People talk about supporting the arts. I want to talk about a man who made his life and his business a support of musicians – a certain kind of musicians: musicians with bulky, cumbersome, delicate instruments. Like harps.
… also timpani, and big weirdly-shaped one-of-a-kind ‘early music’ instruments.
His name was Martin Jarman and for decades I never played anywhere in the Boston area without climbing into his van and watching him wangle my 6′ tall, 85-pound concert harp down the stairs and onto the pads in the back of his van, where there were sometimes as many as 4 other harps, all being transported for Boston harpists.
Martin was never on stage during a performance, but huge swathes of the Boston music community were on stage because of him.
His obituary described his work this way: “He expedited complicated multi-venue moves and adapted to the changing needs of musicians, stage crews and organizations…”
But let me tell it my way:
When you see a musician on stage, you might think about that what took to get them there: years of practice, lessons, sacrifice …
But you almost never think “How the heck did they get that instrument from their home and up onto that stage??”
But that’s a huge part of playing certain instruments. When you play a big, bulky, delicate instrument, getting it from place to place can be more challenging, exhausting and stressful than any other musical or career challenge. It’s one of the main reasons I collaborated for decades with the CAMAC company to create a portable, concert-quality harp I could actually fly with as baggage: I simply couldn’t work the logistics of getting a concert harp around the world on the tour schedule I had.
Because the rest of the world didn’t have what we had in Boston: we had Martin.
Each of the ‘weird-big-bulky-delicate’ instrument communities in Boston knew Martin in a different way. If you read his obituary, you’ll see the long list of Boston ensembles that he moved — and that the Cambridge Society for Early Music, honored him with the Arion Award for “Distinguished and Outstanding Contributions to Musical Culture.”
What? The guy who moves the instruments?
Yeah, him! We performers get the applause for a moving performance.
But who moves the movers?
For us, it was always Martin.
For harpists, Martin would come, dressed nice enough to walk through the posh hotels where we were hired for background music or parties – or the theaters where we played concerts — but comfortably enough to wangle harp, stands, benches and gear-bags.
He knew all the rules of all the hotels and theaters in Boston: which fancy hotels didn’t allow musicians in the front door and required us to enter through loading docks and kitchens, where the stage doors were, how to get from the service elevator to the ballroom … or the theater … or the boat.
Yeah… the boat. Martin used to tell the story of the night I played on a boat in Boston harbor. When the boat docked early, and my ride was leaving, I left my harp lodged into a corner on the boat, so it wouldn’t fall and told them when Martin would be arriving.
But apparently the boat had to leave early and someone kindly removed my equipment.
So when Martin arrived, what he saw was a dark, empty dock and my harp bobbing up and down on the floating pier.
I became so dependent on Martin that I had it written into my contracts that for any performance in the Boston-area, my harp would be moved by him and him alone. If anyone rented my harps, the contract stipulated that he would move them.
As I started working with the CAMAC company to develop a transportable harp and performed more outside of the Boston-area, I saw Martin less and less. Fewer late-night conversations during drives in the van, fewer proudly displayed pictures of his kids … but in all the years I knew him, in all the van drives, it never occurred to me to ask him how he got started doing this.
I never thought about that at all until I was sitting in the hospice.
I was there – at Mass General– because harpist Cynthia Price-Glynn had written to every harpist in the Boston area to tell us about Martin’s condition, and to make a schedule that would let us each come visit this man who’d supported us with his body and mind for decades.
I threw my smallest harp onto my bike — thinking about the irony of how many huge instruments Martin had transported for me – and biked to the subway, which took me direct to the hospital.
Martin wasn’t able to communicate, so we – the three harpists who were there – Cynthia, Susan Miron and I – each talked to him, I played some songs — and then we fell into conversation, and Cynthia told me the story of how she’d met Martin.
Years ago, back in the 80’s Cynthia, who plays harp with the Boston Ballet and countless other ensembles – simply got sick of moving her harp back and forth, and started searching “man-with-a-van” listings. She hired one guy after another. Each of them arrived with funky, messy vans, dressed like hard-up rock-n-roll roadies.
Apparently ‘man-with=a-van’ and ‘fancy harp music’ don’t really connect.
Until Martin showed up.
Martin managed to combine charm, brawn, punctuality, savvy, dependability, and a calm, positive disposition. And he expanded from moving Cynthia’s harp to moving harpists all over the Boston area, then all the concert percussionists, and then the ‘early music’ community.
Somehow Martin balanced the need to get big, bulky, delicate instruments from one place to another, with the ability to communicate in a respectful, humorous, professional, relaxed way with everyone – from the artists, to the people who hired us, to the caterer just wished the harp would move out of the way.
And in an odd, understated way, he was the force that galvanized Boston-area harpists.
The only time I ever saw the Boston harp community together in a social setting was at Martin’s ‘retirement’ party years ago … a party which convinced him he couldn’t possibly retire … and thus became ever after known as the “Martin Appreciation Party” — because he continued, after that, until only months before he died from cancer.
So, in the hospital I learned that one musician’s quest for support turned into a life-long business that eased and empowered countless musicians in this city, me among them.
Yet I’d never realized how grateful I was for that.
As I was leaving the hospice, I bent down just to say one more thank you to Martin, and then I found myself talking and talking and talking – telling Martin how important his work had been to my own life. How I couldn’t have done what I did without him. How I would have just thrown in the towel because, with all the stress of just being a musician, having to navigate the transport of my instrument was just too much. How important his support, his camaraderie was. How it gave me the sense and the support of not being utterly alone.
When someone dedicates their life to the support of others in a professional capacity it’s easy to think “Oh, they saw a need and they filled it – clever business move” or “That’s what they do for a living.”
But when someone builds a business that changes your life, a business that makes your work possible, that eases even one of your challenges – so you can actually DO the work you do best — there’s no greater support they could give.
When someone builds a business out of that, with all the effort and commitment and dedication that requires — so that they’re there for you when you need them — that’s such a deep level of support that it becomes a foundation.
Because you then become a community. A true community of people who support each other – not out of altruism or philanthropy – although both are great – but because each of your work literally supports the other – each of your livelihoods supports the other.
Martin’s profession didn’t exist in Boston before Cynthia identified a need we all had, decided to DO something about it, and connected with Martin. Then he created it and professionalized it.
By the time I needed him, Martin was just there – a resource Boston harpists and percussionists and the other ‘weird-shaped bulky-delicate musical instrument’ community had. A business that now exists, that can be passed on – we’re all hoping to his son, Chris.
We always knew we were lucky, because when visiting artists would come we’d tell them “Oh, you need to move a harp? No problem. Just call Martin” – and they’d look at us like we’d discovered levitation.
He did levitate us. Both us and our instruments. Elevating us. Transporting us.
Thank you, Martin – for transporting our lives, our livelihood, our art … and us. You moved us – in the simplest, most graceful, most literal way – so that we could move others.
There’s no greater support you could have given.
Thank you. I’m so grateful you were in my life, and I’ll miss you.
(Thank you so much to Cynthia Price-Glynn for the photos in this blog)