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New Piano Repertoire Collection Recognizes the Work of Black Composers

New Piano Repertoire Collection Recognizes the Work of Black Composers

Published on February 22, 2022

Harry Burleigh, Margaret Bonds, and Canadians Oscar Peterson and Nathaniel Dett among those featured. 

February is Black History Month in Canada and The Royal Conservatory’s acclaimed Celebration Series®, Sixth Edition for piano (launching on April 27, 2022) continues to recognize the artistic work of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. 

“Through Moanin’ Pines,” performed by acclaimed pianist and RCM faculty member Li Wang, is a Level 8 repertoire piece by African American composer, arranger, and baritone Henry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949), more commonly known and published as Harry Burleigh.

First published in 1910, the piece, which evokes a duality of both mourning and hope, is an example of how Burleigh’s arrangements brought the spirituals out of plantation and minstrel settings and onto the classical concert stage, to be performed and enjoyed by all. 

We recognize and honour the legacy of Burleigh’s innovative classical musicianship, along with a range of other composers of African heritage including living women composers Nkeiru Okoye and Dorothy Rudd Moore
Elaine Rusk, Vice President of Academics and Publishing

Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Burleigh was the grandson of slaves and was taught spirituals and plantation songs by his grandfather. He attended the National Conservatory of Music in New York City as a scholarship student and composed more than 200 songs, which captured the attention of then-director Antonin Dvořák. Many musicologists trace Dvořák’s use of pentatonic scales in his American music to the influence of Burleigh’s songs. 

Colin Clarke
Burleigh’s work was immensely influential — helping to inform a new American style of writing in the classical genre. He combined the conventions of classical music with melodies that were sung every day, providing access to new musical interpretations while giving voice to the Black experience.
Colin Clarke, Artistic Director, Oscar Peterson Program at The Royal Conservatory’s Oscar Peterson School of Music

The Celebration Series® for piano is updated every seven years and features an outstanding selection of repertoire from all style periods, including 20th- and 21st-century compositions by diverse composers to inspire students. 

For the upcoming edition, in addition to compositions by Black composers Valerie Capers (b. 1935), Scott Joplin (1867–1917), Canadian composers Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) and beloved RCM alumnus Oscar Peterson (1925-2007) there are many works by Latinx and Asian composers

The RCM Certificate Program is a comprehensive system of music study widely regarded as providing the gold standard of excellence in music education. It provides a wonderful avenue to help students develop confidence and boost their creativity through studying music. Those who purchase the Celebration Series®, Sixth Edition books also have access to videos and audio recordings to complement their study.