Matt Marks Tribute
New Amsterdam Records is proud to join the broader community in remembering our dear friend Matt Marks, who passed away on May 11, 2018. Matt was a powerful and important voice on the current musical landscape, intersecting with countless musicians from across different genres and styles. We had the good fortune to work with Matt on multiple projects, most notably in representing his debut album, The Little Death, Vol. 1, in 2009 — one of the earliest releases on our then-nascent label.
This month, we are celebrating The Little Death as a tribute to Matt, but also as an opportunity for his fans to rediscover this witty, moving album that captures Matt's "post-Christian nihilist pop opera" in recorded form. (You can see the live version of the work at PROTOTYPE, this coming January.) We are also looking ahead, with plans to record and release more of Matt's music in the coming years.
For now, we wanted to provide a space for people to remember Matt in a public forum, and are making this page available for that purpose. Below, you'll find reminiscences — of various kinds — from Matt's friends. We invite anyone who'd like to contribute to email us at email@example.com, and we'll be happy to include your tribute here as well. This page only touches the surface of who Matt was and what he meant to all of us, but we hope that it can be a small part of our larger process of healing and memorializing.
ALARM WILL SOUND
When we gathered with the community at Roulette to remember and celebrate Matt’s life, Alarm Will Sound wore T-shirts saying “That could be a thing.” Those are Matt's words. He used them in an interview with Will Robin, talking about the time in high school when the world of new music was just opening up to him. Actually, what he said to Will was:
“That was a big thing for me, hearing The Rite of Spring. At this point, I was still pretty ignorant of new music or new music groups, or whether that could be a thing.”
For an ignorant high-school kid, it's remarkable how big a role Matt played in creating the thing that new music would be. His music and the people who surrounded him were a manifestation of his creativity and activism on behalf of today's art. As a performer, composer, and organizer, he helped to make new music a thing.
And, of course, he was integral to the thing that our new-music group is. For 17 years, his insatiable curiosity, his witty intelligence, and his fierce empathy pushed Alarm Will Sound to make music more adventurous and less predictable. He was among those who consistently made sure that our artistic choices and organizational decision-making were inclusive and reflected our shared mission to move classical music towards the center of the culture.
Matt was passionate about expanding the boundaries of classical music through stylistic diversity and the inclusion of artists who have been historically excluded from our field. Alarm Will Sound has created the Matt Marks Impact Fund to incubate new work that would otherwise be avoided because it is too unconventional, and to work with artists who would otherwise be overlooked. The fund will be a living memorial that embodies his values and continues to push Alarm Will Sound — and the entire field of classical music — to be more innovative, diverse, and inclusive.
“That could be a thing.” Those words capture Matt's optimism about potential, his search for possibilities, and his success at creating art and a community of artists.
Actually, you should read that interview on New Music Box. It's an enlightening history of our field and all but, really, you should read it for the last exchange.
Will Robin: Those are all my questions. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Matt: Who do you want me to talk shit about?
For more than 17 years he kept us laughing. The jokes were unfiltered and endless. And often inappropriate: just when we needed to concentrate on rehearsing a challenging rhythm, or tuning a delicate harmony, or making a complex organizational decision, Matt would interrupt with a one-liner. His comedic timing and wit were so well-tuned that even when we might have been infuriated by the distraction, we were too busy laughing to stay frustrated. And Matt knew better than anyone exactly when an irreverent moment was just what we all needed.
Even when Matt didn't intend to be funny, he'd get a laugh. Matt spilled more cups of coffee during rehearsal than all of us combined. He often forgot to bring his music on stage. He once lost his glasses at the bottom of a lake while skinny dipping. He flew from London to Minneapolis for a gig two days early and only figured it out after calling me and asking where the rehearsal room was. Once he said that one of the Olson twins looked all “used up” at the exact moment she happened to be walking by. And believe it or not, he would lose his horn: for the US premiere of the Ligeti horn concerto in New York City, he didn't bring the essential natural horns; after picking up the wrong suitcase and going back to the airport to return it to its rightful owner, he left his horn in the taxi; and, once, he sat on it.
And Matt had a magical ability to turn even his clumsiest moments into epic triumphs. Those natural horns for the Ligeti concerto? We got totally unfamiliar ones from Philly just a couple hours before the performance, which Matt played with confidence and poise. Forgotten sheet music? He'd play the piece from memory. Those glasses at the bottom of the lake? He dived into the murky depths the next day and surfaced with them in his hands.
