For 24 years, the Southeast Kansas (SEK) Symphony at Pittsburg State was conducted under a single baton, the baton and conducting prowess of Carolann Martin.
On the morning of Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, professor emeritus of cello and bass, and former conductor of the SEK Symphony Carolann Martin died at Via Christi Village. Martin was the conductor and artistic director of the Symphony for 24 years and had a career filled with numerous accomplishments. In addition to her professorship at Pittsburg State University, Martin has conducted orchestras throughout the world, including many states in the U.S, England, and South America. She also produced a recording of music by female composers with the Bornemouth Sinfonietta in Bournemouth, England.
“…She was a spitfire, she would not hold things back..,” said Stella Hastings, professor of voice and Martin’s immediate successor as SEK Symphony conductor when Martin retired in 2001. “… (Her mark on Pittsburg State is) countless students that are passionate about being not only high-quality musicians but also high-quality educators.”
Martin was one of the first female conductors in the field of conducting at the collegiate level and according to Hastings, Martin “understood and knew” the importance of that.
“She took it very seriously..,” Hastings said. “She was one of the first female conductors and she knew the impact that had on the trade and breaking down barriers… Especially in the 20th century, conducting was a male-dominated field, so she really took it seriously that the women who were on the podium had all the goods, all the resources…”
Martin was involved in music from a young age. She was born in Woodward, Oklahoma and learned to play piano, accordion, and cello. She attended Oklahoma City University and received a degree in music education. She went on to receive a master of arts from Ohio State University and a doctorate of musical arts from the University of Arizona. She also served her country as a member of the Marine Corps. She joined the faculty of Pittsburg State in 1977, teaching cello, bass, and conducting for the next 23 years. During her career, she had numerous engagements with other conductors and living composers promoting their music over the music of dead ones, an unusual position for the time period.
“She was the one who set up everything..,” said Raúl Munguía, professor of violin and one of Martin’s successors as conductor of the SEK Symphony. “The Symphony is what it is because of her… She spent so many years as the conductor, the longest in that position. She produced a massive amount of music for living composers that was done here in the 70s and the 80s…”
Martin was also a composer herself, participating in various composer/conductor workshops around the country in which she had limited time to write substantial works for orchestra.
“We did one of her pieces last year, ‘Evolution,” Munguía said. “She was present at the rehearsals, conducted a little. She really showed us how to perform her music.”
In addition to her work as a conductor, Martin has been described as “very personable,” and “infinitely loving” by her colleagues.
“She loved to tell jokes and have others over for dinner…” said Susan Marchant, professor of organ, director of choirs, and chair of the music department. “We always had a great working relationship… (Her mark on Pittsburg State) is working to further the spirit of cooperation… as the conductor, she fostered great involvement of the community, a benefit we still appreciate and enjoy today. I think that’s her legacy…”