Sunday, February 20, 2011 'Ghanaian Concert Pianist Chapman Nyaho Delights Washington DC Audience'

[William Chapman Nyaho]

February 19, 2011
“But where is the broad support for serious black artists?
Franklyn Ayensu
As part of its African-American History Month celebrations in Washington DC, the National Gallery of Art invited the Ghanaian American concert pianist and professor of music William H. Chapman Nyaho to give a piano recital in the East Building Auditorium of the gallery on Wednesday February 16. Titled 'Music of the Diaspora,' the 70-minute midday concert was attended by about a hundred. It was a joy both to hear and to see Chappie, as close friends call him, as well as other Ghanaians who had come to support him, including several childhood friends he has known since his days as a precocious young music student at Achimota School.

“A tall, striking figure in a rich kente waistcoat—or 'vest' in the US—Chappie introduced his audience to a repertoire that, at least in the US and perhaps elsewhere as well, one is not too likely to hear on Classical FM radio, playing little-known gems from seven composers of color: Florence Price, the first African-American concert pianist and composer to reach national recognition; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, in his day sometimes referred to as the 'African Mahler,' the part-Sierra Leonean Creole, part-English composer-conductor who set many of African-American Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poems to music, including Deep River, which Chappie played; Margaret Bonds, a student of Florence Price’s who, at 20, became the first African-American guest soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and went on to open a music school for black children and champion the works of both innovative white and black composers; Fred Onovwerosuoko, a talented Nigerian Ghanaian whose first degrees are actually in electrical and electronic engineering; Bongani Ndodana-Breen, an award-winning South African composer; Jamaican composer Oswald Russell, who was one of Chappie’s piano instructors at the Conservatoire de Musique in Geneva, Switzerland; and Alberto Ginastera, an Argentine who studied and borrowed heavily from music of African origins, especially West African Creole music.

“The pieces were all excellent and performed with both emotion and technical virtuosity. Between them Chappie, who compiled and edited the five-volume anthology Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora (Oxford, 2009), offered insightful introductory capsules. Margaret Bonds Troubled Water, written in 1967 during the civil rights movement, was intense, percussive and explosive. By contrast the second of Oswald Russell’s Jamaican Dances had a lilting beauty that lingered in my mind all day. Others made similar remarks after the concert.

“Fred Onovwerosuoko’s evocative piece Agbadza was sheer fun. Situating the composition within the call-and-response tradition of West African music, Chappie turned to the audience and unpacked the rhythmic structure of the piece into its separate strands, getting us to clap them out. Imagine that—at the National Gallery of Art. Some of our more rhythmically-challenged brothers and sisters—you know which ones I mean—may have been a little out of their depth at this point, but they were all good sports and followed along politely. Then like a master drummer, Chappie reassembled the rhythms back together, revealing the complex polyrhythmic layering of much of our African music. The melody of Agbadza itself sounded somewhat northern Ghanaian to me, reminding me of some of the Fra Fra songs that our own domestic help in Accra, Adombila, used to sing when I was a toddler and he was working. (He was my “main man” back then since my parents were both at work.)

Comment by email:
Hi Bill, Thanks so much for posting it. I had a wonderful time! Wishing you all the best. William Chapman Nyaho

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Now, that's a great article, Nyaho. For me, very tickling to read a reviewer so aptly dissect my Agbadza etude. Steadily but surely, as we all leaven the landscapes of great music. Bravo, my friend, bravo indeed!

FredO, composer