When Essex County College Music Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Performing Arts Richard Alston performed “Troubled Water,” he was honoring African American composer and pianist Margaret Allison Bonds. Now he is being honored for his heartfelt piano rendition of Ms. Bonds’ spiritual “Wade in the Water” by his alma mater, The Julliard School.
Professor Alston’s video of “Troubled Water” is the winner of The Juilliard School Alumni Video of the Month for January. In his repertoire since the late 1990s, Alston performed this version of “Troubled Waters in concert at the First Congregational Church of Montclair. His performance is here: http://www.juilliard.edu/alumni-video-month.
He earned both bachelor and master degrees from the famed New York City school.
“I’ve performed Liszt and Chopin over the years, but to be honored for a piece by a famed African American composer, well that makes me especially happy,” said the outgoing professor. He submitted the video about a year ago, so he admitted being caught a little off guard when he received the email from Juilliard informing him of the monthly honor. That particular piece was described by renowned poet Maya Angelou as one of Ms. Bonds’ “masterpieces.” Ms. Bonds died in 1972.
The honor also benefits Essex County College in general and the music program in particular. It also brightens the spotlight on another of Professor Alston’s initiatives.
Professor Alston is host and producer of the Cablevision production of “Performing Arts Showcase,” recorded at the College, and featuring musicians and other performers in the area. “When you watch the telecasts, you really get to see Essex County College,” he said. “You see the College from the outside, you see our wonderful Mary Burch Theater and most importantly, you see our students in class and performing.”
The East Orange resident also finds time to put on a lecture/performance of “Classically Black: Composers of African Descent” at college campuses around the country.
When he was a student, Professor Alston was once told by a teacher to “lift as you climb.” “I’ve kept that line in my heart and soul all these years. I believe that as a person has opportunities in life, they should bring everyone they can along with them. I’m thankful I’ve been able to do just that with our students.”
He was also “lifted” over the years. He recalled that his first music teacher who inspired him was a woman who was also a Juilliard graduate and a fellow East Orange resident. And now, he is in a position to “lift as you climb.”