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African Pianism: Twelve Pedagogical Pieces
“African Pianism refers to a style of piano music which derives its characteristic idiom from the procedures of African percussion music as exemplified in bell patterns, drumming, xylophone and mbira music. It may use simple or extended rhythmic motifs or the lyricism of traditional songs and even those of African popular music as the basis of its rhythmic phrases. It is open ended as far as the use of tonal materials is concerned except that it may draw on the modal and cadential characteristics of traditional music.
“Its harmonic idiom may be tonal, atonal, consonant or dissonant in whole or in part, depending on the preferences of the composer, the mood or impressions he wishes to create or how he chooses to reinforce, heighten or soften the jaggedness of successive percussive attacks. In this respect the African composer does not have to tie himself down to any particular school of writing if his primary aim is to explore the potential of African rhythmic and tonal usages.”
Although I have felt the need for this kind of material even in the 1950s, most of the Twelve Pedagogical Pieces in this volume were written when the school of Performing Arts at the University of Ghana was established in the 1960s in order to give the African piano student being nurtured on simplified and original versions of Western piano repertoire something with African rhythmic and tonal flavour that may enrich his experience, shapes his orientation, sense of timing and coordination of rhythmic and tonal events.
As the titles of the pieces indicate, I have used a variety of traditional and popular sources as the basis of the compositions. Each source establishes a framework of rhythmic and tonal configuration from which a few idiomatic derivatives are made and used in the inner and outer structures of the piece in such a way as to create a perpetual feeling of propulsive motion. Each piece is sustained by a particular quality of motion created in this manner.
As in traditional African practice each piece can be repeated once or twice except where a definite closure is indicated by a retard. The pianist can also select a number of them and play them as a suite. A few of them such as the Volta Fantasy and Meditation can stand on their own as concert pieces and have been presented in that manner by both African and Western pianist. It is my hope, there- fore, that some of the pedagogical pieces will be of general interest. – J. H. Kwabena Nketia
Emeritus Prof. J.H. Kwabena Nketia was born on June 22, 1921 at Mampong Asante. He was a composer, ethnomusicologist, and a writer. He had over 200 publications and more than 80 musical compositions to his credit.
He was Acting Principal, Presbyterian Training College, AkropongAkuapem, First African Director, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Professor of Music, University of Ghana, Professor of Music at UCLA, Horatio Appleton Lamb Visiting Professor at Harvard University, Visiting Cornell Professor at Swarthmore College, Distinguished Hannah Professor of Integrative Studies at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Visiting Professor at the University of Brisbane in Australia, Visiting Professor at the China Conservatory of Music, Beijing, Andrew Mellon Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh, and Langston Hughes Professor at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
He was the Chancellor, Akrofi-Christallor Institute of Theology, Mission and Culture, Akropong-Akuapem, a Foundation Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts & Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain, and Ireland, Honorary Member of the International Music Council (IMC-UNESCO), Honorary Fellow Of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, Honorary Member of the Pan-African Writers Association (PAWA), Member of the International Jury for the Proclamation by UNESCO of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and Board Member of the National Commission on Culture, Republic of Ghana.
His numerous Awards included Cowell Award of the African Music Society, Companion of the Order of Star of Ghana, Grand Medal of the Government of Ghana (Civil Division), Ghana Book Award, ECRAG Special Honour Award (1987), Ghana Gospel Music Special Award (2003), ACRAG Flagstar Award (1993), ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for his book on the Music of Africa, IMC-UNESCO Music Prize for Distinguished Service to Music, Prince Claus 1997 Award for Distinguished Service to Culture & Development, the Year 2000 Distinguished Africanist Award of the African Studies Association of the USA for Life-long Devotion to African Studies, and DLitt(Honoris Causa) of the University of Ghana.
He passed away in 2019.