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Postcards from Erica September 2022

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

Postcards from Erica September 2022

This is the eighth 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.

September Postcard #1

  • Title: Expecting
  • Composer: Jessica T. Carter
  • Year Composed: 2018
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 3:30
  • Number of Measures: 72
  • Number of Pages: 3
  • Tempo: quarter = 80
  • Difficulty Level: mostly intermediate with a few bars that are advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass and tenor clefs; 7/8, 9/8, 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4 time signatures; quintuplets and septuplets; double and triple stops; grace notes, glissandos, tremolo
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Purchase: J. W. Pepper
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $12


Program Notes

“Expecting is written as an homage to the emotional stresses such as anxiety, tension, apprehension, and angst. This piece utilizes sustained tones as well as silence to exhibit these same emotions that someone might experience in the process of ‘expecting’ something to happen.” – Jessica T. Carter

Cellist’s Guide

This piece is a series of stops and starts, or starts and stops depending on how you look at it. The rests are as important as the notes, if not more so. I found that I had a far better understanding of how to shape the piece after watching the video several times.

Though there are several recordings of “Expecting,” I really enjoyed this performance for cello and dancer. The dancer really helped convey the phrasing of this short work, which is all about motion, or the absence thereof.

September Postcard #2

  • Title: Shapeshifter (The Angry Bluesman)
  • Composer: Trevor Weston
  • Year Composed: 2011
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 7:40-10:40, depending on interpretation
  • Number of Measures: unmeasured
  • Number of Pages: 10
  • Tempo: quarter = 50, 60, 92
  • Difficulty Level: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass and treble clefs; no time signature, triplets, sextuplets, septuplets; pizzicato & Bartok pizzicato; harmonics & false harmonics; double and quadruple stops; grace notes, trills, tremolo, glissandos, pitch bending, left-hand pull-offs, string slapping, foot stomping, battuto, sul tasto, and ponticello
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Purchase: Email the composer
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $20


Program Notes

“I began working on Shape Shifter with the intention of writing a piece for solo cello from a machine’s point of view. Throughout the Twentieth Century, composers have created music with machines and for machines. I thought that it might be interesting to attempt to write music for the aesthetic vantage point of a machine. I know that there are numerous computer programs that can generate sounds and create incredible pieces of music, but my goal was to try to create a piece in what I imagined to be an inherent musical language created by machines. My guiding belief was that machines could not create subtle changes in expression like humans so their expressivity would come from the juxtaposition of contrasting musical ideas. This approach resulted in non-linear musical expression containing sequences of seemingly unrelated musical events. Most Pop Musicians use machines to create music. More than 30 years after the ascent of DJing in Hop Hop music, turntablists and music producers have connected samples of different
musics together with machine-like nonlinearity for so long that this form of musical expression is commonplace in American Popular music. Samplers, drum machines, etc. are used by professional and amateur musicians alike to create music.

The idea of a mythical Shape Shifter, a being that can change its form/shape rapidly, became an appropriate title for this piece. The abruptly changing “shapes” in this work stem from the same pitches or DNA. As I continued to write the piece, the melodic vocabulary increasingly included inflections of the blues, flatted thirds and fifths (hence the subtitle), along with mechanical rhythmic ideas. So, the two ideas merged: blues-like performance practices, foot stomping (as if paying blues guitar or piano), along with music that seems to toggle between different ideas mechanically. The Shape Shifter is an angry bluesman because most American Pop music still relies on the legacy of the blues although the contributions of the solitary itinerant Bluesman seems to have been forgotten.” – Trevor Weston

Cellist’s Guide

I heard this piece and knew immediately that I wanted to learn it. When I first saw the score, however, I had the same reaction as when I first looked at a work by George Crumb-momentary panic.

Once I got past the fact that there are no time signatures throughout and no bar lines for several pages, I started to look for and find the structure and order within the piece.

For those of us who are interested in learning Shapeshifter, I am glad that there are several recordings of this piece available to help guide us. So, if you are not a cellist, just enjoy listening to Shapeshifter; if you are, order the score and get out a pencil and your metronome.

If you are interested in performing Shapeshifter, make sure you have access to an iPad, and foot pedal, as there is no place to turn pages throughout the piece. If you are someone who can memorize easily, kudos to you!

September Postcard #3

  • Title: Sonata for Solo Cello
  • Composer: Adolphus Hailstork
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Year Published: 2012
  • Movements: Moderato, Moderato, Moderato
  • Duration of Work: 17:00
  • Number of Measures: 145, 119, 168
  • Number of Pages: 13
  • Tempo: dotted quarter = 52, 72, 82; dotted quarter = 36, 40, 52; quarter = 54, 110, dotted quarter = 66, 70
  • Difficulty Level: intermediate, advanced, advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clefs; 2/8, 3/8, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8, 12/8, 2/4, and 3/4 time signatures; triplets, double, triple and quadruple stops; many accidentals, grace notes, trills, pizzicato, harmonics
  • Publisher: Theodore Presser
  • Where to Purchase: 
Product Cover
look inside
Sonata For Solo Cello
Composed by Adolphus Hailstork. Sws. Contemporary. Solo part. With Standard notation. Composed 2013. 16 pages. Duration 17 minutes. Theodore Presser Company #114-41658. Published by Theodore Presser Company (PR.114416580).
  •  Cost of Sheet Music*: $18.99


First and second movements:


Third movement:


“Hailstork’s Sonata for Solo Cello is a 17-minute journey through musical depths. Each of its three movements explores a spectrum of moods and tempi, with thoroughly braided paths of interrelated themes. While the sonata starts with a wink at Bach, as a diving-in point, its development and overall profundity are more akin to the monuments of later musical literature.” – score


If you enjoyed Hailstork’s Theme and Variations on Draw the Sacred Circle Closer featured in the April postcards as I did, you will probably like his Sonata for Solo Cello, as both works share a similar sensibility.

The first movement is definitely less technically challenging than the second and third movements and easier to count as well. With the exception of seven measures, the first Moderato is written in 6/8 or 9/8 time and can be counted in two or three beats per bar. Though late intermediate players may have little experience with these meters, I don’t think they will find this movement beyond them. Advanced and professional players will encounter double stops, frequent meter changes, and chromatic passages to sink their teeth into the other movements.

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