Traveling around the world with Matt for gigs, he would always take the lead on finding under-the-radar hangouts. He would order the the most exotic item on the menu, monopolize the jukebox, fire up the karaoke machine. Haggling like a local over the price of octopus happened. Arrest by Russian police in Red Square almost happened.
Matt was full of contradictions. The guy who got the date of a gig wrong and mistakenly flew to Minneapolis two days early was the same guy who organized a major conference. The class clown and life of the party was also a homebody who’d hole himself up watching B-movies in his hotel room. He was both smart and smart-ass. And the most striking contradiction of all: he was a huge personality but made everyone else feel important.
More than anything else, that was Matt’s thing. While he loved performing, and composing, and sound, and form, and ideas, and expression — while he loved everything about making music — music for him was, beyond itself, a way to connect with people and make us and what we do important. That could be a thing.
DARCY JAMES ARGUE
When I was at conservatory, studying jazz composition, I didn’t really get to know many new music composers. Or “composers,” as they called themselves, without qualification, as if they didn’t have a genre. We might have been sitting next to each other in the same orchestration class, but we seemed to inhabit very different dimensional realities. It just felt like we had irreconcilable differences about some pretty fundamental issues, like “who gets to count as a composer?” and “what do composers actually do?”
When I got to New York, I started to meet new music composers who did not fit the expected mold. They started their own bands and played guitars and sang into microphones and seemed unconcerned about whether the established new music gatekeepers thought they counted as a “composer.” It's safe to say the person with the least number of fucks to give about that was Matt Marks.
Here is the first email I received from Matt:
“Hey Darcy this is Matt Marks, I wanted to let you know about a concert I am producing. It is essentially about taking concert music traditions and etiquette to an oppressive S&M level. The music is great as well.”
We were friends ever since.
Matt’s first crazy skin-of-his-teeth project as a composer, librettist, actor, singer, director, choreographer, conceptualist — think “Orson Welles auterism on a Night of the Living Dead budget” — was The Little Death, Vol. 1, which he described as “my new erotic Post-Christian pop opera.” (Now THAT is a genre.) I saw it on opening night at The Tank and it was such an intensely felt performance — more than a distillation of Matt’s vision, it was like he was willing into existence a parallel world, where the answer to “who gets to be a composer?“ is “anyone who wants to,” and the answer to “what do composers actually do?” is “whatever the fuck they want.”
Of course, every auteur gets by with a little help from their friends, and the love for Matt, the pride in bringing this scrappy, messy, insanely ambitious creation to life radiated from everyone up on that tiny stage.
Matt went on to populate the dimension he’d summoned into being with songs of death and desire and horror and betrayal and love — and his brilliant opera Mata Hari, which combines all of the above. In his body of work as a composer and performer, in the generosity of his community-building, and in the warm glow of his friendship, Matt inspired us not just to create our own dimensional realities, but to connect them to each other.
Matt Marks was a kind, generous human being, funny and warm and as supportive of his friends as anyone I've ever known. He was also always ready to "get into it" if he thought something was off, whether that was your feelings about Mahler 2 or Children of the Corn or — yes — the awful politics of the classical music industry. Matt enjoyed a good debate, and we had many over the years. If I saw him at a concert, I knew we'd be going out afterwards, and could be sure we'd have a worthwhile discussion and debate about something. It's odd and beyond sad to realize that I won't be able to look forward to that anymore. And I know I'm not alone.
Matt was an aficionado of the strange and the arcane, and loved to bring those elements into dialogue and confrontation with the conservative establishment that rejected them. He was a defender, in word and in action, of everyone's right to express who they were, no matter how far that was from what was perceived as normal or safe. He saw the dark underbelly of what we call "normal" and wanted to expose it, because he didn't believe in our norms, and why would you if you looked at the world we lived in? Matt trusted a world in which we all showed our cards, far more than one in which we were hiding them. Show that the dark elements are there, but then use them to make something beautiful and meaningful. Embrace that side of yourself. Be fully human.
