Orchestral sounds are created through a synergy of sound and motion. The players, the conductor and the music all play their part like actors on a stage. The sea of musicians flows and sways to the rhythm of the music. It is an all-encompassing energy that bursts off of the stage and onto the audience. It emanates from each individual musician pouring their soul into the instruments they are holding, the ones that they’ve invested countless hours in mastering. “I kind of view the pages of music backed up against a landscape,” Los Angeles-based violinist Jordan Ann Martone said. “It’s the story I’m trying to tell through the piece of music.” The orchestra becomes an actress whose body language and facial expressions reach the deepest caverns of the audience’s collective soul. “People don’t realize it because music is always there,” Martone added. “It affects people more than they realize.”
Having grown up in the city of Lancaster, Calif.— located in the northeast part of Los Angeles County— Martone and her family made frequent visits to the city of Los Angeles for various events and performances. “I would always go to shows and musicals with my family,” Martone said. She comes from a musical family and began to play the piano at the age of 4. “When I turned 7 or 8, in my elementary school, there was a strings class,” she said. It was a small strings program in a community that glorified sports and the military. However, the young Martone was convinced that she wanted to take part in this program. Convincing her mother of allowing her to leave the piano for the violin was a different story. “My mom told me: ‘I’m not going to let you quit the piano, but you can add the violin’,” she recalled. Having been raised in a musical home, Martone was familiar with all of the instruments. “But the violin was the one that was really unique— the sound— and I liked it a lot,” she added.
Because she already knew how to play the piano, Martone found it easy to play the violin. She was the only kid in her school that was serious about playing this instrument. “I was kind of an oddball in my school because it consumed my life,” Martone said. As her skills improved over time, so did the quality of the violins she was playing. “Every violin is completely different because they’re all handmade, usually,” she said. “So you can play something absolutely perfectly on your instrument and then go pick up somebody else’s to demonstrate and it’ll sound terrible.”
Martone went through a series of violins, starting with a beginner, factory-made, cookie-cutter instrument to one that was high-quality and one-of-a-kind that she purchased from her violin teacher Michael Ferril. “It was something that I could not afford,” Martone said. “But I was so lucky to have been in that situation where I was able to purchase it.” With violin, unlike a piano whose notes are already in tune, you can put your finger anywhere on the instrument and it can sound awful. “Getting it to sound good is so difficult,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s one of the hardest instruments to play.” It takes years and years of sounding bad in order to reach a point at which you can make the instrument sound good. Most people who try to learn the violin get discouraged by the bad that they never get to the good. Martone herself went through a period of self-doubt. “Things started getting hard, and I actually had to practice more and be more involved if I wanted to progress,” she vividly remembers. She started to get impatient with the disproportionate amount of practice she had to invest compared to the small amount of progress she was making. “My mom sat down with me and told me, ‘This is one of the hardest things you’ve had to do in your little 10-year-old life,'” Martone recalled. “‘If you push through this, I think you’ll be really thankful.'”
She was glad that her mother didn’t let her quit, because that’s what it took. That little extra push. “It took rewiring my brain,” she said. “You do it just purely by your musical mind and muscle memory, which is kind of crazy now that I think back on it.”
Martone stated that she owed a lot of her career as a violinist to her mother, who is a stage actress and singer. “If I wasn’t a violinist, I might go into acting,” Martone said. She believes that acting teaches you stage presence and performance techniques. “It drives me nuts when I see violinists on stage that are just ‘plant-and-play’ type of people,” she said. “They stand and have no expression. They make the most beautiful sound you’ve heard, but where’s the expression? Where’s that story you’re trying to tell me?” While she’s on stage, Martone takes on the persona of an actress singing a song and really performing it for the audience. “That’s what I know. It’s my performance experience,” she said. She feels that it helps her enhance the story that she is telling through her playing. “Entertain me! We’re in the entertainment business. It’s a big part of what I do,” she added.
While a student at the California State University in Northridge, Martone was asked to substitute for a violinist in the semi-professional Debut Orchestra. The concert would feature music by the world-famous film composer John Williams, conducted by Williams himself. “I thought I’d be playing somewhere in the back,” she said. “But no. I was playing third chair, second violin and I was freaking out.” She was playing the hardest music that she had ever encountered right under the very man who wrote it. “It was a lot of pressure because I definitely wanted to do a good job. I had to do a good job,” she said. “It was so incredible and so memorable. It was a dream come true and the biggest kick in the butt all in one.”
This performance set in motion something that Martone had wanted to do ever since she was a child— watching videos of musicians in the studio, recording the music for films like Star Wars. “I have a huge love for film music. I listen to it a lot. I’d say that it forms 80 percent of my listening material,” she said. “It’s my favorite music.” Aside from her live performances and teaching— privately and at local schools— Martone enjoys recording music in the studio. She has played on soundtracks for films, television shows and video games, most of which she cannot discuss until after the project has been released to the public. “The film industry is not as wealthy as it used to be,” she noted. “I realize that I live in a different age now.” Even in LA— the film music capital of the world— there’s been a large amount of outsourcing to Europe and other orchestras overseas in order to save money.” However, Martone remains hopeful. “If I could go to Fox Studios and record for those films every day, that would be my dream job,” she said.
Her love for film music can only be matched by her love for the city of Los Angeles. “I just can’t believe I’m here,” Martone said. Even in the midst of hours upon hours of traffic, the violinist appreciates the fact that she is in LA. “I don’t care. I get to drive down Highland Avenue, in the city where my dreams are coming true,” she said. Even in her various travels to New York, NY and Paris, France, she has never found a place quite like LA. “It represents so much opportunity for me personally. It’s very exciting,” she added. “I’m so happy to be here. I’m very lucky that I am. It’s a huge deal.”
Martone is writing the script to her life with a bow in one hand and her violin in the other. Her devotion for film music has led her to become a huge advocate for it. “I wonder how different people’s lives would be if they listened to more film music instead of pop music on the daily,” Martone said. The growing popularity of live orchestras playing along to film has garnered mass appreciation for orchestral music. In an age where this type of music is no longer in vogue, orchestras are losing their footing in people’s lives. “It’s interesting to see the popularity of that grow, because everybody loves movies,” she said. “When they realize that an orchestra is playing that right now, it helps bring the appreciation back. It’s helping the interest in live music a bit more and the classical study that goes behind that.”
She sees music as the silent hero to the entire world of film and television. “I don’t think people realize how important it really is in everything they watch,” Martone said. “Without film music, you don’t have a film. You have one with much less emotion.”
Like a seasoned actress preparing for yet another role, Martone approaches each project with the same enthusiasm and curiosity she did when she was in her childhood strings class. “It’s discovering new music or things I can do with my instrument that I hadn’t before,” Martone said. “Because I love music ultimately. That’s the core of what I love and what I do.” When people ask her if she ever gets bored of playing the same instrument she has played all of her life, her answer is always a resounding “no.” “The music is constantly changing and evolving, and there are so many different possibilities out there,” Martone said. “You never know what’s going to affect you the most.”
She is willing to embrace each role life serves up for her, even if it were one in which she wasn’t a musician. “I would always want to be involved in the arts. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been drawn to,” she said. Whether she’s playing as part of the orchestra’s body or in an all-female electric strings quartet, Martone draws energy from the music, her fellow musicians, the conductor and the audience. “I never know which performance hit the person in the back row,” Martone said. “It’s that thought that keeps me going.”
To learn more about Jordan Ann Martone’s music, please check out her website:
Oseguera, J. L., Jr. (2017, July 30). La Violinista [Photograph]. Silhouettes, stripSearchLA, Los Angeles.