Southwest Tennessee Community College

September 15, 2004

Contact: Kimberly Stark (901) 333-4023


He just started “really taking lessons” in January of this year. Less than seven months later, Southwest piano student Burke Martin won a spot in the Mid-South Fair Senior Youth Talent Competition.

“He showed up in my office during Spring 2004 registration needing a one-credit course,” said Southwest music professor Dr. Steven Katz. “He thought piano would be good because he could already play a little. Katz asked Martin to show what he could do; Martin played bits of several pieces. “He couldn’t play anything all the way through,” said Katz. “But his touch and interpretation were fantastic. And I frankly envy him his hands – he stretches a full octave, plus two keys. I believe, even though he waited until he was 20 to get started, that he will be magnificently successful if he continues to work as he is doing now.”

In July, Katz suggested Burke enter the Mid-South Fair competition. It was late; most of the qualifying competitions were over. He barely made the entry deadline for the Women’s Progressive Club Talent Contest in Wynne, Arkansas, which bills itself as the “largest talent contest in the world.” Burke won first place over all, and first place for piano. And that won him a slot in the senior level competition at the fair.

Burke grew up with music. His dad was a baritone with the Memphis Symphony chorus and his mom is a fine clarinetist. He gravitated naturally to the piano, and taught himself to play the kind of music that surrounded him. But when he began formal lessons, “My teacher wanted me to start in Thompson’s [primary level] Red Book. So I quit,” said Burke. He went on to quit a lot of things, including studying in high school. He drifted through, barely graduating, and was working in a bowling alley when he drifted into Southwest.

Burke says he has learned a lot more than piano at Southwest. “I am focused and career oriented. Dr. Katz has been a mentor as much as a piano teacher. I feel I have a directed life now, where I simply was going nowhere before.”

The first phase of the Mid-South Fair senior level competition will be at 2 p.m. September 30. If Burke qualifies for the semi-finals, he will play at 10 a.m. October 1. Finals are at 7 p.m. Saturday, October 2.