Britain's Got Talent 2015 says "Yes" to The Kanneh-Masons Sextet

August 11, 2015

The Kanneh-Masons is a sextet of classical musicians, all siblings of African descent based in the United Kingdom.  Above is a link to their appearance on the TV show, Britain's Got Talent. 

Adieu Maestro Paul Freeman (1936-2015)

July 24, 2015

Sadness is great in our hearts on the news of the passing of a great champion of classical music. Maestro Paul Freeman was incomparably passionate about mutual intercultural appreciation and inclusion in the classical music industry. He was in a class of his own and exuded vision that will guide future advocates of cultural diversity in repertoire and personnel within modern-day orchestras. We were apprised of this vision 22 years ago when our own African Musical Arts project began and were indeed honored by his magnanimity when he reached out to our founder FredO through one his mentors, Prof Dominique-Rene de Lerma. Obviously, Maestro Freeman vision through his seminal recordings widely reintroduced the works of Nigerian composer Fela Sowande to a much larger audience that otherwise never would have known of African composers of classical music. We know his performance of FredO's "Fanfare for Strings & Timpani" with the Chicago Sinfonietta was instrumental to some of the success his compositions have enjoyed.  The world of classical music has lost a great mind. We mourn with our friends at the Chicago Sinfonietta. Our condolences and prayers to his widow, Cornelia and son, Douglas. Peace to all of you.

"Negro Spirituals"

July 20, 2015

By Christopher Hyde

In the wake of last month’s Charleston, SC, tragedy, there has been a renewed interest in what used to be called Negro Spirituals. The a cappella choir, Vox Nova, sang two of them as encores after its recent concert in Yarmouth, in elaborate arrangements that nevertheless seemed to capture some of the flavor of the originals.

After deciding to write a column on the subject, I was surprised to discover that there is just as much controversy over the songs as there is about other aspects of race relations. There seems to be no consensus about their origin or definition, although most people think that they know one when they hear one. Unfortunately, what most white Americans have heard are adaptations written for public performance, which is not what spirituals are about.

I was fortunate enough as a boy to have heard what I consider to be the real thing, in some small churches of rural Maryland while visiting a friend there. Our parents not being church goers, we would take our bicycles on Sunday morning, ride to one or another of the local African-denomination churches and listen to the singing through the windows, open wide in the Maryland summer heat. We found the music strange but exciting. We were often invited inside but were too frightened or embarrassed to accept. Perhaps that was a good thing, since the presence of strangers might have altered the songs (I didn’t think of them as hymns).

The primary controversy has to do with the origin of the Spiritual form, one major aspect of which is the call-and-response heard in “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” One school maintains that it is entirely African in nature, another that it is an amalgam of African and protestant hymn forms, and a third that it is modeled entirely on Scotch-Irish hymns sung at popular religious revival events (camp meetings) in the 19th-century rural South. The latter view was backed by some purportedly anthropological studies of the 1930s, which analyzed rhythm, meter, harmony and use of the pentatonic (all black keys on the piano) scale in spirituals versus those of camp meeting songs, and found them virtually identical. The same view was advocated by earlier musicologists after Dvorak’s favorable comments on the songs led to international recognition in the early 1900s. It is almost as if the academic community, or at least some parts of it, could not accept the idea of an original Black art form.

Maintaining the exact opposite was musicologist Henry Edward Krehbiel, who, after analyzing 529 songs, wrote in “Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music” (1913) “… while their combination into songs took place in this country, the essential elements came from Africa; in other words… while some of the material is foreign, the product is native; and, if native, then American.” (Krehbiel wrote this study while living in Blue Hill.) The problem with the African origin theory is that Africa is not a single entity. The enslaved were from many different tribes or nations, each with its own musical traditions and forms. The Bantu may sing in parallel fifths, while some nomadic herders have a polyphonic tradition that would put Bach to shame. Still, there may be some universal characteristics in communal singing, and in widely played instruments, such as the banjo and the wooden xylophone, that could have contributed significantly to the form. African drumming is universal, but was forbidden by fearful slave owners because it was a form of communication that they could not understand.

