Musical versatility and talent


Ji-Ho Lee

For most infants a special blanket, a particular song or set of toys can mitigate a tearful tantrum. For Martin Shapiro, a piano did the trick.
“He was a very colicky baby and he cried all the time,” Martin’s mother, Beth Shapiro said. “When we would play the piano, that would be something that would quiet him down. He’s kind of just been a musical kid.”
Martin’s innate ability to learn and play music at an impressive level is obvious. He eloquently plays the piano, french horn, trumpet — for which he was named to the all-state band, a nearly impossible feat — as well as trombone, saxophone and vibraphone.
“Martin is like a lot of students in our band program who are very talented, so to single out Martin above so many talented kids is difficult,” Steve Mathews, RBHS Band Director said. “I would say that what sets Martin apart is his ability to apply his musicianship to almost any instrument he picks up.  So in that regard, there aren’t too many students I have ran into that have that level of versatility.”
Despite his talent and ability, Martin can often become frustrated with his music, especially the french horn, when making repetitive mistakes. Beth Shapiro believes the personality and characteristics of her son may spark his frustration.
“He can be a perfectionist with what he wants himself to be able to do,” Beth Shapiro said. “Sometimes he will not be able to play something that he hears in his mind, and he definitely gets frustrated.”
That dissatisfaction, although irritating, motivates Martin to continue to improve. Combined with the expectations that he has received from band directors and family, occasional impediments inspire him to continue.
“The frustration can help me because I don’t give up and say, ‘Whatever, it will be fine.’ I make sure that if there is an issue, no matter how much it bothers me, it will go away,” Martin said. “So that frustration can inspire me to keep playing and practicing sometimes.”
Along with music, Martin has had a continuous interest in other hobbies that are far different from music. As he has gotten older, however, his passion for music has been strongest.
“Music, architecture and railroads have all always been interests of mine, and they still are,” Martin said. “When I was really little, when I was three or four, I started kind of messing around on the piano, just kind of fooling around and that’s when my interest [in music] started … I think I got more into music when I was in eighth grade, when I got into jazz music.”
Martin’s older brother, Daniel, an all-state trumpet player in his own right, may also have encouraged Martin’s interest in music.
“Music is something that the two brothers have shared growing up, and when they are home, they both make a lot of music together; so that is something that they have grown up with together and just enjoyed,” Beth Shapiro said. “They just spend a lot of time jamming at home together.”
His interest combined with extraordinarily talent makes Martin a unique musician. He has taken traditional lessons for only french horn and piano, teaching himself most of the instruments that he plays.
“I have grown up in a really musical family and so I’ve had a lot of exposure to different genres and music,” Martin said. “Playing new instruments is just fun. I like learning new instruments, and it’s an interest that kind of just popped up.”
Martin’s mother believes that the few lessons that Martin has taken plays an influential role in impacting in his development as a musician.
“[Martin’s] jazz theory lessons started out with piano but he is able to express some of the theory and express his knowledge of jazz through other instruments as well,” Beth Shapiro said. “It’s a combination of a talent and musicality that is in him to teach himself but that is fostered through formal lessons and I do think those formal lessons have had an effect even when he is self taught.”
Ultimately, Martin hopes to become a professional musician. Because of the ever-changing nature of the professional music scene, however, he is unsure about who he wishes to play for. He has a better idea on what and where he wants to play.
“As for my professional aspirations, I’d like to play the piano and jazz primarily. Those are sort of my two main focuses,” Martin said. “As for where I want to play, probably some huge metropolitan area with a good performing and recording scene, like New York or something.”
Mathews notices Martin’s continuous attempts to practice and improve in his pursuit of becoming a professional. His high volume of playing and practicing, and attendance in nationally recognized summer jazz camp has improved his musical ability, as well as his perfectionist personality.
“He is highly critical of himself,” Mathews said. “Because of that, he pushes himself to that next higher level as a musician.”