Music Department Colloquium: Felicia Sandler—“African Art Music: The Case of Dr. Ephraim Amu”

Wednesday, April 5, 2023 at 4:30pm

FREE! Reservation required.

For all the scholarly attention dedicated to African musics, study of African art music is comparatively rare. Musicologists and theorists have typically devoted their care to European art music, whereas ethnomusicologists lean toward indigenous and popular music categories. Yet, African art music composers generate music enthusiastically performed, consumed and celebrated by musicians and listeners across the continent, a repertoire rich for study. African art music was defined at the recent seminar convened by Olabode Omojola at the Radcliffe Institute as “works of modern African composers who draw on European art music and traditional African musical elements” creating a distinct category of music. Of particular interest to me is the art music of Ephraim Amu (1899–1995), for a number of reasons. First, his music is captivating, and listeners in Ghana and far beyond enjoy it very much. Secondly, Amu is a significant voice in the arena of art music in Africa, recognized in his native Ghana as the “Father of Ghanaian art music,” and the architect of the regional choral idiom. Thirdly, the Amu style has had a decisive effect on composition in the country and the West African region. He is responsible for the ways that music has been taught in the post-colonial era, and many young composers continue to create music according to his design. For the past eight years, with Dr. Amu’s daughter Misonu Amu, I have been working on the development of a scholarly edition of Dr. Amu’s complete works. Now that the first volume of his music is available through the digital archive housed by the Ephraim Amu Foundation, it is possible for performers, scholars, and theory departments hungry to diversify their curricular offerings to access his work. In this presentation, I will introduce colloquium participants to music from each of Amu’s periods of activity. Together we will tease out the various intercultural aspects. Initial steps include identification of musical features, determination of the cultural contexts from whence they come, and consideration of how these contribute to the character of the work as a whole. By exploring points of correspondence in practice that allow for a dovetailing of systems, we can observe how Amu creates a cohesive expression, one that is novel, fresh, Ghanaian and, simultaneously, entirely his own.

Felicia Sandler is a composer teaching at the New England Conservatory. She composes in all genres, with a particular love for choral music. Her works are published by E. C. Schirmer, Alliance Music, Shawnee Press, Mark Foster, and Dancing Flea Music; and are recorded on Mark Master and Naxos Labels. Sandler’s scholarship centers on the music of Ghanaian composer Dr. Ephraim Amu. Together with Misonu Amu, Amu’s daughter, Sandler is developing a critical edition of Amu’s complete works. Sandler’s teachers in Ghanaian traditional music include C. K. Ladzekpo, Obi Nyim Nda, and Emashie Cultural groups Nani Agbeli and Emmanuel Attah Poku.

The colloquium is organized by Assistant Professor of Music John Dankwa and Assistant Professor of Music and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Saida Daukeyeva as part of the Music Department Colloquium Series.