To put "Christian" and "nihilist" next to each other as equal descriptors is as good a metaphor for Matt's artistic approach as anything, except that he then goes on to finish with "pop" and "opera" which is perhaps more obvious but just as apt. I'm speaking of Matt's description of The Little Death, Vol. 1, which we had the good fortune to release on New Amsterdam, and are celebrating this month in honor of Matt. Suffice it to say that The Little Death, an allegory about our repressed American society and the dangers that repression creates, rings as true in 2018 as it did a decade before, and its politics are just as meaningful. And of course now we celebrate that "pop" and "opera" can go neatly together, even in the concert hall, but Matt would ask, why not "Christian" and "nihilist"?
Over the years, as Matt became more and more well known as an agitator for justice on social media, there was always a consistency to his vision. I don't mean just that he was "getting into it" in the same way he always had, though that is certainly true. He also was — it seems to me, in retrospect — taking his defense of the strange to its logical conclusion. If you spend enough time trying to fight the fight against conventional notions of "normal", you start to see that those norms are in place through no accident. They serve somebody. To call something "normal" is a political act, and once that becomes clear then the fight to allow weirdness reveals itself to be part of a much bigger, deeper, older and ever-ongoing fight against the forces of repression and subjugation.
The whole system of "normal" and "weird" is a system of saying that some things belong and other things don't. There's a "way things are done" in classical music and when you start to see it, it's everywhere, from the tsk-tsk-ing at mid-symphony applause to the women-must-wear-dresses policies to the looking-the-other-way at sexual assault to the massive overrepresentation of white male composers and conductors. To accept that what's "normal" must be normal for a good reason is to accept all these things and so much more, and Matt didn't, both because he was a good, decent person (indisputably) and also because he never believed in the idea of "normal" to begin with (I'm speculating).
Matt was one of the strongest voices for justice in our community, and an inspiration to me and so many others. When you saw something outrageous, you knew that he already had an essay tearing it apart. And often I didn't see how bad something was until he explained it to us in grisly, eloquent detail. Knowing Matt was out there, not caring in the slightest about how he was perceived and making arguments based purely on how much they could tip the scales a little bit more toward justice, was absolutely a source of strength and confidence for me and I know for many others.
When I heard Matt died, I told him on Twitter that we'd keep fighting that fight, the one that rejects an idea of normal that keeps so many people on the outside, looking in. That's the part of Matt's legacy that I will hold closest to my heart.
I first met Matt in high school. We’d played together in some All-Southern California youth orchestras and knew each other casually through some mutual friends in those groups, but it wasn’t until senior year, at All-State Orchestra that we started a friendship that quickly went from new friends to best friends to brothers seemingly overnight. Matt and I shared the same sense of humor, the same style of banter, the same razor sharp wit, the same typical Cali-isms, and on and on. It was basically:
The first time I really played music alone with Matt was on that same All-State trip. Just to kill some time before we met up with his incredible parents for dinner, we grabbed a duet book and played some horn duets. Musically, it was just the same as everything else. We were in total sync. He had this way of playing chamber music like he knew exactly what you were going to do, and just anticipated and played to and with that, while at the same time making what you were going to do better.
As freshman roommates at Eastman, we sat in a quintet rehearsal, where I was having some difficulty negotiating a particularly hairy lick. Matt casually asks, “Hey can I see your trumpet?” during a break. Having played trumpet in jazz band in high school, he picks up my instrument, and FLAWLESSLY executes the passage that was flummoxing me. And he had a nice sound too. Matt was that kind of talent. He could play anything on seemingly any instrument he got his hands on. Music poured out of him.
Love poured out of him too. Matt cared deeply for his family, his friends, his band mates, and his artistic community. There was no better person to have in your corner, and he held onto those dearest to him tightly. Matt was the kind of guy who could have a deep and meaningful conversation with anyone, even someone he had just met. Whether it was talking about films he loved and why YOU should love them too— and using his encyclopedic knowledge of every film he’d ever seen— or just pulling you aside to really ask how you were doing, Matt always seemed to know when someone needed him and just what to say.
Also, Matt really loved hot dogs. Just thought I’d mention that, mostly because I have this picture from Gray’s Papaya on 72nd at 3am. There was essentially zero chance that a trip to the UWS would not end at Gray’s. Yes, he is eating two hotdogs at the same time.
Matt loved making mixes, making mash-ups, and spinning records in our tiny little dorm room. DJ SKRAM. While he never called these early experiments “compositions”, his penchant for earworms and incredibly catchy beats were ever-present in those early, often hilarious songs. Later in our apartment on the UWS, I’d often return home from school to find him sampling “7th Heaven” for a series of pieces on his giant sampler. If anyone wonders where the idea for his “Shame Remixes” came from, I’m reasonably certain that was the genesis.
