Mary Lou Newmark is an electric violinist, composer, and poet living in Los Angeles, California. Her compositions are far from traditional. Ms. Newmark bridges the gap between current trends in electronic music and the virtuosic violin techniques of the past. Her work incorporates live performance, original poetry and electronically processed sounds. The results are unique pieces that inhabit their own musical ecosystems. As an artist of both music and words, Ms. Newmark continues to expand her creativity to include works for theater that combine the performing arts to explore social issues.
In 2020, the year of Covid-19, with all live performances cancelled, Mary Lou and textile artist Beanie Kaman began a new collaboration.
Mary Lou spent a day recording at the TANK in Rangely, Colorado in 2018. Since then, she has been weaving that raw improvised music into new compositions – adding other sounds, reframing, and recontexualizing. “Pigeons and the Hawk” is one such composition. Beanie created visual layers of her work, and together with images and video footage of Mary Lou at the TANK, she constructed a sumptuous landscape with the music. Steve Kaman, her brother, a well known editor, blended all the images into the video. Watch the video here.
In 2018 Mary Lou began a collaboration with poet Brendan Constantine to create “Trading Storms,” a unique blend of original music and poetry on stage. Their performances in the Los Angeles area created a new hybrid form, which achieves a dialogue between music and poetic systems. The poems and music spar, animate, highlight and intensify each other. Mary Lou and Brendan have created several new works together, including “Sonata in B Minor for Poet and Electric Violin,” and “Horses of Grace.”
“Room to Breathe,” Mary Lou’s third CD, was released in Fall 2017. This album is a safari into the urban wilderness of Los Angeles, moving across genres to encounter coyotes, wild birds, a wolf woman, beats, and poetic verse. Response to the CD has been enthusiastic, with appearances on weekly Top 30 charts at public radio and college radio stations from Alaska to New York. About “Room to Breathe,” Midwest Record wrote, “this engaging set delivers loads of sonic fulfillment. Killer stuff.”
Ms. Newmark has been commissioned by the Los Angeles Alumni Chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon to write a work to celebrate the 100thAnniversary of the chapter. “Three Rivers” premiered by the composer on February 24, 2019 at the Moss Theater in Los Angeles.
“Breathing Room,” Ms. Newmark’s hybrid theatrical work, follows two neighbors in a Los Angeles suburb - Marilyn, an artist, and the Professor, a high school science teacher. The two of them struggle with modern technologic vertigo as they negotiate living with hummingbirds, meatball eating bears, coyotes and backyard chickens. With evocative music performed live on stage by Mary Lou, they explore personal relationships with nature, quantum physics and embodied spirituality through playful, humorous storytelling. Structured like a symphony, this play within a concert is a convergence of music, science, theater, poetry and spirituality. “Breathing Room” had its first workshop performances at Loyola Marymount University and the Zephyr Theatre in September of 2014, directed by Dan Berkowitz. “Breathing Room” premiered in a full theatrical production in October 2015 at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles. In his selection for the Best of Los Angeles Theater 2015, Ernest Kearney wrote, “And audiences were dazzled by ‘Breathing Room’ with Eileen T’Kaye and Charles Reese in Mary Lou Newmark’s disarmingly beautiful musical parable.”
“Breath of Trees” premiered in two workshop performances in November 2011 at ARC Pasadena. Directed by Doug Tompos, “Breath of Trees” weaves live music, poetry, storytelling, humor, science, and dance into a tapestry that explores the relationship between modern man and nature. Mary Lou as writer/composer joined the cast on stage, performing on electric violin, percussion and sound design.
“Street Angel Diaries,” Ms. Newmark’s multimedia work about the homeless, looks at homelessness from the perspective of the lives of homeless people themselves. Directed by Darin Anthony, “Street Angel Diaries” premiered in a full theatrical production on the Boston Court Main Stage in Pasadena, California in December 2006. Philip Brandes of the Los Angeles Times hailed the work’s “haunting score.” Brandes went on to applaud Mary Lou’s “modernistic musical sketches on her neon-lit electric violin — picture Laurie Anderson on a good hair day, but aiming more at emotions than intellect.”
In June 2010 the Culver City Chamber Orchestra (Arlette Cardenes, conductor) performed the West Coast premiere of “Canto de Luz – Song of Light, A Concerto for Electric Violin and Orchestra,” with Ms. Newmark as soloist. This performance featured Mary Lou’s fully revised score and the addition of a new cadenza. Originally commissioned by the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra in 2003, “Canto de Luz” remains one of a handful of concertos for electric violin and orchestra ever written. The original premiered in March of that year to a standing room only audience in Montpelier Vermont with the composer as soloist.
