Martin Hearne challenged students above their abilities—with amazing results

Professor of Music Martin Hearne was known for challenging students in Cornell College’s instrumental ensembles to perform works well above their abilities—with amazing results.

Professor Martin Hearne
Professor Martin Hearne

“On first reading the work is barely recognizable, but it slowly evolves to a performance that is polished and well received by an appreciative audience,” Hearne said. “Rehearsals are fun, daunting, intense, and jovial, and when a student gets a difficult part right for the first time and realizes, ‘wow, I can do this!’ there are no words that can express that feeling of delight for the student’s accomplishments.  

“I will miss those times when I hear a student turn a musical phrase or play a part that is ‘so cool’ that I stop the group and we go back and do it again, just for the fun of us all hearing it again.”

Hearne taught at Cornell for 28 years and is retiring with his wife, Professor of Music Lisa Hearne. The two programmed many memorable performances of masterworks for choir and instrumental ensembles, most recently Mozart’s Requiem, Michael Gandofi’s “Q.E.D. Engaging Richard Feynman,” Karl Jenkins’ “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” and and the U.S. premiere of Douwe Eisenga’s “The Flood, Requiem.” 

Hearne relished working with students on a wide variety of music, from the great orchestral music from composers such as Mozart or Beethoven to the improvisational styles of Miles Davis to learning how to play a second line drum pattern on set. And then there’s the steel drum band program he created two decades ago.

“Pandemonium and the Calypso Singers allowed us the opportunity to work with students in an entirely different medium,” he said. “These shows were entertainment-based, but the music and style required a completely different approach and expertise. Steel drum music is naturally fun and energetic but it is not necessarily easy. The students played very complicated music, but in the setting of a show, made it appear to be effortless. These shows were rewarding for the students and were some of the most well attended concerts in our years here.”

Among his highlights of the past 28 years are Pandemonium steel drum band tours to New Orleans (twice) and to Carnival in Nice, France; two European tours with chamber orchestra and chamber choir; three steel drum band recordings; and a steel drum ensembles appearance on a performing arts series in Hart, Michigan.

“In no other music department on any college campus is the director of instrumental ensembles able to work with the jazz ensemble, symphonic band, symphony orchestra and create two steel drum ensembles. It just doesn’t happen,” Hearne said.

Alumni remember Professor Martin Hearne

“Dr. Hearne has made a profound impact on my life. Not only did he teach me about music, he somehow managed to teach me about myself and life. When I would make mistakes, he taught me to be patient and gentle with myself and that they don’t take away from my worth as a musician or human. Through challenging me in his classes, he taught me to never give up and to dig deeper even when I thought something was unimaginably fast or too difficult to play. He taught me how to trust the people around me and that it is okay to ask for help and to lean into my bandmates because in order to achieve our goals, we had to work as one. By having him trust and believe in my abilities, I began to trust myself which allowed me to grow and gain confidence in the person I was becoming. Dr. Hearne created a sanctuary for me and the other students at Cornell where we could take risks, grow, and express ourselves.” — Nina Kahn ’18

“What always impressed me about Marty Hearne was his ability to connect with individuals—people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds. His respect as an educator was easily earned through his vast musical knowledge and ability, but what set Marty apart from others was his ability to develop unique and meaningful relationships with his students. He gained my respect, trust, and friendship early my freshman year, which made him my most valued mentor throughout my time at Cornell.” — John Feldman ’05

“We’ve both been blessed to know you in an academic and professional context.  For Mary, four years spent taking voice lessons and thriving in two vocal ensembles meant more than you ever could have known, Lisa. You were perpetually patient and kind with bouts of stage fright and a realization that a career in music wasn’t in the cards, but still managed to boost confidence throughout. For Joel, it would be impossible to identify two more influential figures. Courses taken with you were the literal building ‘blocks’ of what has been a successful career.

“It’s disappointing to think that for future generations of Cornellians, music will exist without ‘The Drs. Hearne.’ but we are so excited that you’ll have ample amounts of free time to spend time with family, strike up conversations with strangers in the unlikeliest of places, or simply sit quietly together and take in a view of the mountains, hear the sounds of the city, and experience joys everywhere between.” — Joel Foreman ’05 and Mary Dix Foreman ’05

Martin Hearne Emeritus Citation

Without you, Cornell’s music program would be very different from what it is today.  Soon after you arrived at the college in 1992, you were asked to take on major responsibilities in the department, including the music education program, the Orchestra, the Concert Band, and the Music Mondays concert series. You deftly managed not only these, but also the large number of adjunct studio faculty, always with an eye toward providing the very best instruction for our students, while also cultivating long-lasting relationships with local professionals. The Jazz Ensemble, a later addition to your responsibilities, especially flourished under your direction. You created in this—as in all of your groups —a strong sense of discipline as an ensemble and a shared joy in their music-making.

In addition to your work with these existing areas, you also established several new parts of the music program yourself—creating the Palisades Ensembles, the studio faculty mentorship program, and of course, the Steel Drum Ensemble, which is now an institution at the college and a quintessential part of the Cornell experience for many students. The number of alumni who came back to celebrate you at this spring’s steel drum concert speaks to the importance of this memory in their lives. You also designed tours for your ensembles, taking groups to France, New Orleans, and Italy, in addition to many regional tours  So much work goes into this, and you always carried it off, no matter the obstacles.

As a teacher, and as a musician, you are extremely gifted. Our students have been so fortunate to have had you as their conductor and mentor. In addition to these gifts, you have a truly amazing work ethic, and a never-ending capacity for good humor in the face of adversity. Behind the scenes, you were constantly taking imminent disasters and turning them into silk purses. You somehow always made things work, and work superbly—arranging existing pieces to make them playable by the students you had, programming (and re-programming) literature to suit the strengths of a particular group of students, working around limitations of facilities—the list goes on and on.

Marty, you leave the music program at Cornell far stronger than you found it. Thank you to our colleague and friend; we will miss you.