Today we’d like to introduce you to Martha Cargo.
Martha, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I grew up in Columbia, MD, the only child of a psychologist (mom) and mathematician (dad). I studied piano and flute, sang in choir, performed musical theater in the summers, and studied martial arts. My high school flute teacher Alison Potter – now a lawyer based in Chicago – was a huge inspiration for me.
I attended Brevard (NC), BUTI (Tanglewood, MA), and Yellow Barn (VT) before starting my undergrad at Oberlin, where I majored in flute and chemistry (yes, that’s a thing). I finished all my coursework in 4.5 years and went abroad to Paris, where I took private flute lessons from Cathérine Cantin (1e supersoloiste, Opéra de la Bastille), musicology and theory courses at the Sorbonne, and Islamic Architecture seminars at Michelet (Université Paris IV). I returned to the states to graduate from Oberlin in May 2007 and the following fall moved to Westchester to attend SUNY-Purchase for my Masters. Composition professor Suzanne Farrin became a mentor to me there; my second year, I wanted to cut my teeth as an arts administrator, and she got me an interview.
Once a week, I boarded the 7:30am Manhattan-bound Metro North train from Port Chester, disembarked at Grand Central, and grabbed the 4 train to Atlantic Ave/Barclays (Brooklyn). I had my cafe au lait at Gorilla Coffee (Park Slope) before an 8 hour work day as administrator for the US chapter of the League of Composers/ISCM and the annual, 4-day Look & Listen Festival. I wrote grants and final reports, designed programs, ran social media, and produced – I even had an intern – for the 2008-2009 concert season (while a full-time grad student). What I found? I was good at it.
Fast forward to 2020: I founded my consultancy Cargo Culture during the pandemic in New York City. I dreamed about it when I was working full-time as an arts administrator at the Upper East Side nonprofit Americas Society, whose music series is centered around Latin American performers and music (with a few Canadians thrown in to complete the hemisphere of the Americas). I didn’t have time, between freelancing and working a 9-5 day job plus 20+ concerts per season, to launch my concept!
So, I worked with a few clients in New York: trombonist David Whitwell to launch his debut solo album “OK Trombone” and a Korean concert pianist to prepare for her next visa application. I convinced a few friends to form an advisory board, which was in name only in the beginning stage and also brought on an undergrad intern from Oberlin and my close friend Jonah Rosenberg as my audio and visual engineer. We interviewed each other for a podcast episode, which I intend to continue as I build out my client base in Baltimore.
I work right now part-time hosting two nights a week at the jazz supper club Keystone Korner, which was founded by jazz luminary (NEA Jazz Master) Todd Barkan in 2019. It’s an incredible environment. On Sunday May 7, we’re hosting Latin jazz legend Arturo Sandoval for two sets.
I moved back to this area on March 1st after over a decade in NYC, so things are a bit fuzzy. The concept of Cargo Culture is solid, but my base of performers is not yet solid. I want to work with dancers, artists, basically anyone who wants to build up their social media presence organically. I believe in truth and authenticity in social media branding. Absolutely no paid content, ever. I hate it. It’s like a salesperson working on commission. That thirst and hunger is counterproductive to the artistic process.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
My life as a performer has given me a specific perspective on so-called “branding” – and authenticity is an overused word of late. Maybe a better term is “truth.” Representing oneself should be a point of pride, whether it be an elevator pitch to a record producer, a business card handed to a potential contact at a venue, or a job interview. Everyone is reconsidering themselves post-pandemic: family, career, art, what have you. I think this is a moment for us all to take a beat. If someone needs a hand in that next step, I could be a resource.
Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I’m a professionally trained flutist. I specialize in contemporary music, with collaborations with dancers, including ballet, modern, and improvisatory styles. I’ve performed at all the halls of Carnegie Hall, art galleries in Brooklyn and Manhattan, small bars, and large churches. I have participated in masterclasses in France and Canada and toured as a chamber musician to Switzerland and China (so far). My debut solo record “Love stories” will feature solo works written for me over the past decade, and several new pieces are in the works by female composers. I intend to incubate these works throughout a two month residency in Iceland next spring and go into the studio in September 2024.
Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
There is a guy in the DC area who teaches a few courses at Juilliard each year on writing about music (from bios to program notes to criticism) and about the disjunct between pop and classical music. He’s married to the former classical music critic of the Washington Post, Anne Midgette, and happens to also be my friend’s uncle! I contacted him years ago when I performed a solo concert in my hometown of Columbia, just for advice on how to publicize and get a bigger audience. I wrote to him as soon as I got back to town this month, and we met (in person!) for coffee. Two hours later, I had a better idea of how my performance style would not fit in the DC area and would be much more at home in Baltimore (click!).
My mentors in NYC tended to be professors from Manhattan School of Music. Nils Vigeland, the former chair of Composition at MSM, was very important to me while I was there, as was Jeff Milarsky, who was the head of the Contemporary Performance Program for my two-year tenure there. He continues to conduct ensembles at Juilliard and teach percussion there, I believe. I feel a bit unmoored here in terms of mentors, but I know that my NYC resources will never fail me. They’re just a phone call or train/bus ride away.
View the interview on the VoyageBaltimore website.
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The minds of Cargo Culture, at work and at play.