‘Marshall Arts’: The Marshall family excels in all things creative
In most families, every member has their “thing.”
There’s the athlete, the academic, the comedian.
But in the case of John Marshall and Lynne Feller-Marshall, and their children James Marshall and Jeanne Marshall, each member of the family falls under the umbrella of the creative.
John, Lynne and James are members of the Spokane Symphony, and Jeanne is a master of nearly every artistic medium out there.
There’s an extra layer of support among the Marshall family, as each person knows firsthand just how much goes into life as a musician or artist.
John, who grew up in Illinois and Michigan, started playing cello when he was 6.
“My mom’s a cellist, so I just thought everybody’s mom played cello,” he said. “My dad played trombone and was a band director, but I just didn’t go that route.”
Lynne, who grew up in upstate New York, had a different experience. She got the art gene from her mother and didn’t start playing music until she was older.
Lynne recalls trying a variety of instruments, none of which worked out. She wanted to play cello, but her school didn’t have an orchestra, so she went for the bassoon, inspired in a way by her grandfather’s love of the instrument.
“We watched Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, and he would always point it out whenever there was a close up on a bassoon,” she said. “I was little, probably 4, 5, 6.”
John received degrees from Indiana, Yale and Northwestern universities and is the director of orchestra and professor of cello at Eastern Washington University.
Lynne received a bachelor of music education from the Crane School of Music and a master of music and a doctor of musical arts from the Juilliard School.
She teaches bassoon at Eastern, Whitworth University and privately.
Lynne, who was “dying to get out of New York City,” moved to Spokane in the early ’90s to play third bassoon in the symphony.
In 1994, when the then-principal bassoonist retired, he moved into the third bassoon seat. Lynne auditioned for his role and has been principal bassoonist ever since.
“I think it’s the only case I’ve ever heard of people in the same section essentially reversing positions,” she said.
John came to Spokane in 1994 for the principal cellist position, which was tied in with Eastern and allows him to perform and teach.
The pair met at a Moody Blues concert at the Gorge Amphitheatre.
As John and Lynne tell it, James was interested in music when he was still in the womb.
“It felt like he was doing somersaults,” Lynne said. “He could detect middle to high range really well so I remember the high soprano solo in the opera ‘Carmen.’ I literally had to stop playing because he moved that much. I was like ‘Whoa!’ ”
James was about 4 when he began to play the violin.
Well, sort of.
“I started out on a Cracker Jack box with a ruler taped to it,” James said. “That’s what I was on probably for the first year or so. If I dropped it, it was just a Cracker Jack box.”
Even still, he started so early that he learned to hold a violin bow before he learned to hold a pencil and now holds pens and pencils with a bow grip.
About a year later, he added piano to his repertoire.
It wasn’t until about seven years ago, when James, now 20, picked up the viola.
Before heading to Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, where John teaches and James and Jeanne have attended for years, James learned they were short on violas and decided to give it a try.
James rented a viola from a local shop and spent the next six weeks at camp learning to read a new clef. By the end of camp, he realized he liked viola a lot more than violin.
He played both for awhile, but viola has since become his primary instrument, though he still plays violin from time to time, like for Gonzaga Prep’s recent production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
He also has a small studio of violin students.
James began his career with the symphony as a substitute in 2016 before winning a full position in 2018 in a blind audition.
“I think this is the first time there’s been parents and a son or daughter since probably back in the ’80s,” John said.
James recently completed his bachelor’s of music at Eastern and has participated in several music festivals, including Red Rocks Music Festival in Phoenix, Marrowstone Music Festival in Bellingham, Baroque Performance Institute in Oberlin, Ohio and MusicFest Northwest.
He has auditioned for graduate programs back East, and should hear about his status in early April. He doesn’t plan to leave his position with the Spokane Symphony.
“I had a 10-minute audition to convince the faculty at the schools that I was good enough to go and then that I deserve lots of scholarships,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve earned this job here and (the professors) seem supportive of me being able to come back for at least most of the Classics.”
“Mom would love it if James could work out a good flight plan so he can still come back and play Classics,” Lynne added. “And we’d love to see you.”
Without a doubt, Jeanne, 17, inherited her mother and grandmother’s art gene. She played piano and cello when she was younger, but she’s always been more interested in visual arts.
About three years ago, Jeanne created a dragon puppet named Garth, which is jet black with yellow eyes that can glow red and sharp teeth. In the fall, she hopes to begin work on a light-colored dragon puppet to go with Garth.
Jeanne also works with textiles, sews and does needle felting, does leather and metal work, draws, crafts ceramic pieces and makes enamel pins, including one in the likeness of a family goat.
“Is there really anything that you don’t do?” Lynne asked Jeanne.
“I guess blowing glass,” Jeanne said after thinking for a moment.
It sounds like a funny answer, but it’s accurate.
When she was about 9 years old, Jeanne created a poster for a concert her parents were playing at Eastern, sketching something out based on a suggestion.
“You just sketched it out and you were like ‘Do you mean like this?’ ” Lynne said. “The guy liked it so much, he just kept her sketch. He was like ‘Can you color it in a little bit for me?’ That poster is still hanging up at Eastern.”
Recently, Jeanne won first place in the ESD Art Show, and her work will soon be displayed in Olympia.
After finishing high school and Running Start at Eastern, Jeanne hopes to study visual art.
The musical Marshalls don’t often rehearse together at home, save for when they’re working on a duet.
Once in awhile, they’ll run solos by each other or listen to a new piece at the same time with their sheet music in front of them, but their parts are usually independent enough that it doesn’t make sense to rehearse as a duo or trio.
“I remember some students way back from Eastern, they had this image that every night we were at home playing ‘Kumbaya’,” John said. “It is our profession. It’s our craft, so we all have to be working on honing our own independent skills. Then here when we all arrive at the Fox, that’s when we all put it together.”
Seeing James onstage the first few times he performed with the symphony, first as a sub then as a regular member, was an odd experience for Lynne, who can see both James and John from where she sits.
But they’re all aware that when they’re on stage, it’s not time to catch up with one another.
“Our rehearsals are two and a half hours long, and you have a lot to get done in that amount of time,” John said. “While it’s family up there, we’re up there for business.”
Each member of the Marshall family couldn’t be happier to see the others flourish in their respective fields.
James, Lynne and John were eager to show pictures of Jeanne’s work, and John and Lynne, as parents do, had no trouble praising the accomplishments of James and Jeanne.
“I’ll say, with the two kids, at least from my perspective, they seem to really respect each other’s strengths in their different disciplines and respect the work of each other, the time and energy involved in what each other does,” John said.
“I remember overhearing (James) once tell somebody at Interlochen about what (his) sister had been doing,” Lynne added. “Then I remember overhearing (Jeanne) telling somebody else ‘Oh yeah, the really tall violist. That’s my brother.’ ”
In short, they’re truly each other’s biggest fans.
“You’re no longer ‘the Musical Marshalls,’ ” Alison Highberger, Spokane Symphony public relations manager, said, referring to a nickname for John, Lynne and James with the inclusion of artistic Jeanne.
“Now we’re ‘the Marshall Arts’,” Lynne replied from the stage.