his master's degree from the New England Conservatory (NEC) in 1986. True to his love of libraries, Schreiner also earned a degree from Simmons after graduating from NEC. The library degree arguably increased his career options—writing music is a difficult way to make a living. "You really have to invent a niche for yourself to survive as a composer," explains Schreiner.

But Schreiner has always composed in his spare time, writing for many different instruments, among them the clarinet, sax, and flute. His works have been played by orchestras and groups both across the United States and in Japan. Although classically trained, he fosters a strong interest in global music and has written for two Japanese instruments known as the shakuhachi and the koto. The former resembles a flute although it differs from the Western style, and the koto is a stringed instrument with 13 strings strung over movable bridges along the length of the instrument. Because of Schreiner's experience, he has been sought after for advice by other musicians interested in composing for the shakuhachi.

He is particularly proud that his Concertino No. 2 for Japanese Koto and Orchestra is scheduled to be premiered this November by Ryuko Mizutani and the Quincy Symphony Orchestra. Mizutani is considered a Japanese koto virtuoso.

Even when he isn't being commissioned by chamber groups and orchestras, Schreiner is still hard at work. "When I have the opportunity to have something played, I put all my personal projects aside, but I always have other pieces I'm working on."

Since Schreiner received a classical training, he says, he had years and years of training in counterpoint and harmony. "That influences your thinking, so I think of myself as being connected to that tradition," he says. Still, often his compositions are influenced by a Japanese sensibility, even when not writing for a Japanese instrument. "Or sometimes I try to incorporate jazz in a way that doesn't sound jazzy but is still part of the music in a way that's meaningful and integrated. You're really writing music for your own time."

Last year Schreiner also premiered Red Dragonfly Variations performed by the Melrose Symphony Orchestra, Variations for clarinet performed by award-winning clarinetist Amy Advocat in a chamber music program at the New England Conservatory, and Facing West from California's Shores for alto voice, Japanese shakuhachi, and 13-string koto in a concert at Boston College sponsored by the Japanese consulate in Boston.