Composer, Accompanist Reaches Out Through Music
In coordination with the Recognition and Rewards Committee of the ECU Staff Senate, the Pieces of Eight series honoring exceptional ECU staff recognizes Mort Stine.
By Judy Currin
Mort Stine attributes his lifelong interest in music to heredity and good teachers. For 19 years he’s shared his passion and talents with the ECU’s School of Theatre and Dance family.
“I’m grateful to the people who passed music on to me,” said Stine, school accompanist and musical director for theatre production. “I consider it a privilege to pass it on to others.”
It was Stine’s mother, Irene, who brought music into the Wichita Falls, Texas home she shared with her husband, Gordon and their two young sons.
“My earliest memories are of mother playing the piano and singing,” Stine said. “Mother’s five brothers and sisters were also accomplished musicians and vocalists.”
Stine attended the University of Texas at Austin, receiving an undergraduate degree in music theory and composition. He earned a master’s in music education from East Texas State University.
When Stine is not in the classroom accompanying ECU dance students, he’s at the keyboard composing. “Mort has an insightful knack for knowing how to reach audiences through music,” said Patch Clark, associate professor of theatre and director of ECU Storybook Theatre.
“Children leave our performances humming or singing the songs.”
“I work with adjectives when composing, as a means to find the character of what is needed,” Stine said. “And I try to make everything ‘singable,’ even if it’s instrumental music.” He calls this the “cornet solo” approach.
According to Clark, Stine has passed on that gift to his son. In February 2006, 15-year-old Eli, collaborating with Clark and Stine, Sr., composed the music for an original play, “My Hero…Reaching for the Stars.” Eli has been composing since he was 13 years old, using Reason and Sibelius music notation software.
Father and son collaborated and composed music for Storybook Theatre’s November performance of “James and the Giant Peach.” The duo is presently creating an original score for the April 20 premier production of “Runaway Bear,” based on author Chester Freeman’s book.The Belhaven author will be working with Mort and Eli to bring his book to the stage.
As musical director, Stine has teamed up with Director John Shearin, composing music for a number of ECU/Loessin Playhouse productions including “Blood Wedding,” “Lysistrata,” “Yerma,” and “Mother Courage.”
Shearin considers Stine “a walking musical library.
“He’s an amazing resource,” Shearin said.
After writing the lyrics for “Mother Courage,” and casting actors who played trombones and guitars, Shearin asked Stine to compose music for the rather unusual combination of instruments.
“Mort loves to take on adventurous assignments,” Shearin said. “It was wonderfully specific and sardonic.”
While the twosome collaborated on “Blood Wedding,” Shearin wanted Spanish music playing in the background with dancers moving in and out of doorways.
“The only way to pull that off successfully was to do it live,” Shearin said. Night after night Stine positioned himself backstage, playing a synthesizer, while taking his cues from onstage doors opening and closing.
As part of the theatre family, Stine conducted workshops showcasing talents of theatre and dance students. Called “Mort Speaks,” the workshop “not only provided an artistic tour of various musical selections, but was also a captivating experience for the audience,” Clark said.
“‘Mort Speaks’ has been on hiatus,” she said. “Everyone misses it.”
Stine plans to retire this spring.
“The School of Theatre and Dance will have a very difficult time filling the void left by our veteran accompanist, composer, voice and music director, mentor and friend,” Shearin said.