This Black History Month, we’re taking a look at some of the iconic Black composers who feature in our new 2023 & 2024 Piano syllabus.
Whether it’s ragtime, classical or contemporary, these Black artists are pioneers in their respective genres. Let’s dive in!
Scott Joplin: The Entertainer, Grade 3
Scott Joplin is often dubbed the ‘King of Ragtime’ because of his huge influence on the genre. He composed over forty ragtime pieces, including Maple Leaf Rag and, perhaps the most famous ragtime piece of all time, The Entertainer. Written in 1902, this well-loved piece has since become an iconic part of America’s music culture. Indeed, ragtime had an important part to play in laying the foundations for many of the most popular musical genres of the 20th century.
The Entertainer has been reinvented countless times. Our arrangement for Grade 3 makes it accessible to less experienced players without losing the style and captivating spirit of the original.
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Florence Price: Ticklin’ Toes, Grade 4
Way back in 1933, Florence Price became the first African American woman to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra, rewarding years of hard work with a watershed moment.
After displaying considerable musical potential as a child, the young Florence studied piano, organ and composition at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music before becoming head of the music department at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. It was following a later move to Chicago that Price began to flourish as a composer and during this time she composed Ticklin’ Toes, a piece that sits on our Grade 4 Piano syllabus.
You can check out a performance of this endearing piece, played by the very talented Izzy, below.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Impromptu in B Minor, Grade 8
Born in London towards the end of the 19th century, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was soon making a name for himself as a composer of enormous potential.
He is perhaps best known for The Song of Hiawatha, his three cantatas based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem. The first of these was premiered in 1898 when the composer was just 22 years old.
Coleridge-Taylor’s work is still being brought to new audiences across the globe. Only last year, his Symphony in A minor received its Proms premier at London’s Royal Albert Hall, in a performance by the Chineke! Orchestra conducted by Kalena Bovell.
Coleridge-Taylor’s music also lives on in our Grade 8 Piano syllabus, which includes his Impromptu in B Minor.
Valerie Capers: Billie’s Song, Grade 4
Pianist, educator and composer Valerie Capers was born into a musical family. Her pianist father was friends with Fats Waller and her brother Bobby was a saxophonist and flautist with Mongo Santmaria’s African-Cuban band. Capers grew up in New York City and became the first blind graduate of the Juilliard School of Music where she studied composition and performance. After graduating she turned her attention to jazz.
The moving Billie’s Song is Capers’ ode to the great jazz singer Billie Holiday. At Grade 4, this piece may appear simple on the page, but does require a degree of maturity and control to expressively tease out the emotion behind the music.
David Önaç: A Distant Star in the Stillness, Grade 5
David Önaç is a British composer, performer and arranger with a career covering everything from solo performance to teaching composition, arrangement and jazz at the Junior Royal Northern College of Music.
We are thrilled to have one of his original works, A Distant Star in the Stillness, on our Grade 5 Piano syllabus. Packed with rich chords, this piece is a balancing act between ethereal high notes and ominous notes in the lower register.
In this spotlight video, Önaç talks you through how to get the most out of his piece.
We’ll be celebrating Black musicians all this month and beyond, so stay tuned to our social media for further updates.