Martha Guth's love for communicating, singing leads to onstage success
Martha Guth doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t love to tell stories.
Having spent most of the last two decades as a concert soprano, the Ithaca, N.Y.-based vocalist will tell stories through song in the form of Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate,” and Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No. 4,” next weekend on the stage of The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., in downtown Hagerstown. Guth will perform with Maryland Symphony Orchestra. Showtimes are 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 14, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 15.
Guth said she’s been singing her whole life.
“I knew what I wanted to do from the time I was 9 onward, which I know is not entirely common, and it’s not entirely common for some musicians, particularly vocalists because our instrument really, truly doesn’t reach maturity until the 20s,” she said during a telephone interview from the Syracuse, N.Y., area. “But I loved performing as a child. What’s really, truly at the heart of all of this for me is storytelling. I love communicating. I love being able to tell stories on stage. I love the interaction with an audience and being able to communicate in that way.”
Another of Guth’s communication styles is teaching. In 2016, she received a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan. She teaches applied lessons in voice to undergraduate music students and is professor for Introduction to Diction at Ithaca College in Ithaca. “It is my absolute joy to be able to do that,” she said.
“I feel like I am (a storyteller) in a different way in my teaching. Not only is it about teaching technical advancement and technical excellence which is really the primary angle, but is almost as important as teaching someone how to communicate on stage. And how to communicate in being open and being vulnerable so that one can really, truly be a vessel for your talent, your voice,” Guth said.
The decision to pursue a doctorate when she was in her 30s came after careful consideration. “I spent the bulk of my career performing. And the truth was that a certain time you feel that you want a bit more stability, and I’ve been incredibly lucky in my performance career so far, especially as a soprano, there are so many of us, and so many wonderfully talented, giving singers, but at the same time, there does come a time when you want a little bit more stability,” Guth explained.
Being a concert vocalist also meshes well with her teaching career.
“I do a lot of concerts and that works really well with my teaching because concerts, symphony concerts, usually happen on a Friday or Saturday … I’ll be there for the weekend and then I’ll be back for the teaching and make-up lessons if I need to. But it works really, really well, and it allows me to still be extremely current on both sides of the equation and there are more and more performers who do both, it’s like teaching artists. And I am very proudly one of those.”
Another of Guth’s endeavors is her nonprofit organization, Sparks and Wiry Cries. First started by Guth and co-founder Erika Switzer in 2009, it began as a podcast where the two interviewed major performers and composers that write in the Art Song genre. Art Song is a vocal composition usually written for one voice with piano accompaniment.
The endeavor quickly expanded. “We got a grant that allowed us to expand into a full website and then another opportunity fell in our lap, 3, 4 years later, and that was to join in producing recitals,” Guth said. “So we have a festival that is produced every January in New York City, and we include emerging and (established) artists who perform with us and we commission a lot of composers to do their work as well. So that has been a real passion project for me.”
Sparks and Wiry Cries has expanded to include something called Song Slams. “They are where we get teams of composers, singers and sometimes poets … And they have to write a piece that will be premiered in competition. And they sign up, first come, first served, and then an audience judges their work. So it’s a really fun, electrifying event for such a small genre like Art Song, where sometimes the issue is about building audiences, and so that’s what this does really well,” Guth explained.
Besides teaching and performing, Guth is married to bassist Ricardo Lugo, and the mother of a 9-year-old son who plays trumpet and piano. Guth and Lugo spend much time apart in their respective musical genres, but she said it is always a treat to work together. “We love the opportunity (to collaborate). What’s really interesting is that he’s very, very firmly planted in opera and I’m very firmly planted in concert work. You would think that the technique is very similar, admittedly, it really, truly is the same, that there would be more opportunity, we have done it, but of course it would be fun to do more.”
Meeting the MSO
Guth said she’s looking forward to her weekend of performances with the MSO.
“Mahler’s ‘Symphony No. 4’ is so lyrical, so beautiful. And it is also really profoundly moving in my experience. And the final movement is a depiction of heaven, written from the perspective of a child. And so the soprano in this case is taking on the perspective of, it has a very sort of childlike quality in the music,” she said.
“You hear all sorts of really lovely instrumentation, that’s a little bit ostentatious, really interesting orchestration. Mahler was a master orchestrator, and the text is childlike in its depiction of heaven … it’s sort of a depiction of a big banquet, and how the angels and the saints gather together and drink and eat and be merry.”
Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate,” Guth said, “is also incredibly uplifting. It also happens to be a sacred text, and it was written originally for an orchestrator singer, but it is now most often performed by sopranos.”
Overall, though, Guth said it is humbling to perform with the MSO for the first time. “I’m excited to be working with the symphony and such a fabulous conductor. Every time we get to have the chance to be on stage, to perform, to communicate, it feels like an honor to get to be able to do this one more time. They say if you find your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life, and I truly feel like that about this.”