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David Kiser, Piano

Thursday, December 5, 7:30pm

The engaging and talented host of Thursday evening’s South Carolina’s Public Radio show, “On the Keys,” David Kiser spends this Thursday night with us and let’s his fingers do most of the talking. An accomplished organist, David has set himself the goal of playing and recording every pipe organ in our state. We don’t want you to think that David is AWOL from SC Public Radio—he records his show, so be with us and hear his fingers talk! With only 80 seats available, call 864-520-8807 to make your reservations early ($15 for adults, $5 for students.)

 

PROGRAM

Sonata for Piano (1957) Carlisle Floyd (Latta, SC, 1926-)

I. Allegro risoluto
II. Lento assai
III. Deciso-Allegro con brio

(Played on the New York Steinway D)

Blue Ridge Idyls Lily Strickland (Anderson, SC, 1884-1958)
Suite for the Pianoforte (1929)

Mountain Shadows
Mountain Lad
From a Deserted Cabin
On the River
In the Pines
The Old Mill
Sleep Song

(Played on the 1863 Erard Grand Piano)

~ INTERMISSION ~

Sonata for Piano (2015) Jon Jeffrey Grier (resides Greenville, SC)
On Appalachian Fiddle Tunes

I. Little Sally Goodin’
II. Ev’ry Night When the Sun Goes Down
III. Cluck Old Hen
IV. The Nightingale
V. Old Joe and Li’l Liza

 

PROGRAM NOTES

I became interested in the deep history of music makers in our state when I learned about the pianist Sidney Foster via a connection with my own teachers: Douglas Weeks and Charles Fugo. At least that is how I wanted to discover him, but the truth is I found him via a Google search/Internet rabbit hole and was stunned to hear such virtuosic pianism on the excitement level that Horowitz conjured for recitals. Sidney was born here in Florence, South Carolina. And though he had limited output as a composer, I was happy enough to record his cadenza to Beethoven’s C Minor Concerto for a radio broadcast. In any case my interest in our music history was sealed and I began another project documenting historic pipe organs for ETV.

I was lucky enough to hold a phone interview with Carlisle Floyd, the first composer of the recital, while I was preparing the Sidney Foster program for SC public radio broadcast. They were colleagues at Florida State University. He was warm and generous, a great talker. He was born in Latta, South Carolina, a scant 30-minute drive from Florence. His best work is in the opera genre (Susannah, Cold Sassy Tree). But he has this powerful Piano Sonata that hasn’t got very much attention until recently recorded by Daniel Revenaugh and just this year by Heidi Williams. It is a desperate piece of music communicated by dissonant, descending half-step motifs and the hexatonic scale; an ethos shared by the two other piano sonatas from the 50s discussed below. All that theory speak is great but know there are other musical styles represented like (what I am calling) the Copland, or American fourths and fifths, a trademark of our tonal language that may come in part from Spartanburg’s William “Singing Billy” Walker.

Floyd wrote the Sonata in 1957 for the pianist Rudolf Firkusny who premiered it at Carnegie Hall. Unlike contemporary Samuel Barber’s single take on the genre (a smash hit) composed a few years earlier, Floyd’s Sonata disappeared from view. Which is sad. The first movement relishes in wide spaced fortissimo chords used by Copland. I argue Floyd’s take is eminently more likeable. The second movement, initially a slow fugue, reminds me of an American Prokofiev. The last movement, perhaps the weakest of the three movements, still engages with Bartokian propulsion. I warn you the mood is severe, the despair unrelenting, a theme common for the golden age of the American Piano Sonata. I finish here by noting that Carlisle Floyd attended Converse College as a piano student where I have also attended.

I developed personal affection for the composer Lily Strickland after gaining unfettered access to the archive at Anderson University. She was born in reconstruction Anderson in 1884, When her father died she moved in with her grandparents, the Reeds–a family that ran deep in Anderson history. Strickland also attended Converse College (go Valkyries!) before graduating from what would become the Juilliard School. She is best known for her songs, lovely pieces that show a gift for melody. Her piano music was written for the general public and was played in parlors and homes for entertainment. These pieces are exactly what the term “Idyll” implies. These are peaceful, evocative musical portraits of the Blue Ridge Mountains that many here today visit. Lily, (like the Sandburg’s) enjoyed these humble, but ancient mountains of the Blue Ridge escarpment from her final home in Hendersonville, NC.