A description of the Spiritual, which comes closest to what my friend and I heard long ago, is that of African-American novelist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) in “The Sanctified Church:” “The jagged harmony is what makes it, and it ceases to be what it was when this is absent. Neither can any group be trained to produce it. Its truth dies under training like flowers under hot water. The harmony of the true spiritual is not regular. The dissonances are important and not to be ironed out by the trained musician. The various parts break in at any old time. Falsetto often takes the place of regular voices for short periods. Keys change. Moreover, each singing of the piece is a new creation. The congregation is bound by no rules. No two times singing is alike, so that we must consider the rendition of a song not a final thing, but as a mood. It will not be the same thing next Sunday. Negro songs to be heard truly must be sung by a group, and a group bent on expression of feelings and not on sound effects.”

Maybe Dvorak was prescient when he said: “I am convinced that the future music of this country must be founded on what are called Negro melodies. These can be the foundation of a serious and original school of composition, to be developed in the United States. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them.” We’re still waiting.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, Maine. For 20 years he was classical music reviewer and columnist (Classical Beat) for the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram. 

Black Dancers, White Ballets, By Laurie A. Woodard: NYT Op-Ed

July 27, 2015

Op-Ed article in New York Times: Professor Laurie Woodard writes of Misty Copeland's rise to Principal Ballerina with American Ballet Theater . Culled from Bill Zick's AfriClassical Blog.

To New Frontiers of Great Music!

July 9, 2015

"Harmony is local, at best regional, meaning that the various neo-African harmonic modes, pentatonism, hexatonism, etc. or the multitudinous Indo-Arabia ragas are just as meaningful as the endearing neo-European harmonic conventions... Thus, we'd like to propose that the universality of music is rooted in its rhythmic language - its heartbeat. No wonder most anthropologists and musicologists are hardly surprised that every rhythmic concept is traceable to Mother Africa..." -Fred Onovwerosuoke, Founder, African Musical Arts.

The Beauty of America...

July 4, 2015

 "The beauty of America is our ability to reinvent ourselves and broaden our artistic and creative horizons... By this we mean that it is great artistic expression when we Americans perform Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc., as it's the case when our singers and musicians perform great choral pieces in African languages, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin styles or other African-derived musical genres... For over 22 years, African Musical Arts has enriched America's cultural landscape through our 2 ensembles, Songs of Africa ( and IMI Chamber Players"  - Fred Onovwerosuoke (Founder, African Musical Arts).

Satan in the Conservatory

June 23, 2015

TUESDAY, JUNE 23, 2015
Satan In The Conservatory
- by Dominique-René de Lerma

My years at Morgan State University (1975-1990) had been a salvation; I was rescued from an intolerable racist and political environment and brought into one where the same musical potentials were present, where being African American could be a source of great pride (Leontyne Price called it "the luxury of being Black"), but only achieved often with victories over sociological disadvantage and philosophical misdirection.   This was in Morgan's first really golden age, before Eric Conway fell heir to the firm foundation established by Nathan Carter, carrying the school to even greater international importance.  It has just been raised to university status when I arrived.  While the college's history included Shirley Graham DuBois,  Eva Jessye,  Lonnie Liston Smith, and Anne Brown, it was the Choir, starting in the 1970s, that shot the school's musical reputation from performances at Baltimore's churches to concerts and recording sessions in London, Copenhagen, Helsinski, and (almost) Leningrad --  why the Soviets cancelled the concerts when we were all ready to be bussed to the event was never explained.

Quite soon I became sensitive to the perestroika between the singers and the instrumentalists -- a division that has not been exceptional at other music schools, where the jazzers are absent from the song recital and the singer has no temptation to give notice to the other world.  This was brought home to be particularly when a bandsman made contrasting reference to the "musicians and singers."  My comment, as kindly as I could express it, was that this instrumentalist would spend all of his life trying to perform as a singer, but might never make it.

