Teaching music has a way of making us remember many of our own first musical milestones and the composers who helped us reach those pivotal moments. Can you remember your first recital piece? Really, try to think about it! My first recital piece was Minuet in G Major Anh. 116 from the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook. It's amazing to think that nearly 30 years ago I can still remember the scratchy dress I wore for the recital, the feeling of nerves and excitement as I walked up to the piano at a local church that my teacher belonged to, and the thrilling feeling of accomplishment when I heard the audience's applause as I took my bow.
Long after I had mastered this minuet, I still always wanted to play this particular piece for my family and friends. I soon began to request to play Bach every year as part of my musical training. Bach was part of the first competition I ever won. Bach was part of my high school graduation recital. Bach was part of wedding and funeral ceremonies I performed at for my family. Bach was part of every audition program for my bachelor's, master's and DMA degrees. I was happy to learn that one lifetime would not be enough to learn or begin to master all that Bach contributed to our field in music. But, what if my first recital piece was not a minuet from the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook? What if the music in this pivotal moment in my life was composed by Ignatius Sancho, Francis Johnson or Florence Price? As I began teaching, I started looking back at many of these first musical moments in my education, and I started asking a lot of "What Ifs." What if from the earliest age of music education I realized that a single lifetime would not be enough to learn or master all the contributions of Black composers in classical music? What if I had expected and even requested to learn music by Black composers at each milestone in my musical journey? What if intentional inclusion of Black composers at every level of music education, including pedagogy, programming, competitions and college auditions, could shift understanding, appreciation and perspectives in classical music?
Inclusion in Pedagogy
Incorporating music by Black composers in our teaching literature can provide unique pedagogical benefits for our students. Three collections I particularly love to use every year in my studio are 12 Country Dances for the Year 1779, by Ignatius Sancho; Portraits in Jazz, by Valerie Capers; and 10 Short Essays by Ulysses Kay. In these three sets alone, students can explore more than 30 pieces at various levels and styles that create imaginative opportunities for them to develop their musical and technical abilities at the piano. The Frances Clark Center also published an online course titled, 20 Pieces by Black Composers for All Skills Levels, which provides a deep dive into other wonderful piano works by Black composers and how the music can...