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Postcards from Erica December 2022

Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by Black composers? Look no further.

Postcards from Erica December 2022

This is the eleventh installment in my series of digital postcards about unaccompanied works by Black composers.

In selecting the music every month, I keep in mind orchestra directors and students in search of contest pieces, teachers seeking supplemental literature, and professionals hankering for new repertoire.

These monthly postcards give you the information you need to help you choose a piece that’s right for you. I also include links to make it easy for you to locate and purchase the sheet music you want. I hope you enjoy exploring these pieces as much as I did selecting them.

Catch up on my previous postcards in this series, my postcards on women composers (“That’s What She Said”), or revisit all of my postcards.

December Postcard #1: “Inari-sama Whispers to Kitsune” by William Roper

William Roper, a Los Angeles-based freelance tubaist, describes himself as a type of musical cartographer, mapping landscapes and exploring histories of place, ethnicity, culture, and people, including himself. His compositions frequently merge music, stage performance, spoken word and the visual arts.

  • Title: Inari-sama Whispers to Kitsune
  • Composer: William Roper
  • Year Composed: 2014
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 5:12
  • Number of Measures: unmeasured
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: Allegretto giocoso and Larghetto a piacere
  • Difficulty Level: late intermediate to advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th
  • Technique Employed: bass clef, no time or key signatures, many accidentals, triplets & quintuplets, false harmonics, trills, sul ponticello, flautando, Bartok pizzicato, improvisation following contours, and free improvisation
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Purchase: Email the composer
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $10.00


Program Notes

The piece follows an ABAB form, delineated by the tempo changes. The Allegrettos are Kitsune; the Larghettos are Inari speaking to Kitsune. Only Kitsune can hear Inari, thus, when Inari speaks, it is silence to the rest of us. You must embody both of these spirits.

Cellist’s Guide

I love the above video performance of “Inari-sama Whispers to Kitsune” – it is an effective multi-media presentation. Though the work can be performed without any visual aids, the portrayal of the cellist as Kitsune (in regular form) and Inari (as shadow) enhances the contrast between the A and B sections of the piece.

Before learning the piece, definitely listen to the recording to get a sense of the layout. There are several improvised sections, and it is helpful to use Bewerse’s performance as a guide. Though the score is unmetered, the rhythm does not require a cipher to decode, so relax.

I am on the fence as to how to technically categorize this piece. The Allegretto sections would be quite manageable for the intermediate player; however, the Larghetto sections require familiarity with false harmonics. But I suppose there is no better time to learn them!

December Postcard #2: “Rustiana” by Quenton Xavier Blache

Quenton Blache may be the youngest composer featured to date in these postcard series. With a double major in cello performance and composition at the University of Southern California, along with a minor in Chinese, he is particularly drawn to composing for visual media and served as a cello hand double and background musician actor in the Blumhouse Productions 2020 Amazon Prime movie, Nocturne.

  • Title: “Rustiana”
  • Composer: Quenton Xavier Blache
  • Year Composed: 2021
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 3’
  • Number of Measures: 48
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: quarter = 56, 62, 72, 112, 118
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass & treble clefs;  2/4,  3/4, 4/4 time signatures; left-hand pizzicato, grace notes, glissandos, false harmonics, harmonics; double, triple, quadruple stops
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Purchase: Email the composer
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $20.00


Program Notes

This is a reflection on Dvořák in America.

Cellist’s Guide

Only three notes in this piece are in treble clef and thumb position. The rhythm is not terribly challenging, and the tempo is slow. So why have I rated “Rustiana” as an advanced piece? The player needs to have strong and dexterous hands to be able to play double stops while at the same time plucking with the fingers of the left hand.

If your left hand is neither strong nor dextrous, practice first playing double, triple, and quadruple stops (may I suggest the Sarabandes from the Bach Suites and Popper etudes #9 and #17) and then add the left-hand plucking (Popper #34 and Elaine Fine’s Sephardic Suite).

If your hands are already strong, then you should be able to read through this piece fairly readily. If not, keep working!

December Postcard #3: “let us breathe” by Jeffrey Mumford

One reviewer described Jeffrey Mumford as “a composer who makes something mesmerizing and beautiful out of harmonic ambiguity.” His music has been performed extensively by major orchestras, soloists, and ensembles around the world including London, Paris, Reykjavik, Vienna, The Hague, Russia, Lithuania, and all over the United States.

  • Title: “let us breathe”
  • Composer: Jeffrey Mumford
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Published: 2020
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 1:30
  • Number of Measures: 20
  • Number of Pages: technically 2, but really 1
  • Tempo: quarter = 96
  • Difficulty Level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor & treble clefs; 5/4 time signature, pizzicato, sul ponticello, double stops, false harmonics, trills, triplets, and quintuplets
  • Publisher: Commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra as part of the Fanfare Project. This commission was made possible by Ann & Harry Santen.
  • Where to Acquire: download here
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: Free


Program Notes

The work was written in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Listen to the composer’s own words about the piece here.

Cellist’s Guide

I’m not going to lie; this piece is both rhythmically and technically challenging. Though Dan Culnan makes “let us breathe” look effortless, it is most certainly not.

After fumbling around the upper reaches of the G and C strings, I finally concocted some reasonable fingerings. Even if you don’t intend to play this piece for others, it is worth learning to enhance your knowledge of the fingerboard. If I were to perform “let us breathe,” I would be inclined to use some cheater marks.

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*Prices given are accurate at the date of the publication of this article. Please check the given links for the current price. The Cello Museum does not control these prices and cannot take responsibility for price changes.