At just 18 years old, pianist and composer Martin Mayer took out a $35,000 loan to produce his dream debut concert, and in the 20-plus years since, that determination and willingness to bet on himself and his passion has built Martin an incredible career in the music industry.
Born in the Czech Republic, Martin came to Canada with his family in 1989, spending the first 15 years in Edmonton before moving to Vancouver in 2004. Despite growing up in a very musical family—they had an upright piano in the living room, and another at his grandmother’s house—he didn’t become interested in piano until one fortuitous day in choir practice when he was in grade four.
“The lady that was accompanying us was playing along, and I remember being enamoured with the sound coming out of the piano,” he says.
Martin was determined to learn the piece of music, and when the accompanist at last gave him the clandestinely photocopied (and copyrighted) sheet music, he leapt into piano lessons with fervour.
Two years after his gamble on a debut concert, it paid off with his first music award nomination, but it also caught the attention of a Chinese arts agency, which sponsored Martin and his band on a 16-city, six-week-long concert tour in mainland China. His popularity soared to astronomical heights, earning him multiple sold-out tours and the title “Canada’s Prince of Piano” from the Beijing Times. But beyond the adrenaline rush of huge crowds and spectacular shows, the personal connection with his audiences remains Martin’s greatest love on stage and in the music he writes.
“When I started on the journey, my focus was always on the art first and foremost,” he says. “When you connect with people and you see their faces…when it goes from people being very reserved to suddenly having great big smiles and they’re dancing in the aisles…even though I don’t speak their language, we all speak the language of music. It’s those types of connection that make it so incredibly rewarding.”
This fall, Martin releases his newest album, The Solo Piano Collection, where he’s gone back over the last 25 years of his career and carefully chosen a collection of pieces that illustrate his passion for music and his growth as an artist.
“I’ve put together what I feel like defines my best work as a pianist and as a composer,” he says, adding that except for two tracks (one with a Grammy-Award-winning violinist and another with a cellist who regularly collaborates with Hans Zimmer), this album is just Martin and his piano. Hearkening back to those early idyllic days where it was just him and the keys, the songs are an intimate look at Martin’s lifelong relationship with music and his expression through it.
The album will also release with a book of accompanying sheet music of the songs as they were written and performed, flairs and improvisations and individual touches included—Martin’s way of building on that connection he believes is so important.
“That is the most personal expression,” he says, adding, “If people want to learn to play the songs exactly the way I’m playing them, they can.”
The 7 Sins
Whose shoes would you like to walk in?
I’m a huge Patrick Stewart fan, mainly from his role as Captain Picard on my childhood favourite TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the recently developed Star Trek: Picard. Considering the breadth of his work across theatre, television and film, in all kinds of genres, I’d love to see what that feels like [in his shoes], especially now with the resurgence of Captain Picard’s adventures at the young age of 82.
What is the food you could eat over and
That would have to be true Italian pizza, great authentic Chinese food and anything Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. Thankfully, I still have a high metabolism and burn a lot of energy playing the piano!
You’re given $1 million that you have to spend selfishly. What would you spend it on?
I’d want to engage scientists and medical experts to see if the terrible disease my mom passed away from could be truly cured. That way, even though I might not be able to bring her back, I could help spare others the heartache of losing an incredible parent to a disease for which there are no drugs, surgeries or treatments whatsoever.
People who can’t stay off their phone when we’re hanging out, comments on people’s weight and the seemingly non-stop viciousness on social media. Just be kind to each other; it’s not that difficult. You never know what someone is dealing with!
Where would you spend a long time
On a sunny beach with white sand, warm (not hot) weather, great food and a loving dog by my side.
What is the one thing you’re secretly
That I’ve been able to accomplish all that I have in my 25-plus year career, without a manager, agent, record label or publisher.
What makes your heart beat faster?
Seeing my beloved come home. Doesn’t matter what I’ve had to deal with in business or music that day. I can have the worst day imaginable, and just the sight and smile of my beloved makes it all right again.