Review of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora, Vol. 1

When William Nyaho was the guest artist at our state music teachers conference several years ago I was thoroughly impressed with his personable and engaging style as both a performer and a teacher. His performance of numerous styles of music was fabulous, but when he played the second of the set of Three Jamaican Dances for his encore, it was breath-taking! The sound was simple, yet elegant, and his exquisite touch made the piano sing in a way I have rarely heard. I bought the CD recording, Senku, that night, but I have always wanted to acquire the sheet music for the piece. You can imagine how thrilled I was when I heard of the new series of books just published by Oxford University Press: Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora. Although Jamaican Dance No 2 won’t be published until the 3rd volume, I was eager to try out the first two volumes of this new collection. Here is my review of the first volume.

The layout of the book is spacious and easy to read. Volume 1 is classified as early intermediate and includes at the beginning of the book a brief biographical sketch of each of the contributing composers as well as a short paragraph of performance notes for each piece. As one would imagine, a strong rhythmic background is essential in order to play the pieces accurately. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of styles and moods captured in the different pieces. I jotted down a few thoughts as I played through each piece:

1. Kwela No. 1capturing a lilting 6/8 feel, this piece employs the use of 2-note slurs throughout and subtle syncopation is scattered within the B section in particluar.

2. Tender Thought
a simple sounding counter-melody makes this piece sound almost like a duet between the hands with interesting harmonies richly woven into it.

3. My Scarf Is Yellowa particularly tricky rhythmic structure and the effective use of many rests in this piece make it challenging, but fun to conquer!

4. Duskchanging time signatures throughout this piece in e-flat minor contribute to the ethereal quality it conveys.

5. Piano Piece No. 2, Call and Response
changing key signatures and a brief chordal section add color to this piece and the melodic line lends itself to some interesting fingering challenges.

6. Soufianethe left hand is made up entirely of harmonic 2nds and 4ths, making for an excessively dissonant piece.

7. Off-Beat Shortythis short peppy piece is made up of a syncopated rhythmic motif in cut time.

8. Ticklin’ Toesa variety of ideas are employed in this fun melodic ragtime piece, reminiscent of early Americana – this was one of my favorites!

9. Sweet Mister Jelly Rollanother fun, and almost humorous, ragtime piece.

10. Dancing Barefoot in the Rainvisual imagery of the title is probably key to understanding this otherwise fairly non-melodic piece with numerous changes of time signature.

11. Lullabya fairly complex structure could easily obscure the sweet melodic sound of this piece if careful attention is not given to voicing.

12. The Monk
one of the most challenging pieces rhythmically, this piece, when played precisely, portrays a mature musical sound.

13. Lullabyseveral hints of polyphony are scattered throughout the structure of this piece and the parallel fourths add a touch of Oriental harmony.

14. Builsa Work Song
a course, but rich sound marks this piece that is labeled forte throughout.

15. Ufie IIIdesigned to convey the sound of Ufie – a generic large wooden slit drum – this piece lacks much melodic content, but is fast and driving.

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