Matt was a really easy guy to talk to. One of those rare souls who somehow knew exactly what to say to any individual to help them through a tough time, or how to take someone down a notch or twelve if they were too big for their britches. Just like the way he played music, his intuition guided him. At his funeral, several friends talked about just how much Matt’s guidance on books, on film, on TV shows, on music had influenced them. Matt had that way of saying, “Hey, you’d really like this show/book/movie/whatever” and be totally right about it for each unique recommendation he’d make for people. Of course, for me, most of his recommendations revolved around REALLY bad sci-fi shows that for some reason he’d become addicted to. “It’s not like, GOOD, ya know, but I mean, you can totally just watch it while you practice” was not an uncommon sales pitch. Of course, Matt and I have a real soft spot for really BAD action/sci-fi, so most of the time I never needed that much convincing. We’d have Westerns and Noir nights, each choosing a film, and sharing our loves of the genres with each other, discussing actors, directors, and geeky cinematography techniques. Matt loved to fall down the rabbit hole of anything he was interested in, and in film, he had an almost unending supply of rabbit holes to fall down.
Matt loved, and I mean LOVED making people crack up in rehearsals. He mastered the art of the well-timed snicker. One quick guttural snort could leave me useless in a rehearsal. As I’m sure you’ll read from others in their tributes, everyone looked forward to rehearsals with Matt. Playing with Matt meant remembering the joy of music, and was like being a kid again. Every rehearsal was fun, no matter how grueling the repertoire or the intensity of the situation.
I remember Matt asking me a few years back, “So now that we live with our girlfriends and have dogs, are we adults?” Matt was really looking forward to marrying Mary in September. In Mary, he’d finally found a true partner in every sense of the word. Together with their two dogs, Lucy and Hooper, and cat Bouzouki, Matt had his own family to hold onto tightly.
Becoming adults sorta happened in the blink of an eye to both of us, I think. I’d been sitting in chamber groups and other ensembles next to Matt for 20 years, and before I knew it, he was giving the best man speech at my wedding. In typical self-effacing Matt style, rather than use any of his VAST knowledge of my life’s shenanigans, my partner in (alleged) crime, picked a story about a time I’d helped him out of a rather embarrassing situation. Here he is giving the speech, just after talking about his most embarrassing moment, in what I think is one of my favorite pictures of him of all-time.
It’s hard to put into words what Matt means to me. He was more than just my best friend for the last 21 years, to me he was a brother, a kindred spirit. I will always miss you, Matt.
Matt was such a special, wonderfully beautiful man. I could never express how much I miss him, how much I look up to him, and how much I will always love him. He was more than I could have ever hoped for in a boyfriend, a fiancé, a life partner, colleague, best friend, and so much more. Matt’s ability to make everyone around him feel comfortable, to feel secure, and to feel loved were his greatest strengths.
It has been just over six years since our first date, and because I had been lucky enough that Matt chose to share these six years with me, these had been the happiest years of my life. We supported each other. We continued to lift eachother up to be the best versions of ourselves for each other. And I am so grateful to have known the kind of love that Matt gave so generously.
His warmth, his good nature, and his wild and unapologetic sense of humor attracted people the moment he walked into the room, and his laugh and all encompassing hugs had a way of melting your insecurities and making you feel noticed – of making you feel appreciated – of creating connection and real friendship.
I looked up to him. Writing has always been hard for me. I can get too into my head in a way that it blocks my creativity, and I can worry too much about what others think of my output. Matt always had an ability to get me through that, partially through his words of unwavering encouragement, but more through his actions and in his own writing. He wrote whatever his heart wanted to - even if it meant making people feel uncomfortable and especially if it meant making himself feel uncomfortable. If he was scared to create something, that’s what he would dive into. He wrote freely, easily, and his music was adventurous, fun, challenging, and honest. On his computer is a taped up fortune cookie paper that reads “Your ability to find the silly in the serious will take you far.” Words to remember our Matt by.
