Flutist Tyler Martin wants to uplift and celebrate Black art

Tyler Martin is a graduate student at Rice University in Houston.Jalen Hamilton

February 08, 2022

2020 brought many challenges to the music industry, including countless event cancelations. Like many musicians during the pandemic, flutist Tyler Martin suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands. But where some might have seen an obstacle, he saw an opportunity to refuel his project to celebrate Black art.

Martin, a graduate student at Rice University in Houston, has always looked for ways to diversify his repertoire. As a sub for the Houston Symphony Orchestra and second flute and piccolo at the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, his schedule is always busy. But performing works by Black composers has always been at the center of his passion for classical music.

His project includes performances of works by African American composers, including Valerie Coleman, Ulysses Kay and Michael Frazier, a list that he only hopes to expand in the coming years.

He shares where the inspiration for the project stemmed from, his goals for the future and words of inspiration for fellow young musicians.

Could you describe the nature of the project and what made you decide to pursue it?

“This project is a combination of recorded performances, interviews, poetry and personal anecdotes celebrating Black art. While the past few years have been very challenging for all of us, personally I’ve been so moved by the creativity and tenacity I’ve seen within my community. It’s been so inspirational to bear witness to art in its truest form, provoking thought and facilitating conversations around issues that are all too often swept under the rug. I wanted to create something to immortalize this period of celebrating Black art, Black artists and Black achievement.”

What does this project mean to you?

“This project means a great deal to me. It’s my own way of both contributing to the larger conversation while also affirming to myself, and hopefully those coming up behind me, that my voice matters and that their voice matters too. This part of my life very much feels like the end of one chapter and beginning of a new one. I wanted to create something that matched the magnitude of this personal milestone but also that was culturally relevant. But more importantly I didn’t wanted it to be only about me. I want it to be a collective narrative of many Black stories that while individually unique, highlights a shared experience.”

Tyler Martin
Tyler Martin is a student at Rice University, Houston.
Nile Scott

Why do you think it’s important to uplift the voices and music of Black composers in classical spaces?

“Classical music has historically programmed, celebrated, and ultimately immortalized a primarily Euro-centric voice within the genre. This project by nature was designed to challenge that narrow viewpoint and address the evermore pressing problem of representation within classical music. Additionally, I think it’s important to show younger Black classical musicians that there is music written by us that can be held on equal footing with the ‘greats’ of the classical canon.”

What are your goals and dreams for the project?

“My only dream is that it will reach the people it needs to reach. I hope that some find it educational, some meaningful, and still some uplifting.”

What would you like to say to young musicians who are considering diversifying their repertoires beyond the classical canon?

Go for it! Classical music isn’t just about perfect cadences or Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. It is a living, breathing and evolving genre that holds within it the voices of many different people — all valid, worthy and important to study.

Listen to more of Tyler Martin’s recordings on YouTube and SoundCloud.