Instrumentalists, very much a part of the written tradition, observe that singers usually perform without music (but for choral performances, where the notation has become irrelevant) and often need to be coached in their rhythms as undergraduates, that they learn even more from the oral tradition than their counterparts.

When I studied with Marcel Tabuteau at the Curtis Institute, I was not alone in being introduced to his concept of phrasing, rationally represented by numbers.  Had Tabuteau been more alert to singers, he would have been aware of the natural phrasing that results from the text's rhetoric.  He insisted that all music had an upbeat which, in a text, would be an article, perhaps with an adjective.  When the theory teacher assigns s strong beat to the start of a measure, he might notice this is where the previous harmonic motion has reached a pause, however temporary, with a consonance, but neglect to alert his class to the performance implications; one always moves from dissonance to a resolution, just as articles and adjectives must be followed by a noun.  This can be observed by looking at Beethoven's dynamics.

There is more behind the instrumentalist-singer dichotomy, especially in a Black school.  The singer is found in church on Sunday mornings, while the instrumentalist spends the previous night in the jazz club.  There's the rub.

Morgan was loaded with vocal talent, certainly in equal proportion to that found in the nation's most celebrated schools.  It was from this foundation that Morgan produced such stars from Betty Ridgeway's studio as Kevin Short, Maysa Leak, Kishna Davis...  These were among those whose careers became possible, not only from talent, but from a willingness to study all that the profession demanded -- requisites not even imagined by the naively gifted.   As I told Kishna after she astonished the faculty at her freshman audition with a Puccini aria, her talent was her cross.  There were many others with an extraordinary gift, but who lacked the courage to go the rest of the way, who felt they were ready immediately, right then and there.

Most painful during my stay was an exceptional and true contralto, one whose voice was wonderfully rich, with a thrilling texture.  When she sang Schubert's Der Tod und das Mädchen, so she needed more work with her diction, but the final low bass-clef D was as glorious as anything I had ever heard.  We met in my office, and she expressed a curiosity about Marian Anderson, someone she had only heard about briefly.  I told her Mahler and Brahms were impatient for her, even if she never heard of them.  All this was totally new to her, and there is nothing more exciting than a young person just finding out what a superb career in the arts talent would make possible, if they met the demands.

I left Morgan as she was to enter her second year, urgently called by Samuel Floyd to become director of the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago.  I had little difficulty following the evolution of the careers of Kevin, Maysa, Kishna (check the internet!), and the others who had won my devotion and support, but what of the contralto?  Alas, her church convinced her that Schubert, Mahler, and Brahms wrote the devil's music and, like Mahalia Jackson, she left the poorly identified secular world behind.  She could certainly have continued singing in church, but her ill-informed advisors won with no compromise.  How I would have wished they knew music well enough to realize the godliness of that music which also was so beneficial to the soul!. 

"Satan in the Conservatory" was written by Dominique-Rene de Lerma and  first published in AfriClassical Blog, Bill Zick, Editor.  Your may read more from Dominique-René de Lerma at: 

Dominique-René de Lerma Reviews Peter Henderson's "Twenty Four Studies in African Rhythms"

June 6, 2015

African Musical Arts was thrilled when Peter Henderson's "Twenty-Four Studies in African Rhythms," a new CD published by African Music Publishers Records, was recently reviewed by Dominique-René de Lerma.  Below is the text of the review from de Lerma's website.


