ELIZABETHTOWN – Pianist Donald Allen Lee III's upcoming Piano by Nature concert, “Adaptations,” is the perfect segue from Black History Month to Women's History Month.
The free, virtual 7 p.m. March 13 program includes Johann Sebastian Bach “Prelude and Fugue in C Major, Book 2” and Franz Liszt “Ballade No. 2,” as well as Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson “Toccata;” (Margaret Bonds “Troubled Water”) TBA; Regina Harris Baiocchi “Azuretta," “Listen, My Husband is not a Hat!;” and Florence Price “Sonata in E Minor.”
LAYERS & LAYERS
Lee's program title, “Adaptations,” means many things.
“How the music that I'm playing came to be whether it be how different musical styles are adapted to different eras in history,” Lee, an assistant professor of piano at Kentucky State University, said.
“You know with the 'Toccata' by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, the toccata is an ancient form from the Baroque era. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson infuses that with Black American idioms that come straight from the genre of jazz.”
Liszt adapted a Greek myth into a musical art form.
“Just in general, the idea of what we do with what we've been given, what we do with what we have, just how things change over time and the different things we can create from what has already has been given to us from previous generations,” Lee said.
“That's kind of my mindset with this. For me, this is the start of something much bigger.”
ENTREE TO EXCELLENCE
There was a point in time when Lee hadn't heard of Bonds (1913-1972), Price (1887-1953) or Perkinson (1932-2004).
“Even after having two degrees from really high level institutions, I had never heard of these people or heard their music,” Lee said.
“It felt like there was a little bit of injustice done to them and to me as a student.
“Then when I did some more digging, and I heard how beautiful the music was, it kind of was a no brainer. I am going to eventually play some of these things in concerts.”
'Troubled Waters,” by Bonds was introduced to him by Kentucky State University President Dr. M. Christopher Brown II.
“One day, when he took me into his office and he had his secretary make me up a copy of the piece that was in his own music library,” Lee said.
“He is an amateur musician and music lover and he just has a huge collection. He said he loves this piece and he wanted me to learn it over the summer and perform it at an assembly.”
Lee saw Price's name alongside Bonds'.
“Then, I looked up pieces,” he said.
“First, I listened to her 'Symphony in A Minor,' which is absolutely wonderful.
“Then, I listened to her 'Sonata in E Minor,' which was a solo piano work. I just fell in love with that piece.”
Lee has uncovered amazing stories between Price and Bonds.
“Florence became friend with Margaret's mother, Estelle Bonds," he said.
“Margaret was a piano prodigy. Their friendship developed. Florence Price wrote for Margaret. They conferred with each other on this music.
“There was a time when Florence was writing her 'Sonata in E minor' and submitted it to the Wanamaker Music Competition. She was living with the Bond family because she had broken her foot.”
Lee discovered Perkinson also in Brown's copy of “Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora” by William H. Chapman Nyaho, a Ghanaian-American concert pianist.
“It's five volumes,” Lee said.
“The last two volumes are for advanced pianists, and I bought those volumes. There's such a wealth of repertoire that I had never heard of and composers that I had never heard of in those books.”
Lee was just reading through them one day when he saw Perkinson's “Toccata.”
“Just looking at the music, I could tell that I wanted to play it,” he said.
“It's just so rhythmically inventive. One of my friends called it harmonically kaleidoscopic. I fell in love with the work at first sight quite literally.”
After a conversation with pianist Michelle Cann about Price's sonata at a SphinxConnect Conference, Lee felt the need to perform the work, too.
“The penultimate night of the conference, I was just in the hotel room and I ordered the score so it would be there for by the time I got back home,” he said.
“I was kind of asking myself what else would I program this with? That's where the gears started turning.”
Lee followed Regina Harris Baiocchi on Twitter, and she followed him back.
“Then one day I just went perusing through her website, and her resources and I said to myself wow, her music is actually really fantastic,” he said.
“I want to play some of this. So I reached out to her and actually purchased every work she had written for solo piano. I'm just working my way through her works and performing them when I can.”
Price, Bonds and Baiocchi's works deserve to be heard in his estimation.
“Women's History Month is right after Black History Month,” Lee said.
“Being able to highlight Black women just feels good, and their music sounds amazing.”
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FREE VIRTUAL ZOOM CONCERT
WHAT: Piano By Nature presents Donald Allen Lee III, piano.
WHEN: Saturday, March 1, at 7 p.m., and then two weeks after concert on website.