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Postcards from Erica November 2022

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

Postcards from Erica November 2022


This is the tenth 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.

November Postcard #1: Suite for Solo Cello by Quinn Mason

Perhaps one of the youngest composers featured in this series, Quinn Mason is a multiple prize-winning composer and conductor based in Dallas, Texas (as of 2022). His compositions range from solo instruments to chamber music and large ensembles as well as voice (solo and choir). Interestingly, he began his musical career as a cellist, experimenting with etudes by adding or removing notes and taking his early compositions to his teacher. Eventually, he progressed to larger works; perhaps this suite is an ode to his beginning as a cellist.

  • Title: Suite for Solo Cello
  • Composer: Quinn Mason
  • Year Composed: 2016/2020
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 3
  • Duration of Work: 5’
  • Number of Measures: 19.39.53
  • Number of Pages: 3
  • Tempo: Lento, Allegro con spirito (dotted quarter = 80), Finale (quarter = 140)
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: low thumb, for a few notes
  • Technique Employed: bass and tenor (1 bar) clefs; 6/8, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/4 time signatures; accidentals, double, triple, quadruple stops; triplets, pizzicato, tremolo, and sul ponticello
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Purchase:
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $14.99


Click here to listen to a performance by Samuel Araya.

Program Notes


Cellist’s Guide

This Suite is particularly short, and, therefore ideal for the intermediate cellist. Additionally, each of the movements is self-contained and can be performed individually.

With the exception of one bar, the piece is written in bass clef and stays in the lower positions. The meter is straightforward, and the piece consists largely of triplet eighth notes and duplet sixteenth notes.

November Postcard #2: Two Pieces for Unaccompanied Cello by Noel Da Costa

Composer Noel Da Costa was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and moved to Jamaica as a youth before moving a final time to New York City. He is particularly notable as a co-founder of the Society of Black Composers. His compositions draw on the American classical tradition, including spirituals, and African folk music.

  • Title: Two Pieces for Unaccompanied Cello
  • Composer: Noel Da Costa (24 December 1929 – 29 April 2002)
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 2
  • Duration of Work: 6’
  • Number of Measures: 56, 43
  • Number of Pages: 4
  • Tempo: quarter = 72, 80; quarter = 104, 144
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, treble clefs; 2/8, 3/8, 5/8, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, and 10/4 time signatures; grace notes, glissandos, harmonics, false harmonics, double and triple stops; pizzicato and col legno
  • Publisher: unpublished
  • Where to Acquire: North Carolina State University Library


Program Notes

The Two Pieces for Unaccompanied Cello of Noel Da Costa are an interesting mixture of style, genre, and “reference;” both pieces contain capsulated, crystalized, and “artifacted” references to at least four musical traditions: field hollers, blues, rhythm-and-blues (R&B), jazz and, of course, the Post-Webern, atonal approach to composition…which he, along with his generation of composers, managed to somehow combine with audible interest.  Both pieces are based on the Husago dance of the Ewe people of Congo and Benin, West Africa. Da Costa studied with Luigi Dallapiccola in Florence, Italy, as a Fullbright Scholar, and served as Associate Professor of Music at Rutgers for 31 years. – Timothy W. Holley

Cellist’s Guide

I am so thankful that Timothy Holley made a recording of these pieces. Unfortunately, as this is an unpublished manuscript held by libraries, it cannot be purchased and is, therefore, little known. I hope this score will be published in the future so that everyone can have easy access to it and that his heirs can receive compensation. In the meantime, check it out of the library!

At first glance, the score is intimidating due to the complex rhythm. But with a little practice, the two pieces really are accessible. The work is not really technically challenging and is musically quite rewarding. These are definitely pieces that grow on you. So, together, let’s make Da Costa’s work a staple of the cello literature.

November Postcard #3: Monograph by Jonathan Bingham

A 2016 winner of the Vincent La Guardia Award in composition, Jonathan Bingham is noted for his use of electronic and acoustic instrumentation. He has composed music for film, advertisements, and been commissioned to compose for numerous ensembles. In 2019, he founded Cool Story – a project dedicated to discovering, preserving, and performing some of the world’s most overlooked music, strengthening the platform of artists whose music may not have had the audience it deserved and diversifying stages to more fully reflect the modern world of sound.

  • Title: Monograph
  • Composer: Jonathan Bingham
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Published: 2020
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 7’
  • Number of Measures: 127
  • Number of Pages: 3
  • Tempo: quarter = 60, 110, 120-155
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clefs; 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 7/4 time signatures; triplets and sextuplets;  grace notes; double, triple, and quadruple stops; pizzicato, left-hand pizzicato, and slapping the fingerboard
  • Publisher: composer: Cool Story Publishing
  • Where to Purchase:
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $20 (PDF)



Program Notes

In searching for contemporary works for solo cello, cellist Carol Anne Bosco reached out to me inquiring if I had such a work published. The honest answer was no—I had never attempted to compose for solo cello—but I couldn’t see myself turning away so suddenly. I did, however, have an unpublished work for cello and piano, which I told her I could revise for her. After I offered, I immediately realized that a revision would not be the best-case scenario—not for this work. This led me to begin composing what is Monograph for Violoncello. The work was completed in three days and then forwarded to Carol Anne without my telling her it was, in every respect, a novel work written for her. – Jonathan Bingham

Cellist’s Guide

This piece is comprised of three contrasting sections. The opening, which is slow and soulful, contains numerous challenging double stops in all regions of the cello. The middle segment employs pizzicato and string slapping but is technically more comfortable for the left hand. The final portion of Monograph consists of a highly repetitive motive, which gradually and constantly accelerates until the final dramatic bars. The last tempo marking states, “155 or as fast as possible!”

Thank You

Thank you to Vernice Faison, Music Librarian at North Carolina Central University, for her assistance with the Two Pieces for Unaccompanied Cello by Noel Da Costa.

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