African pianism is the concept of employing African rhythm and scales in piano composition.  The idea seems to have been introduced by Akin Euba (1935-) in "Traditional elements as the basis of new African art music," issued in 1970 in African urban notes, v5n4 and has since been adopted by most contemporary African composers and been of influence in the creations of others.  A valuable discussion, with an intensive analysis of Dr. Euba's 1970 Scenes from traditional life (printed in 1975 by the University of Ife Press, an LP recording by pianist Peter Schmallfuss is the only identified recording[!]) appears at, originally issued by the Institute Français de Recherche en Afrique.  A two-volume consideration, Toward an African pianism, edited by Euba and Cynthia Tse Kimberlin, contains relevant articles by Kofi Agawu, Paul Konye, Halim El-Dabh, EdBland, Mike Wright, Justinian Tamusuza, Joshua Uzoigwe, and Bode Omojola and others.  The second volume of this set offers music by El-Dabh, Tamusuza, Eric Moe, Konye, as well as two CDs of works by Euba, J. H. Kwabena Nketia, Uzoigwe, Andres Wheatley, Mark Boozer, Nkeiru Okoye, Amy Rubin, Wallace Cheatham, Gary Nash, and Robert Kwami in performances by Darryl Hollister (but for shipping, this is available for $85 from MRI Press, P. O. Box 70362, Point Richmond CA 94807-0362). 

Now we have a new item, both in print and on CD.  The work of Fred Onovwerosuoke, conductor, administrator, and composer has become quite well known and warmly respected in recent decades.  While working his way through college, among his piano students werethose who wanted less worn-our repertoire.  This was the stimulus for the little gems, written between 1988 and 2009.  These were gathered together as Twenty-four studies in African rhythms and published in two handsome volumes in 2011 by African Music Publishers (3547 Olive Street, Suite 110, St. Louis MO 63103), enhanced by the composer's informative preface (in either volume, he explains the generating idea for each work) with introductory notes by Mark Boozer, Darryl Hollister, William C. Nyaho, Grace Christus, and Wendy Hymes -- all very recognized performers.

One might begin with "Edo," the second etude in the first volume.  The challenge here is to create three levels, almost like different instruments: the bass as ostinato, the upper voice a variant ostinato, with the legato melody in the middle voice. Or "Tunis," (I/IV) with the bass ostinato (3+3+2) and a rhythmically uncomplicated upper voice. Theorists will enjoy identifying the various scales/modes and speculating on the blues-flavored "Iroro" (I/6).  Virtuosic articulation is required (and provided!) in II/13 ("Exhortation").

The publication is dedicated to Peter Henderson (Maryville University), the masterful musician who has recorded the entire set June 20-21, 2011 (AMP Records, AGCD 2504, already announced last month to AfriClassical fans).  He is a remarkable artist, not only managing the intricate polyrhythms, but giving musical life to every nuance and dynamic.  Even without considering the impetus for these two dozen miniatures, this recording should be high on the acquisition agenda of all music libraries, pianists, and record collectors.  He offer proof than this music can be performed by one who is neither Ghanian nor Nigerian.

But the astonishment cannot be fully realized without reference to the printed music, and both should be acquired.  If Dr. Onovwerusuoke wrote these for his pupils, they must have been exceptionally advanced.  If that were not the case, their efforts to become comfortable with the technical and rhythmic challenges must have been the source of great pride -- the works are all reasonably brief and each gives focus to specific factors, so the time invested pays off once the pianist's hands fingers have been acculturated. 

All of the pieces have been printed in traditional notation, wonderfully disguising the complexities.  One, which could have been set in 14/16 meter is offered in 2/4; the pianist is only obligated to be at ease with the septuplets ("Raging river," II/24).  A 9/8 meter hides the additive rhythm-meter of 3+6 ("Mother Earth," II/15).  There remains the simultaneous juxtaposition of dissimilar beat divisions, but this has already been encountered in the hemiolas of Brahms, but never as in the "Herero wedding dance" (I/7).

And Henderson's cadences are musicianly marvels!  We must have more from him!

In the end, a pianist would be liberated from Western traditions, and the audience would become alert to new visions of musical creativity.  Zukunftsmusik?  Might well be.  


For more information on the author, visit:

For the original text of the review follow the source link below.

Source: http://www.