He wanted to make things better for the world and people around him – he advocated for diversity in the arts, he created communities to support each other, he organized neighborhood cleanups where we lived, he wanted to play guitar and sing for the elderly, and he wrote songs about gun violence and our society. He loved kids – his nieces and nephews, teaching and playing for children; He loved animals – rescuing our puppy Hooper, whom he of course named after Tobe Hooper, the horror film director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Somehow, I think he’ll get a kick out of me having to continue to explain Hooper’s name origin to innocent dog lovers who ask to pet her on our walks. He wanted to give back and live a fuller life.
He loved bringing people together, whether it was in music or for one of his notorious horror film marathons. He loved his friends – his new year’s resolution was to see you all more. He loved his family. Seeing how Matt loved his family so much – the way he talked about them, the way he missed them, how proud he was of their accomplishments, and how he wanted to be closer to them – these were some of the many reasons why I loved him so much. Matt brought out the joy, laughter, and the best in all of us. Matt, you are loved, and I will always carry you in my heart.
LAINIE FEFFERMAN AND JASCHA NARVESON
DAVID T. LITTLE
We must have met at some point before then, but December 7, 2007 stands out in my mind as my first real Matt Marks encounter, coming in the form of a one-two punch of delighted what-the-fuck. The first punch was at Ensemble de Sade’s first show, where he played horn in Nyman’s Knowing the Ropes (Matt’s own arrangement) and then, with James Moore, cut and tore the clothes off of Mellissa Hughes, in one of the most stunning and shocking performances of Pierrot Lunaire I had ever seen.
Punch number two came later that night, when Eileen Mack told me that Matt was also a composer—which somehow I hadn’t known—and directed me to his Myspace page. I was blown away by the originality and joyous deviance of his work, and I remember being especially moved by Quite Possibly and his cover of Somewhere That’s Green. (Our shared love of Little Shop of Horrors would be a topic of discussion from then on.) I don’t think I’d ever had an introduction to someone that was so indirect, but where I felt such a strong connection to both the work and the person so immediately.
Those early tracks said something about Matt's artistic values, which resonated with my own. It was the early 2000s, before New Amsterdam had really codified. People were starting ensembles, and the scene was abuzz with talk of genre (or its absence), DIY approaches to music making, organizing, etc. Matt epitomized this deeply personal and eclectic approach, and consequently became a core member of our budding community. We started attending each other’s shows, and became friends. Upon hearing that I had (somehow!) never seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he promptly organized a viewing.
We started officially collaborating on the New Music Bake Sale in 2008—together with Eileen Mack, Mellissa Hughes, Peter Wise, and James Moore—an event whose very existence sparked from a wry comment that Matt had made the Mellissa (or vice versa) about the (lack of) fiscal security of our scene. The original event was co-produced by Newspeak and Ensemble de Sade, and held at the same church in Brooklyn where de Sade had debuted.
He wrote a fantastic piece for Newspeak the following year—A Portrait of Glenn Beck—which we premiered that fall, played around a bunch, and ultimately brought it to the Armory as part of Eighth Blackbird’s Tune-In Festival. They asked the composers from the Newspeak set (Matt, Stefan Weisman, and me) to bow together at the end, then immediately launch into the opening bars of Workers Union on a commandeered piano, leading into the main performance. It was the only time I ever played music with Matt, and brief as it was, I think of it often and fondly.
I remember seeing The Little Death: Vol. 1—in its earlier showing at Galapagos, and then later in its premiere at Incubator Arts—and really feeling the birth of something important. It was so strange, and dark, and dirty, and fun, and smart, and funky, and intricate, and moving, and vulnerable, and holy. There is nothing like it that I know, and no one else but Matt and Mellissa could have come up with it. I was such a fan I organized for MATA (where I was executive director at the time) to present the first part of The Little Death: Vol. 2, which Matt and Mellissa premiered in April 2012.
Things started to change the following fall. Matt and I saw each other less, and when we did see each other, it seemed often to be out of town. We’d have pieces on the same festivals, and would meet up in city X, catching up after the show. While this did allow us to see new works by each other that maybe weren’t planned for New York—I was really happy to see the LA Phil premiere Strip Mall, for example, one of Matt’s pieces with Royce Vavrek—but overall, we saw less of each other, which I regret.
