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MU pianists supplement standard repertoire with underrepresented composers

A headshot of MU piano professor Peter Miyamoto
Peter Miyamoto
Professor Peter Miyamoto joins members of the University of Missouri School of Music piano area in performing at a recital that prominently features Asian and Asian American composers.

Peter Miyamoto is a professor of piano and chamber music at the University of Missouri. He is also the coordinator of the piano area in the School of Music, which encompasses all piano students and faculty on campus. On March 2, the piano area performed a recital featuring predominantly Asian and Asian American composers. The day before the concert, Classical 90.5’s Kiana Fernandes sat down with Miyamoto to discuss diversity in repertoire and what goes into preparing for a concert.

Kiana Fernandes: First, can you give me a rundown of what the recital is tomorrow?

Peter Miyamoto: So, the piano area is giving a recital. It’s open to any student, any faculty member who wants to play and is taking lessons at the School of Music. And we are focusing on underrepresented composers — not exclusively, but mostly, and with a specific focus this year on Asian composers. We have done this for several years now, either within my studio or in the last two years with the whole area. But we’ve had broader underrepresented composers. The first year we did it, I believe we focused on African American. And then in other years, last year, we held it a few days before Valentine’s Day. So, we actually titled it Prelude to a Kiss. And you could either play any prelude because that’s a genre that there’s lot’s of piano pieces that are preludes, or you could play something that was love related. So that was kind of fun. And this year, we’re really, specifically focusing on Asian composers.

Kiana Fernandes: How did you start doing this series of underrepresented composers?

Peter Miyamoto: When Black Lives Matter happened, there was just a lot of talk about us opening up what we study at the School of Music. What we study at the School of Music — our jury repertoire requirements that all the pianists are playing every semester — mostly stylistically based. And because of that, they’re usually playing Baroque pieces by Bach, Classical pieces by Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven, Romantic pieces by Chopin or Liszt or Schumann, and then modern pieces could be anything. And we wanted to supplement that — not replace — just supplement with additional works that. And representation matters.

And I let the students research and find pieces, and it’s just been really interesting. Like, this is a perfect case where, out of the 16 performances tomorrow, I think 13 are Asian. And I would say I know about two of them. Like, me, the piano professor, I know know all the Beethoven sonatas, I know everything Chopin wrote, but I don’t know so much about Asian composers. So that’s why I’m doing this. It broadens the access to this repertoire for everyone.

Kiana Fernandes: Are there any pieces you’re looking especially forward to hearing at this?

Peter Miyamoto: I think it’s a really nice mix. You have, for instance, one piece that is not really Asian, but it’s a transcription of Erroll Garner’s Misty, a jazz rendition, by an Asian composer. And then you have other works — for instance, here’s a work by Chen Yi, who is on faculty at UMKC. And the performer of that is actually a composition major and has already reached out to Chen Yi and has made that connection. So, that’s kind of a cool one. And then you have other pieces. I’m personally playing a work by Tōru Takemitsu, who’s one of the most famous Japanese composers. It’s called The Romance and I thought I would add that to the mix.

Kiana Fernandes: How did you specifically prepare your piece for this?

Peter Miyamoto: You know, it’s interesting, because music is the organization of tones. So you deal with harmony, melody and rhythm and you decide what’s going on at every point. And I feel like my teaching of all music is based in that. So, I look at this just as another opportunity for all the students to take another piece and exercise the same way. And, of course, what’s in the piece, what you’re going to discover in the piece varies, right? So that’s what, for me, is always interesting. I’m never bored when I’m practicing the piano, I’m always finding something different.

Kiana Fernandes is a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism - studying cross-platform editing and producing.
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