Review: “Spotlight on Repertoire by Black Composers”

December 18, 2020
By Michaela Overall, piano faculty and Faculty Council Member-at-large

At a recent Piano Department seminar on December 11, “Spotlight on Repertoire by Black Composers,” Jennifer Peringer and Jon Jang presented a remarkable presentation on the contribution of Black composers within the classical canon. Peringer and Jang not only acknowledged the existence of Black classical composers, but the unique compositional voice of each writer.

For Peringer, her research into Black composers was inspired by the recent murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020. As conversations around dismantling racism have emerged, Peringer considered her role as a “classical pianist in helping to transform the institutional racism and sexism within the classical music world.” With brief performances of works by Zenobia Powell Perry, Tania León, and Erollyn Wallen, Peringer presented a variety of pieces that are suitable for both piano student and performer.

For Jang, his awareness and appreciation of Black composers reaches back into the 1970s during his time at Oberlin College. While studying music, Jang was mentored by Dr. Wendell Logan who taught the course Afro-American Music History. For Jang, this was “one of the most inspiring courses” taken at Oberlin. He would later compose an orchestral piece honoring the Chinese railroad workers who lost their lives while building the Transcontinental Railroad, a moment in Chinese American history that serves as a cultural connection for Jang. Black composers such as William Grant Still, Nathaniel Dett, Margaret Bonds, and Florence Price were discussed while Jang explored their various influences and compositional techniques such as Serialism, African rhythms and instrumentation, spirituals, and the blues. In addition to the spotlight on Black Composers, Jang acknowledged contemporary Black concert pianists such as Samanth Ege and Michelle Cann.

For more information, explore the growing list of works by Black composers compiled by the Ross McKee Foundation or visit the Music by Black Composers Directory. Jon Jang also compiled a list of resources for further study, which he used in his presentation.