In March 2011, clarinetist Andrea Cheeseman premiered a new Newmark composition, “Shattered, for Clarinet and Soundscape,” at Appalachian State University. Subsequently, Ms. Cheeseman performed the work in the South Haven Concert Series in Michigan and at the 2014 Electro-Acoustic Barn Dance at the University of Mary Washington. In December 2011, Mary Lou’s “Seven Sacred Stones” were performed as part of “Overlay,” a new dance work created through the international collaboration of the Los Angeles Pennington Dance Group and Yorke Dance Project of London. “Overlay” toured London in March 2013, and has been performed many times since throughout Southern California.
Mary Lou’s composition, “I dreamt of birds,” was selected for inclusion in the 60X60 Athena Mix (2012) and the first 60X60 Environmental Mix (2012). Each mix contains sixty compositions by sixty composers. Begun 10 years ago by Robert Voisey of Vox Novus, the 60X60 Project has become one of the most engaging programs of new music around the world. The 2012 Athena and Environmental Mixes have been presented at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Lancashire, England, The University of Hartford, Connecticut and Soka University, California.
Ms. Newmark has also completed commissions for internationally acclaimed double bassist Tom Peters, the St. Matthew’s Chamber Orchestra, and Curvd Aire, a brass quintet in Sacramento, California.
Ms. Newmark is well known as a dynamic performer of her own compositions. Recently she has been featured at Brandeis University, Northern Arizona University, UC Riverside and Palomar College performing multiple works, including her suite, “The Tiger is Awake.”
In 2012 Mary Lou’s poem, “Natural Love,” was published online in the Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology, an international organization that “freely showcases the most creative minds on the planet.”
Although a published poet, Mary Lou’s poems are most often experienced aurally as part of her music compositions and theater works. She has also collaborated with other musicians as a lyricist and spoken word artist. In 2011 she collaborated with Macedonian musician, Vasko Serafimov on “City Against Time,” combining her poem and vocal performance with his evocative electronic music. In 2009 her poem, “Scattered,” was paired with John Legend’s “Ordinary People” in the anthology, “Poetry over Music: Volume 4, Freedom Through Music.” Her composition for storyteller and electronic soundscape, “La Loba, Wolf Woman,” was performed at Rutgers University’s Steadman Art Gallery as part of the art exhibit, “A Complex Weave: Women and Identity in Contemporary Art” (2009). With vocal composer Valerie Crescenz she collaborated on “Those Red Shoes,” which was premiered by the Princeton Singers at the Lehigh University Choral Composer’s Forum in 2008.
At the 2017 Mu Phi Epsilon International Convention in Denver, Colorado, Mary Lou was awarded the Elizabeth Mathias Award. This award is given once every three years to a member “in honor of their outstanding and unique achievement in the field of music and music service.” It is one of the highest honors given by this professional music fraternity.
In January of 2016, Ms. Newmark was awarded a “2015 SAGE Award for Best Musical Score” from the Los Angeles Theater Critics at ArtsInLA for her theater work, “Breathing Room,” presented at the Greenway Court Theatre. “Breathing Room” also made the 2015 Best of Los Angeles Theater list on Bitter Lemons.
In March 2015, Mary Lou was selected to attend the “Extended Now” Workshop with Ian Winters at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program in Woodside, California. She worked with artists, filmmakers and composers from across the United States, culminating in a performance of her new composition, “Bosque Birds.”
Ms. Newmark’s numerous awards for composition and performance include the Bettylou Scandling Hubin Award in Music Technology (2009), election into the prestigious “Artists, Composers, Musicologists, Educators” (ACME) of Mu Phi Epsilon (2007), and nomination for the Herb Alpert Foundation’s Alpert Award in the Arts for Music (2004).
She received a Subito Grant from the Los Angeles Chapter of the American Composers Forum (2003), worked with composer Steve Mackey and the Talujon Percussion Quartet during a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida (2002), and has been awarded annual ASCAP Awards (1999-present), multiple Mu Phi Epsilon Professional Grants, and recognition in the Luigi Russolo Competition for electronic music (1998).
Ms. Newmark provides instrumental music instruction in private and public schools throughout Los Angeles with the Children’s Music Workshop and maintains a private violin and composition studio. She frequently presents lecture/demonstrations of her music and compositional methods throughout the United States. She is also a certified UpBeat Drum Circle Facilitator. Her works have been performed at international festivals in Corfu, Greece and Montreal, Canada, and have been featured on radio stations throughout the United States, in Canada, and around the world.
Her three CDs, “Green Angel,” “Music from Street Angel Diaries,” and “Room to Breathe” are available on iTunes, CD Baby and Spotify.
Although she breaks new ground as a composer, Mary Lou has a traditional classical background with a Masters degree in violin performance from the University of Southern California, and a Masters degree in composition from the University of California, Los Angeles.
What she plays: Mary Lou plays a green acrylic 5-String Electric Violin, EV Luma, made by Tucker Barrett of T.F. Barrett Co. in Vermont. She uses an Eventide Ultra-Harmonizer, Pro Tools and Ableton Live.