Dedication, talent key to violinist's success

Dedication, talent key to violinist's success

April 26th, 2011 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment


• Name: Jonathan Martinez.

• Age: 12.

• School: Seventh-grader at Hixson Middle.

• Favorite subjects: Math and science.

• Least favorite subject: Geography.

• Musical hero: His private instructor, Mark Reneau.

• Favorite piece to perform: The "Summer" movement of Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons."

• Other activities: Junior Beta Club and student council.


After two years of study, Jonathan Martinez was placed as the principal second violinist of the Youth Philharmonic, the second-highest level of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera's Youth Orchestra program. He also serves as concertmaster of his school orchestra and has played first violin in the most-advanced level of the Lower East Tennessee Junior Clinic for the last two years.


Do you know a child age 13 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at or call him at 423-757-6205.

Tomaso Albinoni. Felix Mendelssohn. Franz Liszt. Antonio Vivaldi.

Like most preteens, Jonathan Martinez has an iPod full of pop music. The difference is his tunes were popular centuries ago.

Jonathan, 12, said he has been obsessed with classical music since fourth grade, when he heard the Hixson Elementary School orchestra perform.

In fifth grade, Jonathan took up the violin himself and started absorbing every classical composition he could find.

"[My friends] tease me about it sometimes, but they have to get used to it," he said. "I'll usually say, 'What I like is what I like. It doesn't matter.'"

Last year, seven months after he first took up a bow, Jonathan was accepted, without a formal audition, into the Etude Orchestra, the entry level of the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera Youth Orchestra program.

This year, he graduated to the Youth Philharmonic, the second-highest level in CSO's program, where he serves as principal second violinist. In his school orchestra, he has served as concertmaster for two years.

Youth Philharmonic conductor Sandy Morris said that she has been impressed by Jonathan since meeting him at a string camp on Signal Mountain last summer. With two-plus years experience, he is already performing at a high school level, she said.

"If he continues, he'll be able to accomplish great things on the violin," Morris said. "If he's already advanced to this level of technical and artistic ability at the ripe old age of 13, you can only imagine auditioning for colleges in five years."

Jonathan said music is central to his future plans. Some day, he said he would like to follow in the footsteps of Mark Reneau, his private instructor, and play with a professional symphony.

Reneau has performed as the concert master of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra for more than a decade. Even after a few months of instruction, he said he is confident Jonathan can go as far as he wants.

"Given what I've seen thus far and the way he is willing to work, I would say he has a very good chance of being a professional," Reneau said.

Although Jonathan's teachers describe him as innately talented, he said he prefers to think determination has been the key to his success.

"I don't believe in the term 'natural talent' because whatever you do, it takes hard work and dedication," he said. "If you don't have that, it's not going to be good, no matter what you do. I believe in the term 'hard work.'"

That commitment to his music is an effective motivator. Jonathan practices an average of 30 hours weekly.

His mother, Siouly Martinez, said she and Jonathan's father, Oscar Martinez, often have to pry the instrument out of his hand.

"We don't have to tell him to practice, but sometimes, we do have to tell him to take a break," she said, laughing. "The harder the piece, the more he wants to do it."