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Postcards from Erica October 2022

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

Postcards from Erica October 2022

Happy Black History Month in the UK! Be sure to enter our celebratory giveaway for a chance to win a Cello Museum T-shirt and a CD by one of the artists featured in this month’s postcards: Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

This is the ninth 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.

October Postcard #1: “Permit Me” by Deborah Cheetham

From her biography: Deborah Cheetham, a “Yorta Yorta woman, soprano, composer and educator has been a leader and pioneer in the Australian arts landscape for more than 25 years.” She founded

a non-profit opera company, Short Black Opera, whose mission is to develop Indigenous singers. Pecan Summer, the first opera she composed, was also the first Indigenous opera in Australia. In 2014, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Cheetham was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for her outstanding service to the arts.

  • Title: Permit Me
  • Composer: Deborah Cheetham (b. 24 November 1964)
  • Year Composed: 2020
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 3:10
  • Number of Measures: 55
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: Lento, half note = 52
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass and treble clefs; 6/8, 7/8, and 4/4 time signatures; trills, glissandos, tremolo, col legno, pizzicato, and Bartok pizzicato; harmonics and false harmonics; double stops, triple stops, and quadruple stops
  • Publisher: Australian Music Centre
  • Where to Purchase: Australian Music Center Website
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $11.82


Program Notes

2020 has posed so many challenges for us all. We have been tested in ways we could not have imagined. For me, the curfews and permits imposed as Melbourne entered stage-four lockdown triggered a reaction I had not anticipated.

I should have seen it coming but I didn’t.

My grandparents lived with permits and curfews for decades under the tyranny of the Aboriginal Protection Board. Of course I have long known this family story. I wrote an opera about it, but it was not until I experienced a taste of the deprivation they lived with that I truly understood.

The need to gain permits to travel further than 5 kilometers from my Melbourne apartment has left a deep mark on me. It has changed me.

All I can do is respond with music. – Debora Cheetham

Cellist’s Guide

This work was commissioned by the Canberra Symphony and premiered by principal cellist Patrick Suthers.

Suthers’ recording really gives a wonderful sense of the piece and helps illustrate the score markings.

While I would not consider this a difficult piece, there are several double stops, two measures in thumb position, and a false harmonic. Additionally, the player must feel comfortable going from a 4/4 to a 7/8 time signature and then back again into 4/4.

What really makes this work effective is emotive playing and the use of slides, harmonics, and sul tasto bowing. Though a young intermediate player would be able to handle the technical aspects of this piece, I think that maturity is required to produce an effective performance of “Permit Me.”

October Postcard #2: “Melody” by Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a British cellist who won the BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016, making history as the first Black musician to do so. He also famously performed at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018. With Decca Classics, he recorded an album, Elgar, that reached No. 8 on the overall UK official album chart, meaning he was the first cellist in history to reach the top 10.

  • Title: “Melody”
  • Composer: Sheku Kanneh-Mason (b. 4 April 1999)
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 2’
  • Number of Measures: 23
  • Number of Pages: 1
  • Tempo: slowly, freely, and expressively
  • Difficulty Level: high intermediate/low advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th
  • Technique Employed: bass and tenor clefs; 4/4 and 5/4 time signatures; grace notes, triplets, harmonics; double, triple, and quadruple stops
  • Publisher: Faber Music
  • Where to Purchase:
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: 3.50 GBP


Program Notes

I always start my practice with some improvisation and that is what inspired the style of this piece. It should be played very freely, from the timing and rubato to spreading chords and adding ornamentation. Some ornaments are notated to give you an idea; adding ornaments is something I would encourage but just play what you feel is right – no two times I play this piece are ever the same! Dynamics, too, can be treated very spontaneously; play how you feel in that moment. – Sheku Kanneh-Mason

Cellist’s Guide

Though this lovely short piece is written almost entirely in bass clef and mostly in 4/4 time, it is not without technical challenges. There are numerous double stops, including 3rds and sixths. If you are not comfortable or familiar with double stops, do not let this deter you. Instead, look upon this as an opportunity to gain a new skill!

October Postcard #3: Sonata for Solo Cello by David Baker

Composer David Baker was a music educator and trombonist as well as a pioneering professor of jazz music who founded the jazz studies program at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. After an auto accident in 1953 caused permanent jaw damage and ended his trombone-playing days, he turned to the cello and renewed his focus on teaching and composition. One of his most famous works, “Concertino for Cell Phones and Orchestra” is an interactive audience favorite.

  • Title: Sonata for Solo Cello
  • Composer: David Baker (21 December 1931 – 26 March 2016)
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Published: 1990
  • Movements: 3
  • Duration of Work: 27’
  • Number of Measures: 207, 184, 278
  • Number of Pages: 18
  • Tempo: 
    • Mvmt. I quarter = 66-184
    • Mvmt. II quarter = 69-160
    • Mvmt. III quarter = 96-168
  • Difficulty Level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: high thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass and treble clefs; 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures; pizzicato and left-hand pizzicato; harmonics; double, triple, and quadruple stops
  • Publisher: Keiser Classical
  • Where to Purchase: 
Product Cover
look inside
Sonata for Solo Cello
Composed by David Baker. LKM Music. Classical. 20 pages. Lauren Keiser Music Publishing #X530001. Published by Lauren Keiser Music Publishing (HL.41944).
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $19.95


Program Notes

The Sonata for Solo Cello was commissioned by cellist Edward Laut, Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas. Laut recorded the work in 1993 for CELLOFIRE.

Cellist’s Guide

Unfortunately, Baker’s Sonata for Solo Cello is little known, even amongst cellists. I am so glad that Edward Laud commissioned the work, and I believe that it will one day become part of the standard cello repertoire.

Katie Schlaikjer’s video makes the piece look effortless, which of course, it is not. My first reaction upon seeing the score was that it would be a rough read. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it fell in the hand, which I should not have been since David Baker was, in fact, a cellist. I am not going to lie; parts of the last movement will require as much practice as a Popper etude, but for the most part, the double stops are much easier than they look.

The score is handwritten but quite legible. There are no key signatures, so there are many accidentals, but that is not off-putting. The rhythm and time signatures are straightforward throughout and there are no extended techniques to learn.

Basically, there is no reason not to take on this marvelous work. So purchase a copy and help make this piece widely known!

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