I grew up in a predominantly White suburban town outside of Winston-Salem, NC. Obviously there weren't many other Black kids playing classical music. Although this racial disparity has become an increasingly popular discussion within the classical community, I never felt like the odd one out when I was growing up.
It wasn't until I entered a conservatory atmosphere in high school that I began to hear how I was different. Sometimes it was the voice of my teachers at competitions telling me that I was "competing against a lot of Asians." Other times it was the voice of audience members after concerts who would come up to ask me what it's like having no role models to emulate. In various ways, society quickly made sure that I knew I was different.
Now that I've gotten older and program my own concerts, the gap in historical prominence placed on White music versus Black music is an unavoidable truth that I regularly face. Consequently, my goal with this “BlackNotes” program is to discover and bring awareness to influential Black music written for piano. It includes some expected styles such as jazz, ragtime, and spirituals; but also features music from more surprising artistic movements, such as minimalism and impressionism.
Contrary to what one may anticipate, BlackNotes will not be confined to solely Black composers. In the melting pot of America, White and Black musicians have all played essential roles in the creation of a new national aesthetic. Both Black musicians in Harlem and White impressionists, such as Ravel, famously influenced the music of George Gershwin. Alvin Singleton is a Black composer living in Atlanta who, along with John Adams and Steve Reich, was at the forefront of minimalism. To make things personal, I will be performing a spiritual of my own arrangement as a reflection on my time as a church musician improvising and arranging new pieces. These are just a few examples of the stories and music you will find inside this program.
BlackNotes is the first program of a projected series in which I will take aim at often-neglected social issues through music, and I am very excited for you to experience it.