Natalie Groom on Producing for Tonya Burton's "Reger Three Suites"

I like to say if you find someone you can make music with, be friends with, and do business with, you need to hold on to that person forever. Tonya Burton is one of those remarkable people. Having been a musical collaborator and friend of Tonya’s for a while, this year I had the pleasure of hearing her work from a producer’s perspective during recording sessions of her debut album: Reger Three Suites for solo viola.

Tonya and I met in 2019 while we were doctoral students at the University of Maryland, College Park. I was preparing a clarinet recital and needed a violist collaborator; Tonya was new to UMCP and came highly recommended by another good friend and violist. She was on board with my mission to program music by women composers, and that concert is what brought us together. We performed Prelude, Allegro, and Pastorale by Rebecca Clarke and Shades of Violet by Jenni Brandon. I remember our performance of the Clarke vividly because it’s a very intimate and introspective piece; Tonya treated it incredibly sensitively, and I heard this same musical thoughtfulness reappear two years later in her Reger recording sessions.

We started gigging together and eventually became the Natonya Duo. Standing to her left through many rehearsals and performances, I learned her sound concept and saw the unique individuality she brought to each piece, so I was delighted to work with her on the producer side this past spring during her recording project. Having known her playing well and having already developed a clear picture in my mind of the “Tonya sound,” I felt comfortable and equipped to help shape the artistic product (along with recording engineer/producer Neil Brown and producer Syneva Colle). It was a pleasure to just sit back and listen to the lovely music she made.

Tonya displays emotionality and attentiveness in her interpretation of Max Reger’s three solo viola suites. In particular, I find myself gravitating toward the first suite, movement three. It’s a beautiful melody. I hear the warm richness of the opening statement, which feels kind and welcoming, and it’s contrasted with a second character that sounds like gentle hesitation. Tonya creates a very effective musical dialogue that evokes an actual conversation. This movement is wonderfully expressive and varied, and it speaks to the depth and breadth of Tonya’s creative interpretation and inner personality. Beyond the aural soundscape, the visuals she selected for the album artwork reinforce many of the musical atmospheres she captures in the performance as well. 

It brings me so much joy to see Tonya’s hard work and artistry come to fruition like this, from both the perspective of a producer and a friend. It’s just one more accomplishment we can add to the list of things to celebrate together!

-Natalie Groom


Tonya's New Album: