MARTHA HILL DUNCAN, Composer, Conductor, Music Educator

Martha Hill Duncan began piano lessons at the age of eight and started experimenting with composing and improvising soon after.  She was a member of the first graduating class of the Houston High School for Performing and Visual Arts, receiving a diploma in Vocal Music and earned a Degree in Composition from the University of Texas at Austin with piano as her principal instrument. Martha is grateful to have studied with several inspirational and generous teachers: composers Dr. Donald Grantham and Dr. Sam Dolin inspired and encouraged her to express her musical ideas, while influential piano teachers Danielle Martin, Gregory Allen, Dr. Errol Haun and Trudy Borden helped to hone her piano performance and teaching skills.

In 1982, Martha moved to Canada with her husband, astrophysicist Dr. Martin Duncan. In appreciation of her adopted country, many of Martha’s vocal and choral works are set to Canadian texts. Some of these songs have won awards in both American and Canadian choral and art song competitions. 

Martha has enjoyed many collaborative projects within her community of Kingston, Ontario.  She has worked with local songwriters, poets, artists, choirs and the Ban Righ Foundation of Queen’s University.  Some of the works produced from these joint efforts include This Girl Danced Spring for SSAA & Piano with lyrics by Gary Rasberry, Robins for SSA, Tenor Solo and Piano with poetry by Peter Brassard, Limestone Etchings, a collection of piano pieces celebrating local Kingston landmarks with artist Spencer Hope and Who Is She?, written for both solo voice and treble choir as a fundraiser for the Ban Righ Foundation of Queen’s University, celebrating influential women.

Martha loves working with and writing for singers. Her opera, Searching the Painted Sky with poet/librettist, Janet Windeler Ryan, for the Youth Opera of El Paso, Texas was  premiered with great success at the National Opera Association convention in NYC in January, 2014. Saskatchewan Songs (one woman’s dramatic and nostalgic musical journey of growing up in the prairie province) was composed for mezzo soprano and poet Bonnie Cutsforth Hubert.  These had their US and Canadian premieres at the University of Pennsylvania, Altoona and the University of Saskatchewan. Other collaborative vocal works include Florals, written for soprano Elizabeth McDonald and Porch Songs for baritone Gregory Brookes as well as for tenor Darrell Bryan. Her most recent art song collections with Canadian poetry are Maple Dust and other delicacies and How Will the Rain Fall?

An ongoing interest and recognition of her adopted country, Canada, has culminated in several song cycles and collections for the developing voice, including Singing in the Northland: A Celebration of Canadian Poetry in Song. Another art song collection, Summer, is set to the poetry of Linda Jacques, inspired by her childhood on Georgian Bay. As composer and artistic director of She Sings!, a Kingston women’s choir, Martha has also produced several works for treble choir including many based on Canadian texts. These include Song of the Stars, Lady Icicle and Lullaby of the Iroquois. Her set Star Prayers for SSA and piano was a co-winner in the 2005 Ruth Watson Henderson Choral Composition Competition. Choirs that have commissioned her work include Aurora, Melos Chamber Choir, Pro Arte Singers, and the Limestone Children’s Choir. Other art song and choral commissions have come through Graphite Publishing of Minneapolis and their Consortium projects. One of these is a new song cycle for medium and high voice, A Season of Sensations, with the award-winning Kingston, Ontario poet, Meg Freer.

In addition to her vocal writing, Martha is known for her piano compositions. Many of these works were inspired, at least in part, by her long-time career as a piano teacher and by the memorable places she has lived or visited. Some of these piano solos, as well as some of her art songs, appear in the syllabi and/or publications of The Royal Conservatory of Music, Conservatory Canada and Contemporary Showcase. Several piano pieces also appear in the Northern Lights and Making Tracks series of The Canadian National Conservatory of Music. Notable piano collections are Cottage Days, Isla Vista Suite, Precipitations, Angular Measures, Zarzamora Suite, and The Sunken Garden, the latter commissioned by Mexican-Canadian pianist, Dr. Jorge Suarez.

A former piano examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music, Martha is also a frequent adjudicator and clinician for music festivals and composition competitions across Canada.  She is a member of SOCAN, an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre, and a member of the Association of Canadian Women Composers. She has served on the local executives of ORMTA (Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association) and the SAO (Suzuki Association of Ontario). Martha is also a founding member and ongoing administrator of Red Leaf Pianoworks a self-publishing composers’ collective, which now boasts an international array of award-winning composers.

She lives in Kingston, Ontario with her husband, Martin, and has two grown children, Alex, a math professor and Claire, a singer, actress and voice-over artist. She also has an adorable granddaughter.