Piano festival at Fredonia to recognize underrepresented composers

Roger Coda
William Chapman Nyaho and Robert Jordan

William Chapman Nyaho (left) and the late Professor Emeritus Robert Jordan.

A series of virtual experiences celebrating the lives and works of underrepresented composers will be showcased at the Fredonia School of Music’s second annual Robert Jordan Piano Festival during April.

Named in the memory of Professor Emeritus Robert Jordan, who taught at the School of Music from 1980 to 2004, the festival will feature solo and collaborative piano music written by diverse/underrepresented composers, including women, African Americans and members of the LGTBQ community.

All festival events will be virtual and free to the public, but online registration is required to receive Zoom links.

Nina Simone, a singer, songwriter, musical arranger and civil rights activist whose music spanned a broad range of styles – classical, jazz, folk, R&B, gospel and pop – said in a famous interview that the role of the artist is “to reflect the times we are living in,” said School of Music Assistant Professor Eliran Avni.

“How can we, as classical musicians, reflect 2020-21 if we don't play the music of those who have been left out and discriminated against? As classical musicians today, we have a responsibility to make more conscious choices about the repertoire we play, repertoire that reflects the fight for inclusion and basic human rights,” Dr. Avni commented.

“In doing so, we start to become part of the solution, instead of remaining part of the problem. The classical music pantheon has to evolve to include these forgotten voices. This festival is a tiny little step in that direction." Avni said.

Special guest William Chapman Nyaho will be featured in the festival’s first session, “In and Out of Africa: Exploring Piano Music of Africa and its Diaspora,” on Monday, April 12, at 7 p.m. Dr. Nyaho, who teaches at Pacific Lutheran University, will discuss the diversity of styles of piano music, the influences of traditional musical forms, such as dance, jazz and blues, as well as Western European compositional practices on compositions in Africa and African diaspora.

School of Music Professor Fr. Sean Duggan considers Nyaho, who he knew when both were living in Louisiana, to be a wonderful pianist and musician who has been doing the musical world a great service by bringing together wonderful piano compositions by various underrepresented composers.

“His excellent five-volume anthology published by Oxford University Press, ‘Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora,’ is going to be a featured part of his presentation in our festival," said Fr. Duggan, coordinator of the Piano Area. He is excited to have Nyaho as part of the festival.

Fredonia students, faculty and special guests will present a piece of their own choosing by an underrepresented composer that they are passionate about, with the goal of introducing a new repertoire to a wider audience, on Saturday, April 17, at 7 p.m. All presentations will be uploaded onto the School of Music’s YouTube library so they can be shared with the public.

Members of Fredonia’s Piano Area will present the festival’s Celebration Concert, a live streamed performance featuring music by underrepresented composers, on Thursday, April 22, at 8 p.m.

The Piano Area set out this semester to explore what it considers to be a vast and inspiring body of work written by these composers and find ways to make it more widely known among pianists and audiences alike. That exploration led to the creation through the Fredonia College Foundation of the Heid Fund, dedicated to purchasing scores and promoting performances of music by underrepresented composers and creating a special collection of these works in Fredonia’s Reed Library. A database of these works is being compiled to help students explore this repertoire.

Organizers of the festival say the past year has shown there is still much more to be done in terms of creating balance and equality in the canon of classical music.

The festival has received generous support from The Robert Jordan Piano Scholarship and Distinguished Lectureship Endowment established through the Fredonia College Foundation.


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