Canadian Pianist Martin Mayer — an Ambassador Through Music
“Canada’s Prince of Piano”
That’s how the Beijing Times, China’s leading English-language newspaper, described Canadian pianist and composer Martin Mayer. His music has been defined as instrumental fusion — a combination of smooth jazz, classical, pop, and rock. Mayer’s European roots add a good share of thoughtful and longing soul, his North American education contributes a healthy dose of high-octane energy.
After Mayer realized musicianship was who he was, he studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music, majored in piano performance at Grant MacEwan University, and won the Rachel McKeown Memorial Award for composition.
An explosive mix
His recordings include Destinations (1998), Live In Concert (2000, nominated for “Outstanding Instrumental Album” at the Prairie Music Awards), This is Who I Am (2003, Nominated for “Outstanding Instrumental Album” at the WCMA Awards), the 2009 single The Orphan Boy, a year-long fundraiser for the Canadian Cancer Society, Alone (2010) and Unbreakable (2018).
A Chinese Arts Agency took Mayer on a 16-city, six-week concert tour in mainland China in 2001. It was the biggest tour of any artist in China’s modern history, and all of his tour dates since then have been sold out. He entertained thousands in concert, and millions on Chinese TV.
The “Outstanding Alumnus” winner at the Alberta Provincial Awards Celebrating Excellence was also featured by the Czech National Radio Orchestra in a live concert of his music, recorded and broadcast live from one of Prague’s most historic music venues.
Mayer’s latest album, Unbreakable, was listed as one of the Top 25 New Music Critiques of 2018 (Music Connection Magazine, December 2018), attracting radio airplay from across the globe. It is one of the few independent Canadian records available on Chinese music-streaming platforms QQ, NetEase, QianQian and Kuwo.
An Ambassador through Music
In 2019, China once again welcomed “Canada’s Prince of Piano” to bring the charm of his music to thousands of concert-goers across 20 cities in the Celestial Empire. Martin Mayer’s latest China tour was the first of a year of Canadian concerts presented to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Canada.
Throughout his career, Mayer has taken the opportunity to give back to the communities that have supported his artistic endeavors. Over the years, he has donated his performances and recordings to help the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canucks Autism Network, Share Family & Community Services, MusiCounts, the Canadian Red Cross, Watari Counselling & Support Services, Musicians On Call, and the Port Moody Arts Centre, among others.
Canada’s National Post predicts that Mayer is “poised to take over the world stage,” while VOGUE of Taiwan opines that the pianist’s “passion for music … can only be described as breath-taking,” and an A&R Factory Music Blog concludes: “Thankfully there are artists such as Martin Mayer to inject a bit of excitement and panache into the format of the pop-piano.”
Martin Mayer’s Gear
Roland FA-08 Music Workstation
Roland AX-1 Keytar
Alesis Vortex 2 Keytar
Yamaha CFIII Grand Piano
Fazioli F228 or F278 Concert Grand Piano
Apple MacBook Pro 16″
Sennheiser In-Ear Monitors
DPA 4099 Piano Microphones
Martin Mayer Merch
Interview with Martin Mayer
“If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. ” ~ Martin Mayer
Chuck Schiele: Your career is a colorful one. The pioneering spirit of your music is indeed adventurous and seemingly fun. What is your perspective and/or philosophy on the success of all this?
Martin Mayer: There were a few lessons I learned early on in my career, which have built the foundation of how I now work. First, if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail. There has been a tremendous amount of work that was successful because it was properly prepared, with meticulous attention to detail. Then there were times where I thought, ‘I got this … no need to prepare.’ And that’s when I failed.
Second, the art of the music comes first and is the utmost of importance. We may live in a socioeconomic world where mortgages need to be paid, and you need money for food, bills, etc. I always said to myself that I would do music because I loved it, and not because I wanted to become rich and famous. The most amazing experiences I’ve had in my career are ones where the thought of finance is far beyond a secondary or tertiary thought.
And third, I’ve learned to surround myself with people that are better at their craft than me. That has inspired me to challenge myself, to grow beyond my own potential, and has enriched my music career in ways I’ll never be able to quantify.
Chuck Schiele: What does life as a musician mean to you?
Martin Mayer: Life as a musician to me means creating art in a way that is extremely personal. Every time I write and record a song, I am releasing something in the world that the best representation of the story I want to tell. And it’s incredible to see how it touches and enriches peoples’ lives. I’ve done a good amount of charity work throughout my career as a way of giving back to the community that has supported me.
The best memory that I have of how my music has touched someone is quite recent. Just as we were getting locked down by the pandemic here in Canada, I did a few livestream concerts on Facebook from my studio. I do these in such a way so that the audience can interact with me, which is fun for both sides. The day after I did one of these livestreams, a woman at the local store recognized me at the cash register. She stopped what she was doing, and while fighting back tears, thanked me for a beautiful concert that meant the world to her on a day when she needed music the most. That day was the day she lost her brother that morning. She said hearing the music helped her find peace in an incredibly difficult today. I can still manifest tears while thinking of this, and to me, THIS is what life as a musician is about — creating art that touches peoples’ lives.
Chuck Schiele: Please tell us about the New Age/Classical Crossover/Instrumental Fusion style of playing the piano.
