From playing baritone in the Mt. Pleasant Jr. High band (above), to playing tuba and singing baritone in the chorus at Iowa City High, to becoming a low-brass music major at the University of Iowa (below), music and the arts played an important role in my earliest years. In truth, it’s my love of music and the arts that drove many of my earliest life decisions.
For more about my interest in music and the arts in high school & college – click here.
According to my parents – George & Dixie Boller – who were music-lovers their whole lives – my interest in the arts goes back to my earliest years in elementary school. When I was six and in kindergarten (1956-1957) – my drawing of a fire truck was chosen to hang in the front window of Wayland’s general store.
And apparently, my interest in song-writing might be traced back to some poetry (above) I composed when I was in 4th grade in Mt. Pleasant.
Once in high school, many of my friends were being impacted by rock-n-roll artists like Elvis, the Stones, and the Beatles. While I enjoyed listening to their tunes, my musical preferences were much more influenced by amazing musicians like Iowa’s very own – Meredith Willson, composer/arranger Henry Mancini, and musical pop icons like Herb Alpert, Richard & Karen Carpenter, and the award-winning songwriting team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
During my high school and college years, I’d bang out tunes on the piano, putting together a pretty neat collection of pop-songs (above). One summer, I submitted a couple of my tunes to Herb Alpert at A&M Records, but alas, my love songs didn’t make the cut.
As it is with most young people, falling in love from a distance was common for me during my high school and college career. One beautiful young lady named Carol, who lived at 301 River Street, caught my attention at City High and as you can see below, my feelings were conveyed through music and words. Thanks, Carol, for the inspiration!
(L-0025) (M-0085) During my college years, while I was a low-brass major with tuba being my main instrument, my heart was really set on composing and arranging. Our UI band director, Dr. Tom Davis, was one of the most creative music arrangers I’ve ever known, and with his encouragement, I put together a few charts for the Hawkeye Marching Band (see above) which we performed during my senior year.
In the summer of ’72, I attended a ten-day music arranging workshop in Las Vegas where I had the chance to learn from some of Hollywood’s best composers/arrangers including Billy May, who had worked with numerous big bands throughout his career. What an amazing time.
Click here to listen to Marty’s Senior Tuba Recital – December 17, 1972
In preparation for my senior recital, I asked my music advisor for permission to change up my program, closing with my big jazz band arrangement of Burt Bacharach tunes. It was highly unusual for this to happen, but I was so glad that I was able to cut a couple of tuba solos and replace them with my Bacharach Suite. I think both the audience, and my musical friends (above) preferred it as well!
Back at City High, during my senior year (1968-1969) I got up enough nerve to try out for our high school’s version of one of my favorite Broadway musicals – Camelot. Much to my surprise, the director liked my tryout, giving me one of the lead roles – King Pellinore (see above-middle). That led to other successes on stage – playing one of the key roles in Pygmalion (the non-musical rendition of My Fair Lady), and co-hosting the Annual City High Talent Show – Cabaret in 6/9 Time with Rinde Eckert – who later went on to become a well-known stage actor in San Francisco!
During my high school and college years, I not only focused on music and drama, but also did a bit of sketching and cartooning as well. Here are some of my Art By Mart sketches. Not bad for a guy who never took art lessons but loved doodling instead of paying attention in class! Above is my sketch of my high school – Iowa City High, and that’s me in my office/bedroom/music & art studio!
Inspired by the amazing engravings found on U.S. currency and postage stamps, I chose famous historic buildings for my sketches. At one point, I seriously considered a career in architecture, but when I found out that this would mean going to college at Iowa State – there was no way in the world you’d find a Hawkeye like me moving to Ames!
Over the years our Boller family Christmas cards featured a few Art by Mart sketches. Click here to read more.
Once out of college, I went on to become a junior high band director, working in the Chicago area. That’s when I met the real musician in my life: Sandy Unrue. Read more here.
In the 80’s, while busy with other life pursuits, I still found time to participate with the HMB Alumni Band at Homecoming in Iowa City.
Our involvement with the Vineyard Churches and their unique style of worship music brought Sandy and me plenty of opportunities to sing and play on church worship teams. In the process of leading worship, I began songwriting once again, and in 1993, Sandy and I teamed up to make a little cassette tape called One Desire (see above). It was made up of worship songs we had written, and if you’re lucky, there still might be a few unsold copies of that ‘classic’ floating around the family tree! Keep in mind that it’s David Boller who is worshiping on that cassette cover, and the best cut on the album (#4) is our tune covered by that amazing 13-year-old vocalist, Debbie Boller.
Over the years, our four kids all fell in love with the music in our Vineyard churches and as it ended up, the entire Boller family started making music together. Some of our friends called us the Von Boller family – a take-off of the Von Trapp family from Sound of Music. In truth, Sandy and I have been so blessed to see each of our kids, and now, our grand kids, becoming talented artisans in their own right. Read more here.
For more about my songwriting & worship leading in Cedar Rapids – click here.
Over the last two decades, my artistic interests have transitioned from making music into creative writing. As part of our pastoral work, I produced two ministry-oriented books, The Perfected Self (2002), and the popular overview of the Vineyard’s founding pastor, John Wimber – The Wisdom of Wimber – As I See It (2014). In 2010, we also started a blog series entitled As I See It, (below) which brought Jesus’ Kingdom message of love and grace to countless others during its successful ten-year run (2010-2020). You can still access many of our writings here…
Read more about our 30-year ministry stint in Cedar Rapids here.
In the true spirit of the arts – Enjoy our Christmastime short story: The Christmas Eve Santa Came To Iowa.
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