People in the arts tend to function on a deeper realm of concentration, which demands some form of spirituality and meditation. The intent of this painting “Pianist & Teacher” was an investigation into an intense moment of detailed study and analysis of a musical score, a discourse on clinical approach to handling melodic line/musical passages and scales that was being instilled through sound pedagogy and collaboration between the student and teacher. This painting is definitely a subject I have ruminated about over the years, in terms of how to approach the painting. Our journey to this point has been a spiritually guided mission. Therefore, I wanted the painting to capture the soul of the moment.
This painting documents the pianist’s strife for excellence. Even though some consider the student to be a prodigy, I see an ambitious musician who wants to achieve greatness against all odds. This is a musician who has recognized his God’s given talent. Like Tiger Woods, Venus & Serena Williams, and Michael Jordan, who have all mastered their crafts, they will tell you that as much they have been endowed with the gift, a lot of it has been the result of hard work and dedication. That is the case with this pianist whose relentless hours of practice on the piano makes one ponder how hard it is for him, and how much I would have been able to absorb or even handle if I was in his shoes. The level of expectations from great schools/conservatories and the competition out there in the field of classical piano is fierce! It is a discipline that seems to be dominated by mostly Asians, Russians, and Europeans etc. Most people just think they are outstanding! Where does a boy from Sierra Leonean descent fit in this equation? It makes me ponder how high or low the expectations are set for him when he competes on that level. Are they surprised to see him? It seems as if the ratio to successful black classical pianists might be fewer comparatively, and even the few seem to have lesser access to opportunities. Despite, that grim reality, he looks forward to carving his path and follow the footsteps of Andre Watts, Leone Bates, George Walker and Herbie Hancock. Some of them are classified as Jazz pianist, but their powerful technique equipped them with the ability to play most classical repertoire if they choose to.
The student’s musical journey started as a regular lesson after discovering his talent at home, on a Yamaha keyboard when he was only three years old. It was evident that his talent would blossom if it were nurtured. At the age of 12, even though he played a MOZART SONATA K545 by memory, there was an obvious need for a more technical prowess to be achieved. His education demanded a more experienced clinician in the field of piano performance. At this point, he was already researching some of the “Greats” like Glenn Gould, Rudolf Serkin, Georges Cziffra, Arthur Rubinstein and Sviatoslav Richter. He would watch DVD’s on their recitals. One of his favorite DVD’s was “The Art of the Piano.” He admired Georges Cziffra with his prodigious technique. He also enjoyed “The Art of the Violin.”
Through this pianist, I was introduced to classical piano. It is a different means of poetic clarity and communication. It became a discipline that I had to research, in order to be in this journey with him and impart discipline that only an adult can instill. The discipline to practice! Most importantly, he needed to recognize his talent, he needed to be humble about it, and realize that God has given it to him for a higher purpose than himself. That higher purpose is to serve him and humanity.
Where did all this inspiration come from? Well, I started singing at the age of five in the choir and engaged in choral music up to this point. Yes, God gave me a beautiful voice as a gift. His gift has been ordained by the almighty.
While I grew up in Sierra Leone I was not privileged enough to study the piano, however, I grew up singing in the choir. My earliest exposure to classical music was through my grandfather, who played different records in his collection on Ludwig Van Beethoven, Beethoven, George Frederick Handel, Felix Mendelsohn, Antonio Vivaldi, and certainly, Johann Sebastian Bach. Did I listen to piano music? It was mostly choral works like Handel Messiah, Vivaldi Gloria, and “The Creation” by Joseph Haydn. I could hear the gentleman Jim Reeves, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson. In that home there was a deeper appreciation for music, an appreciation that was eclectic and it transcended genre and racial restraints.
What is the relationship between his music and my art? We all function in society to keep the body, mind and soul together. We paint colors to give psychological meaning through this poetic syntax. We ultimately engage in invoking a special emotion and response from our viewer and listeners. It is important for us to capture a moment, time and place in cultural and historical relativity. Such dialogue can only be achieved when the artist or the musician submerges himself or herself into a deeper meditative and spiritual realm; a realm that is encapsulate, in a magical connection between the body, soul and the mind. The artist and musician must be one spiritually with the canvas or the instrument to uplift or touch someone with our art forms. My admiration goes to this young dedicated classical pianist, Richmond Denzel Garrick, my son, who is a subject of this painting.