Martin Mayer: What I love about this style is that it lends itself to being a main category for a lot of sub-genres of music I play. I’ve always loved different genres of music, and my recordings and concerts usually include songs that are pop, rock, jazz, world, Latin, etc. I don’t think I could limit myself to playing just in one genre, so I play in a number of them. It helps me stretch my fingers in ways I would not get to. I’m classically-trained, along with jazz training from my time in university, but I don’t consider myself a classical or jazz pianist. That training gave me a set of tools, skills and technique to play most anything. I do like to challenge myself as well, and I think playing music within the New Age/Classical Crossover/Instrumental Fusion allows me to do that!
Chuck Schiele: What makes you interested in working with any particular artist or project?
Martin Mayer: The most important question is ‘What excites me about working with this artist, or making this project?’ The second thing I think about is how this builds onto what I have created in the past, so that there’s always a growth to my work. Other times, it’s just been a spur of the moment ‘hey, I wanna work with this person’ and I just go and make it happen.
Chuck Schiele: Please tell us a bit about your piano-keyboard, and the gear associated with it.
Martin Mayer: I have always played on Roland keyboards since the day I started training piano. The current one in my studio is the Roland FA-08 Music Workstation, alongside a Roland AX-1 Keytar and two Alesis Vortex 2 Keytars. The only piano I ever had that was different than that was the Yamaha Grand Piano my parents bought me once they saw after a year of lessons that a digital piano wouldn’t work for building my best technique. That was some 30 years ago, though, and the digital pianos these days are amazing. I use the FA-08 for both sounds and MIDI work, and run that through Apple Logic via my MOTU 828x Thunderbolt interface.
I use a multitude of sample sounds, and my most recent favourite is the Yamaha CFIII Concert Grand sample library from Garritan. It was recorded using the piano at Abbey Road Studios, and sounds incredible. On stage, I’ll usually have a Fazioli F228 or F278 provided, unless they are one of the big China tours, and then the majority of those pianos in the concert halls are Steinway. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m still partial to Fazioli … it’s such an amazing piano!
Chuck Schiele: Are there things that happen in your off-stage life that factor into your onstage world?
Martin Mayer: I’ve had the misfortune of having a few accidents throughout my life, and one of them included a fall down a set of stairs on vacation in Dominican Republic. It could have been far worse, but when I fell after slipping on tile outside the restaurant, I landed right on the stairs with my left arm going hard against the edge of the step. I didn’t break the bone, thankfully, but I had a massive soft-tissue contusion that took five months of physio to get back to normal. I couldn’t play during that time because my arm was in a sling, so I only practiced the right hand and spent a lot of time cooking.
So now I’m more cautious based on that, and I always wear gloves when doing any kind of handywork, or running cables on stage or in the studio. You never know when there is going to be something that will irritate the skin, or the hands, and irritated finger tips don’t make for comfortable piano playing. So those are the sorts of off-stage things that would affect my on-stage world.
Chuck Schiele: What is the number one thing on your mind as you take the stage?
Martin Mayer: “You got this!”
Chuck Schiele: What is the number one thing on your mind as you practice?
Martin Mayer: I didn’t like practicing when I was younger, because I found it tedious. I loved music, and I loved piano. But I hated scales and everything surrounding learning technique. That was then. Heck, I was 11 at the time and just wanted to go play with my friends. Now I have a different approach, because there have been multiple times that I have been able to learn a challenging piece, or write a challenging one, all because of the technique that built the foundation of my piano playing.
Now I practice to keep my fingers in shape, to relearn things I may have forgotten, or as was the case after that mishap where I fell and injured my left arm, getting my hand back to where it was before. Practice is important. Before a concert, a tour or a recording. It’s a must, and goes back to my philosophy of ‘if you fail to prepare, prepare to fail!’
Chuck Schiele: What would you say to a kid interested in picking up the piano and music in general?
Martin Mayer: That’s a difficult question to answer, and only because I’d need to know the genuine reason they are interested. Oftentimes, the kids don’t want to — the parents want them to! And that’s fine, as long as the kid is not being forced into it. I say that for a very specific reason. My passion for music and the successes I’ve been fortunate enough to accomplish are all as a direct result of me saying that I want to learn it. My parents encouraged me, got me lessons, bought me pianos, financed my studies, education, first albums, etc. But each step along the way, I was in the driver’s seat saying ‘keep going.’
When it’s your own choice, it makes a huge difference. It’s like two people in a relationship that aren’t married — they are there because they want to be. So I would say to anyone interested in picking up the piano and music in general to be sure it’s something they themselves want to do. That it’s their choice. Because the choice being yours makes the whole experience so much richer and rewarding.
Chuck Schiele: The importance and art of listening. Please discuss.
Martin Mayer: Music is an expression. The piano is a form of channeling that expression. To evoke an expression that evolves through a performance, you need to listen. Listen to what the piano is saying back to you as you are playing it. And listen to how your body and mind respond to what it hears from the piano. It’s a two-way dialog that is physical (fingers) and emotional (expression). It’s important to listen to not just what you play, but how you play it. The art of listening as a performer, and musician in general, is key. You can hear the music, but are you listening? When you listen, you’ll ‘hear it’ far better than just by hearing it.