John Martin Marks - musician, scholar, raconteur, gourmand - died peacefully in his home on Hilton Head Island on May 16th, 2017. A longtime resident of Bolton Hill in Baltimore and, in his later years, Hilton Head Plantation, John was 55.
John was a man of passion and sensitivity. He started composing at 6 years of age, his mother transcribing brief songs. His boyhood friend, Andy Johnston, remembers their misadventures as youths roaming the streets of Baltimore. He had a curious mind and an adventurous heart.
His sense of drama and frivolity was fostered in his high school years, when he was a member of the Young Victorian Theatre Company at the Gilman School in Roland Park, playing the recorder and performing in The Sorcerer, Princess Ida, HMS Pinafore, and Iolanthe.
He worked from the age of sixteen as a church musician at Light Street Presbyterian Church and went on to play and direct in churches in Elizabeth and Trenton NJ, bringing a sense of grandeur to pipe organs large and small. John said he loved hymn playing more than anything else - “...there was something really thrilling about getting a room full of people to sing together.”
John attended Westminster Choir college, studying under Mark Brombaugh (organ), Frauke Haasemann (conducting), Eric Routley (church music), and Stefan Young (composition). His mother, Alice Smith Marks, was delighted that he chose Westminster, where she had also studied Church Music.
Returning to Baltimore, John was employed as Associate Organist and Assistant Director of Music at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. After a brief time at University Baptist Church, he went on to be Organist and Director of Music at Saint John Lutheran Church in Parkville and Salem Lutheran Church in Catonsville. John was a member of the American Guild of Organists and the American Choral Directors Association, with a Teacher Certification from the Kodaly Institute of America.
For many years, John directed the choral group Sine Nomine, performing medieval and renaissance repertoire. He continued in composition, writing song cycles, works for string quartet, flute, solo piano, and chamber orchestra, as well as incidental music for several of Shakespeare's plays, giving a voice to the music which was ever in his mind.
John worked for 16 years at Grace and Saint Peter’s Church and the Wilkes School as Organist, Choirmaster, and music and religion teacher. If one were to listen closely to his improvisation during Holy Communion, one might hear snippets of rock and roll and other incongruous melodies blended seamlessly with classical liturgical themes. He was well known for his improvisations, which were complex, rich, and inspired. He sought fun and faith in the same boundless bellows of the church’s 1922 Austin Organ.
It was at the Wilkes School that John met Jennifer Reaves, a constant source of integrity and inspiration. They married in Baltimore on August 22nd, 2014. John became a proud stepfather to Zachary Reaves, and they spent long hours debating topics mundane and profound.
John went on to be Organist and Director of Music at Saint Thomas Episcopal Parish in Washington, DC. John spoke of his time there, “It was great for me being in a radically different sort of community that was still Anglican.”
John travelled with Jennifer to Hilton Head Island, and when he set his feet on the sandy soil he knew he was where he belonged. Working for a time at All Saint’s Episcopal Church and later at Saint John’s Episcopal of Savannah, Georgia, John woke every morning with soft light filtering through tall pines and hot cups of coffee with his beloved wife.
Jennifer spoke simply of John, “He was an amazing husband.”
In his last years, John was, as ever, surrounded by music. He played the piano and his treasured harpsichord, listened to Ravel and Rachmaninoff, danced with his daughter, Alice, in his kitchen. He sang to his many pets. He told tall tales and terrible jokes.
In the weeks preceding his death, friends and loved ones joined him to share a few more meals, a few more stories, a few last measures of sonatines and symphonies. He died with the comforts of laughter and love.
Services for John will be held at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Savannah at 2:00 in the afternoon on June 3rd, 2017.
John is survived by his wife, Jennifer, his stepson, Zachary, his daughter, Alice Kathryn Elisabeth, his mother, Alice Smith Marks, and his adoring pets. He will be missed.
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