I play these works on the Erard piano because they are in the romantic style. You might be reminded of times of Schumann’s character pieces, certainly of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. And you might be tempted to add your own lyrics to these “songs without words.”

Our next composer, Greenville based Jon Grier, is also continually inspired by the mountains and the Appalachian culture. I was fortunate enough to play a number of pieces by Grier including his song cycle Pisgah Songs. In his Sonata, aptly nicknamed “fiddlins” the primary source of inspiration is the music from the mountains and the instrument of choice: the banjo. Though James Dickey may have ruined the image of the banjo for some of us, no other instrument is so endemic to the American South. It is ofAfrican and Portuguese origins and came with the Africans through the port of Charleston. (Some African slaves taught the plantations owners how to play). I will quote now the composer’s own program notes:

I. Little Sally Goodin’

According to North Carolina fiddler Bruce Green, this tune was originally called Boatin’ Up Sandy (referring to the Big Sandy River in eastern Kentucky) and was renamed by Civil War Confederate soldiers in Morgan’s Raiders while they were camped on the Big Sandy in Pike County, Kentucky. Sally Goodin ran a boarding house there and allowed the soldiers to camp and play music. To show their appreciation of her kindness, Morgan’s men renamed the tune in her honor.

II. Ev’ry Night When the Sun Goes Down

An Appalachian song originally from England, collected in 1918 from a North Carolina woman by the legendary British folk song collector Cecil Sharp. It concerns a desperate young girl who is pregnant and has been abandoned by the father of the child. She mourns that her future is grim; “Marble Town” refers to the graveyard.

III. Cluck Old Hen

A widespread song, popular as a banjo and fiddle tune, this humorous classic may have originated as a 19th century African American work song from south Texas. It was sung and played from there through Kentucky before the Civil War.

IV. The Nightingale

A tender soldier ballad with a surprise ending from Ohio. An ardent young soldier woos a winsome young lady by playing his fiddle; he asks her to marry him, but she entreats
him to play one more tune. In the end she reveals that she is married, with six children. He resolves to steep himself in melancholy, drink, and the singing of the nightingales in spring.

V. Old Joe and Li’l Liza

Li’l Liza Jane, first published in 1916, may have originated with African American slaves well before the Civil War. It has been recorded instrumentally in many styles, including jazz, folk, and rock; it is also a standard of the New Orleans Brass Band tradition. Old Joe Clark is a mountain ballad that was sung by soldiers from eastern Kentucky in World War I, and likely dates from much earlier. Joe Clark was a mountaineer who was born in 1839 and murdered in 1885. More than 90 stanzas of lyrics are known. This arrangement alternates rapidly between the two tunes, and at some points it sounds them simultaneously.

About the Composer

Jon Jeffrey Grier holds a B.A. from Kalamazoo College, where he studied composition with Lawrence Rackley, an M.M. in Composition from Western Michigan University, studying with Ramon Zupko, and an M.M. in Theory and a D.M.A. in Composition from the University of South Carolina, where he studied with Jerry Curry, Dick Goodwin and Sam Douglas. Jon taught Advanced Placement Music Theory and Music History at the Greenville Fine Arts Center, a magnet school of the arts in Greenville, SC, from 1988 to 2019. He was the 2014 recipient of the Carl Blair Award for Commitment to Arts Education presented by the Greenville Metropolitan Arts Council, and was also awarded the 2016 Artist Fellowship in Music Composition by the South Carolina Arts Commission. Jon works as a free-lance composer and has also been a writer/keyboardist with various jazz ensembles since 1984. He lives in Greenville with wife Marion and manic mongrels Roxanne and Gracie Jean.

About the Pianist

David Kiser is the host of South Carolina Public Radio’s On the Keys. He teaches music theory and class piano at Anderson University and teaches privately from his home in Greenville. In his spare time he writes and reads and plays with his youngest daughter, Eleanor. His wife, Lisa Kiser, is the principal keyboardist of the Greenville Symphony and their eldest daughter attends Anderson University.

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