ACE Lifetime Award winner sees her own struggles in music students

ACE Lifetime Award winner sees her own struggles in music students

CHAMPAIGN — Her violin tucked under her chin, Dorothy "Doro" Martirano lifts her bow and begins to play the Bach solo Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. Moments later, she switches to the wistful tune "Autumn Leaves."

Among so many genres of music she has played over nearly six decades — classical, jazz, contemporary, folk, you name it — she doesn't claim a favorite.

"I love everything," she said.

The 74-year-old Martirano — a performer and teacher who has been called a local treasure — will be honored Thursday by 40 North with this year's Lifetime ACE award.

Martirano was born in Nebraska and spent the earlier part of her childhood in Oklahoma, the daughter of a pianist father and violinist mother. She and her family moved to Champaign in the 1950s.

She started studying piano with her father as a child, but she took up what became her principal instrument, the violin, at age 15 — initially, at her mother's insistence.

"My mom made me," she recalled. "When she first tried to get me to play, I absolutely refused. I put the violin on the floor and said 'I'll step on it if you don't take it away.'"

These days, Martirano recalls her first attempts on the violin with the perspective of having taught violin to many students herself.

When kids first start to learn an instrument, it sounds terrible, and they hate it, she said, "then you get better and start to get interested."

Martirano went to the University of Illinois for bachelor's and master's degrees in music education and was a UI student at the same time her father was studying at the UI for a doctorate in composition.

When she was a graduate student, she met her husband, the late composer Salvatore Martirano, in Urbana, and they were married in 1967.

Martirano recalled her own efforts to teach one of her two sons to play piano.

"He was so brilliant, he learned in spite of me," she said.

Martirano taught strings privately and for Urbana public schools and, for a time, also taught mostly adults violin at Community Center for the Arts.

She loved teaching.

It was always a surprise, the way kids acted one way in rehearsals and would then turn into angels for performances, Martirano said.

"They usually do so well in that situation, and you're proud of them," she said.

Martirano has had a vast career as a performer — both nationally and internationally. She had many pieces of music written for her, among them some works of her husband's that she recorded.

"My husband and I toured all over the country, probably in every state," she said.

In addition to music, Martirano enjoys gardening — when she has the time — and travel. She formerly spent much time in Thailand with one of her sons, who died in 2014, and she now spends a lot of time in Lima, Peru, with her other son and granddaughter.

Some of Martirano's career credits listed by her nominator, Janet Soesbe, included serving as concertmaster for the Champaign-Urbana Symphony for 21 years and performing and recording with the Tone Road Ramblers, the Cal Arts Contemporary Chamber Players and the University of Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players. She's also played with the UI Jazz Band, the UI Russian Orchestra, Medicare 7, 8 or 9, Prairie Ensemble, Sinfonia da Camera, the Springfield Symphony and many more.

"She's a treasure to our musical community," Soesbe said in her nomination.

The community program manager for the Urbana Park District, Soesbe said she first met Martirano in connection with the Jazz Walk at Meadowbrook Park. Martirano has played in that event with her group, Almost "A" Quintet, about every year, Soesbe said.

When she decided to nominate Martirano, she began researching her career and was astounded by its breadth, she said.

While Martirano has retired from teaching, she continues to perform with several groups. That includes, in part, playing with Almost "A" at the Iron Post, in a duo with base player Armand Beaudoin and in a tango band called Tangotta. This past weekend, she performed with Compost Q at the Krannert Art Museum and then the following day in Chicago.

Martirano has also put her music to work for numerous community causes, raising money for the Urbana school district and local charities such as Eastern Illinois Foodbank.

"The quality of her musicianship is rivaled only by her qualities as a human being, one who cares for her community and the world at large," Soesbe said.

Honor roll

40 North will honor seven people or businesses at its annual ACE (Arts, Culture, Education) awards celebration next week in Champaign. The honorees, whose stories we'll tell between now and then:

Advocate Award: Kelly Hieronymus
Artist Award: Peggy Shaw
Volunteer Award: Jim O'Brien
Business Award: Exile on Main Street
Teacher Award: Brandon T. Washington
Student Award: Natalie Wakefield
Lifetime Award: Dorothy Martirano

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (3):Education, Music, People