Composer John Marvin is a master of both music and math

Composer John Marvin is a master of both music and math.

The Santa Barbara Music Club’s next Morning Concert will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday in its trusty venue of the Faulkner Gallery in the Santa Barbara Central Library, 40 E. Anapamu St. Admission is free.

The performers — club members all, presumably — include Ted Rust on the English horn with Viva Knight on piano; and the Westmont Chamber Singers, directed by Grey Brothers, singing three madrigals, three part songs and three folk songs. Rust and Knight will play works by contemporary composers Elliott Carter and John Marvin.

Since the Music Club has been somewhat behind-hand in posting the April programs on its website, what I said above about the contents of this one is, strictly, all I know for sure. However, assuming that Rust and Knight will collaborate on both the Carter and the Marvin works, a little Internet sleuthing makes it fairly likely that the Carter piece will be his 1940 work Pastorale for Piano and English Horn (or viola or clarinet), and that we will hear Marvin’s Five Pieces for English Horn and Piano.

Carter has taken a simple, yet hard to follow, route to immortality — he has stayed alive and working. While it might be an overstatement to say that Carter is “still going strong” at 103, it is nevertheless true that he has produced three new works since turning 100. Writer Jeremy Grimshaw detects in this Pastorale “the influence of his Harvard composition professor, Walter Piston. It finds Carter in an unusually idyllic mode, composing lines and phrases with the elegance and amiability of Piston’s new classicism.”

Marvin (born in 1931 in Fayette, Mo.) started studying music at age 4 and composed his first complete work, Introduction and Allegro for Piano Trio, while a junior in college. As is not uncommon in musicians, Marvin also has a gift for mathematics, and holds a master’s degree in math from Johns Hopkins University.

Ever since, he has lived a double life, computer wizard at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland by day, by night an increasingly admired composer. The Five Pieces is light and lyrical, though by no means trivial. Marvin will prove quite a find for the Faulkner Gallery audience.

As for the vocal music, anything Brothers chooses for the Westmont singers to perform is bound to be eminently pleasing.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at