Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Resource on Musicians of the African diaspora

(via On an Overgrown Path)

(Update 7/11: This post was quoted in its entirety at On An Overgrown Path, an important UK music blog I’ve admired for months [and from which I got the original idea for this post]. It’s awesome to get some link love from such an established site of the arts blogosphere. Thanks to “Pliable” for the recognition! Most importantly, though, this "re-blogging" will foster broader awareness of musicians who merit more attention - it makes the blogging project so much more meaningful.)

AfriClassical.com is a wonderful resource that presents information on classical composers and musicians of African heritage. It includes men and women from diverse populations around the globe, including Africans, African-Americans, Afro-Latin Americans, and Afro-Europeans. A broad historical range is covered from the 1700s up to the current day.

Many people do not realize the breadth of these contributions to the concert music tradition. It is true we often focus quite heavily on the “Dead White Guys” of the European art music tradition such as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, Mahler, etc. But all through this history non-whites have been composing, conducting, and performing music. Sometimes their art got noticed, many times it did not.

Today it is becoming increasingly important for the concert stage to present and embrace more diverse programming from outside the standardized canon. I’ve felt quite strongly about this since I decided to become a professional musician and am happy to see that performance institutions are evolving towards inclusion of quality musical products from lesser-known composers and musicians. AfriClassical serves as a great introduction to some of these musicians. There are biographies, audio samples, and links to other pertinent sites and information. (As an example, check out an excerpt of the cool performance of Margaret Allison Bonds' "Troubled Water" by William H. Chapman Nyaho,pianist.) For future reference I have put a link to AfriClassical in the right-hand column under the "History-Literature..." link list.

Not least important is the fact that many of these composers wrote great piano music. Over the years I’ve played some terrific pieces by African-American composers George Walker, Duke Ellington, William Grant Still, Scott Joplin, and Hannibal. Even though some of these are household names (like Joplin and Ellington), their solo and ensemble concert music is often unfairly overlooked. (Who knew Ellington wrote a piano concerto?) It is great that AfriClassical is out there to help raise awareness about their repertoire as well as the music of more (unfortunately) obscure black musicians. Many audiences would appreciate more attention paid to it.

4 comments:

JW said...

Terrific post! Thanks for calling attention to this great repertoire, particularly since it's not February.
JMW

Joshua Nemith said...

Thanks for the compliment, JW. It is much better to celebrate this music more "normally" instead of just relegating it to a few token days of appreciation.

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