Chava Appiah, Cellist
When Joe and I started planning this recital, I jokingly suggested a “black and Jewish” theme, referring to my own identity. A couple months later here we are, presenting works by black and Jewish composers!
I have always known I am a Jew. It was the religion my brothers and I went to Sunday school for (albeit, a secular humanist version of it where we didn’t have to believe in God, only embrace our traditions and values as a culture). It is the identity of the family I grew up seeing the most--my mom's side. It was an easy culture to fit into at my predominantly white and Jewish schools, K-12, but also college and the classical music world at large.
I have also always known I am black, but at a more removed state compared to Jewish. I joke with people that I am more comfortable in a room of older white Jewish people (a common occurrence at events for donors/subscribers of our orchestra) than one of all black folks. My mom is Ashkenazi Jewish, white, born in the US; my dad came to the US from Ghana at age 19 for college. I have visited Ghana three times with them, each time feeling variably alienated from the culture and being pointed out as an “obruni”--meaning “white/foreign”. It is a beautiful country with an immensely complex and exciting culture--however my mom explained most of Ghanaian culture to me, not my dad. So...it is complicated.
A few memories stick out as “confirming” my now confident black and Jewish identity: a camp friend demanding I choose white or black because “you can’t be both!”; a classmate saying "this isn't really Jewish" at my bat mitzvah ceremony; my unexpected feeling of loss when sharing Ghanaian traditions and pictures at our high school diversity/exchange program; my dad’s calm and defeated reaction to my despair the first time someone called me the n-word while I was out on a run.
Which brings me to the second half of the program. I easily rejoice in performing Jewish music; hence Bloch’s Prayer. I avoided performing spirituals until now, fearing it seen as appropriation or not feeling “black enough” to perform. Christianity is my dad's family's thing. It wasn't relevant to me as a kid. However, when visiting Ghana, there was always gospel radio on in the car. I loved the music, but the lyrics were that of a foreign religion. Needless to say, my black experience is complex in how I have learned to embrace my Ghanaian and Jewish heritage as I walk the world as a brown woman.
I am excited and honored to share this program with you today and hope my thoughts and memories spark questions and thoughts of your own.
Chava Appiah is a cello fellow at the New World Symphony in Miami. Her performance experience spans from Tokyo’s Suntory Hall and New York’s Carnegie Hall, to more intimate settings such as Emmanuel Church of Boston and The Cleveland Institute of Art. She is passionate about sharing performances through orchestral, solo, and chamber music, most recently in New World's "Live From Our Living Room" online concert series. Ms. Appiah studied at the New England Conservatory with Natasha Brofsky and at Oberlin College and Conservatory with Catharina Meints, earning degrees in both cello performance and neuroscience.
Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)
Omaramor for Solo Cello (1991)
George Walker (1922-2018)
Cello Sonata (1957)
I. Allegro passionato
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959)
Prayer, “From Jewish Life”, No. 1
Maria Thompson Corley (b. 1966)
Motherless Child/Sweet Chariot