March 1, 2011
By Julie Summers Walker
Girls who play the piano are supposed to be calm and demure, right? Aerobatic pilots are supposed to be tough and macho, right? Anyone who jumps out of a perfectly good airplane isn’t sane, right?
Cast all of your antiquated notions aside and meet Joanna Pearce Martin, the principal keyboardist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, skydiver, aerobatic pilot, BASE jumper, and owner of an FFA AS/202 Bravo. This is not your average piano player.
“I have been unofficially taking the stick my whole life,” says Pearce Martin of her flying life. She is the daughter of Wright Brothers Master Pilot award winner (May 2010) Robert Pearce of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, who gave his daughter her first aircraft ride “in the womb.” The Bonanza he flew for work is still in the family.
Pearce Martin and her husband, Gavin Martin (also a keyboardist), own the Swiss-made Bravo, a two-place aerobatic airplane, which always gets attention on the ramp—as well as the usual, “Where’s the pilot?” when she deplanes. “I got my ticket first,” the 600-hour pilot laughs. Recently the couple completed a BASE cliff jump from the 3,000-foot-high Angel Falls in Venezuela.
Pearce Martin played her first concert at age 6 and at age 12 won the Philadelphia Orchestra Student Competition. She attended the Curtis Institute of Music on scholarship. In 1990, she joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic where she plays the piano, harpsichord, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ. Her role at the Philharmonic is unusual, because most concert halls do not have full-time pianists. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “extraordinary” and possessing “unusual fervor and fluency,” she has been known to play the concert hall—in her bare feet.
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.
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