On January 4, 2021, composer Marvin J. Carlton passed away after a battle with illness. A humble yet passionate and prolific composer, Marvin’s few years of working with us revealed just how much this artist had left to give—and still has.
Marvin was an American composer of opera, art song, symphonic works, choral works, and chamber music. Passionate about his art, one of Marvin’s greatest joys was sharing that passion with the many music students who passed through his classroom at Hamilton County Jr./Sr. High in McLeansboro IL. He devoted much of his life to teaching and fostering the musical growth of others. While his creative output was sizable, he didn’t release music commercially until the last few years of his life.
PARMA A&R Representative Morgan Santos reached out to Marvin after discovering a video of his Romance for Flute and Piano online. Their work together demonstrated just what a special person he was.
Marvin was one of the first artists I worked with as a full A&R rep at PARMA, and it was always a pleasure delivering great news to him about his music, watching his projects come to life after the recording sessions, and getting to know so much more about him, his music, and his story in the process.
As time went on, we got into the habit of calling one another about projects and business affairs rather than email—it was easier, and frankly far more fun! Once he signed on for his first project with us, he would answer my calls with a sunny and vivacious “Hi Morgan!” instead of the usual “hello,” always knowing that it was me. I’ll miss hearing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as I waited for him to pick up the line.
Our calls weren’t all business—he’d tell me about his teaching career, his summers writing operas, or a particular conducting experience, and ask me about music and PARMA and my time as a studio teacher. We’d discuss our mutual love for thunderstorms and snowstorms, and let’s not forget the ever important topic of our cats.
This summer his second project was recorded in Boston. When it signed last year, we were excited to finally meet in person as I was planning to be at those sessions. Sadly, COVID-19 changed our plans. Although this great music was recorded with Marvin attending remotely, we were never able to meet. That will lay heavy on me, with this sad development, knowing that we won’t shake hands or share hugs in this life.
Marvin was full of plans, for himself and his music. His conversations with PARMA revealed that he had a treasure trove of his compositions, waiting to be performed, recorded, and preserved. He was working with our team on his next release, a song cycle inspired by the works of James Joyce, when he passed. As Morgan put it, the music that has been recorded and released is simply “the tip of a huge, huge iceberg.”
It begs the question: how many more artists are there with troves of music waiting to be discovered? How many never get the chance to see their output brought to fulfillment?
How much is under the surface, if we dig past popular repertoire and search for new voices?
The music of Marvin Carlton might be one good place to start that search.
Morgan put it best:
Marvin it was such an absolute joy working with you and becoming your friend along the way—you’ll live on, on this side of things, through your music and amazing teaching legacy. Keep composing and teaching up there, wherever you are!