I last saw Matt this past March 29th. We were standing outside Miller Theater, where 16 years earlier, almost to the day, he had been the soloist with Alarm Will Sound in the New York premiere of Ligeti’s Hamburg Concerto. It was a funny kind of scene. Matt, Mary, Eileen, Sarah Baird Knight, and I were just sort of standing around outside chatting. We didn’t seem to want to go the after-party, but we also didn’t seem to want to leave. You know that thing: we just sort of stood there, without direction or intention; existing together for a while with what for me was a sense of unusual contentment. Despite the stresses of the real world, things in that moment seemed good; a bunch of old friends who had all been through some stuff—as all go through—but who seemed to have all landed on their feet. It was a moment I’ll cherish.
And then things got busy again, as things do. And April turned to May. And then Royce called me, and told me that Mary had just posted that Matt had died. And I was stunned, and he was stunned; a kind of delayed reaction, because it couldn’t have been real. But then it hit: harder than anything in recent memory. I’ve spent the rest of the summer thinking about Matt and his music, and talking with Eileen about him. Helping to finish one of his last theater pieces, Words On The Street, has been deeply meaningful, and has helped me process the loss.
In the hours after Mary’s announcement, amidst my shock, I wrote on Facebook: “Matt was a fierce musician. A brilliant and honest composer. A fearless performer. A noble organizer. A joyous community member. A generous colleague and mentor. A good friend. That he is gone is unbelievable. It is unfair, and it is awful. To say that he will be missed immensely doesn't even come close.” I still feel this way. But in the months since, as I’ve thought more about his life with distance from the shock of his death, I feel more warmth than cold. I’m reminded of Patti Smith’s Memorial Song, which she wrote for Robert Mapplethorpe before he passed away. She introduces the song by saying, “let’s think about our friends for a moment, and think of ‘em good, because as it’s been eloquently stated, the departed live on in the memory of the living.” I think of Matt every day, as I know we all do. And so he lives on.
CLAP NOW FOR ENSEMBLE DE SADE
My formative memory of Matt Marks involves a late-night walk with him and Mellissa on the Brooklyn Promenade just a year or so after I moved to New York. I think I had hung out with him once or twice before, but this meeting had a distinct air of anticipation. Melly had sent me a cryptic message, something along the lines of: “Matt really wants to talk to you ... He has an idea.” We all hung out for a bit, probably had a drink or two, and he eventually laid out a very thought out idea for a new classical music group: Ensemble De Sade.
The eventual mission statement for Ensemble De Sade would read as such:
Taking it's name from the notorious 18th century author/philosopher, for which the term Sadism was derived, Ensemble de Sade seeks to revolutionize the relationship between performer and audience. While this is by no means a original goal, the standard deviation from the traditional concert modes has been to relax the boundaries between performer and audience, to create a more casual experience. Ensemble de Sade rejects this type of pandering. Rather, an intensification of the boundaries should be sought, an increase of the tension between the two opposing sides. Taken as a source of creativity, the underlying hostility present in all performance settings would become the basis for a new decorum, one that presents the traditional concert etiquette practices as they actually are: thinly concealed expressions of masochism and sadism.
I said yes, of course, and the three of us began meeting and planning regularly, refining the concept and concocting a wide array of ridiculous and wonderful ideas. A favorite of mine that never came to fruition was to host an evening of “Extreme New Music” in which the music had to be so extremely “new,” that we would force composers to write pieces on the spot in front of the audience, have them sight-read by prominent players, and then immediately destroyed.
At our first performance, the audience was led up a rickety stairway into a dark room in the back of First Presbyterian Church. Attendees were seated separately from their companions, and instructed to wait silently in uncomfortable fold-out chairs, spaced so that human contact would be kept at a minimum. While they waited, new guests would arrive from the grand entranceway in the back, “elite” concertgoers finely clad, mingling over wine and hors devours on vintage sofas and chez lounges. Sara Katzoff, our quasi-dominatrix MC for the evening proceeded to lay out the rules for enjoyment of the concert, including “avoid making direct eye contact with the performers” and our signature rule: "You clap when we tell you to clap."
Dressed in tuxedos, Ensemble De Sade entered efficiently, disdainfully acknowledging applause, and immediately proceeded with our aggressive and focussed program. We opened with this arrangement Matt did of Nyman’s Knowing the Ropes, and proceeded with one of my first performances of Zorn’s Book of Heads, followed by Penderecki’s Sextet and finally Mellissa's sublime and truly creepy rendition of Pierrot Lunaire, with Matt and I on stage as her masked slaves.
I often pride myself in having performed some of the the craziest music possible. There are several contenders for absolute "craziest", but the projects I have done with Matt have been hands down the craziest fun.
Matt, I always had a deep admiration for you. Thank you for your friendship, for trusting me with your music and for believing in me. You fearlessly pursued your own creative path, and inspired me to do the same. I honestly can’t imagine what my musical life would be without you in it, and I can only imagine what would have lied ahead. I will keep you and your music close to my heart.
My remarks from Matt's memorial service in Los Angeles on June 4th, 2018:
I met Matt Marks almost 20 years ago at the start of our time at Eastman. This was in the days when he wore John Lennon glasses and giant raver jeans, and I assumed he was the kid from LA who was way too cool to be friends with a dorky kid from New England like me. I was certainly wrong, and we all quickly understood that Matt was one of the kindest souls any of us knew, who introduced himself with a warm hug, who could easily bring everyone together through conversation, and could make us belly laugh. Playing horn next to Matt was one of my very favorite things to do in life, but it’s also important to note that rehearsals with Matt were never just rehearsals. They were epic exercises in trying to play an awkward brass instrument while Matt was making us laugh so hard that tears would stream down our cheeks as we gasped for breath. I acted annoyed, he kept going with the jokes and antics-- that was our schtick. I not-so-secretly loved every second of it, and he knew it.
In addition to being a great horn player-- I remember thinking then how his playing sounded like he was just singing through the horn-- he could do so many things, musically. But in true Matt form, though, he never outright told us about all of the things he could do. We would discover them naturally, as he would help us to have more fun, push more boundaries, and discover more beauty. When he realized I was nervous about reading with others, he’d join me in my practice room to hack through duets and have me laughing so hard I’d get over my fear. A friend needed another piece on a recital? Matt would make a beautiful arrangement of the perfect piece without ever being asked. Scared to improvise? No problem, Matt would get in a room with us and play melodies from Mahler and Brahms on the piano, getting us to improvise over the top. Always meeting us where we were and taking us to somewhere new-- expanding the worlds of his friends, so we would have more fun, see things in new ways, have more beautiful experiences.
These were the themes of the lucky experience of being Matt’s friend. Over the years, he expanded our worlds in countless ways. Always through music, but also books, films, new places, new people. Whenever I would get a recommendation from Matt of something I needed to check out, I would do so as soon as I could, because it was always something he knew I would love, and he was never wrong. A hug from Matt felt like instant comfort, but he also knew how to pick a zany collection of things that would instantly cheer up his friends. In recent times, my favorite of his recipes for one of these days included some combination of singing around the piano, including lots of Randy Newman songs, and a marathon of Murder She Wrote episodes. If the time was right, there would probably also be showing of the movie Beaches, and you better believe Matt required everyone to sing along with Bette Midler at the top of our lungs. It’s impossible for me to talk about my friendship with Matt and not talk about Karaoke, but too hard to sum up those epic nights in words. Let’s just say if you’ve been to a karaoke night with Matt, you understand.
When Matt and I have played together in more recent years, he would crack himself up by walking into the rehearsal room and saying “Hey, don’t know I know you from undergrad?”. It was a silly thing to say, because we knew that through the ups and downs of all of these years--
moving to new places, new relationships and breakups, talking through hard choices, and so many celebrations, we all became each other’s family. This was never instead of the families in which we all grew up but, especially in Matt’s case, an extension of them. Matt LOVED his family, and part of the love he poured out in the world was because of the love and support he felt from the Marks family. He would often tell us about how cool his parents are, or proudly tell us about them when asked about his Motor Meister t-shirt. Later on, he was happy to share news of his nieces and nephews and he loved showing us Suzanne’s success, especially that video of her singing with Stevie Wonder. He looked forward to the many visits they all made for his performances in New York and elsewhere. And, as we know, Matt LOVED Mary. He was so proud of all she stands for and has accomplished, both as a person and in her career. There are so many reasons that it makes sense to me that Matt knew she was the one for him, and a small part of that was that she knew that loving Matt meant that all of us crazy characters came with him. We quickly came to know and love her too. Mary made Matt’s world more vibrant, more fun, more beautiful, just as he did for all of us.
I will never stop missing our dear friend Matt, but I am so very grateful for all of the time we shared. Thank you for all you gave us, Matt. I love you.