Listening Room

11 American SpiritualAmerican Spiritual
Michael Lee
Independent ML202301 (


Piano Sonata in E minor: 1. Andante - Allegro

Spiritual Suite: III. Troubled Water

8 Bible Vignettes: No. 8, Madrigal Divine

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Although some more than others (professors, teachers, music critics, authors), we are all canon formers one way or another. While we may think that our musical decisions about what we “like” or “don’t like” is based upon our individual agency and personhood, in truth our tastes have been shaped and formed by friends, teachers, disc jockeys, books, or, increasingly, a Stockholm-based AI chatbot that algorithmically suggests playlists based upon our Spotify listening habits. Next, we in turn pass on said formed tastes to others, reinforcing our personal musical canon with our listening, artistic preferences and the concerts we choose to attend. The point of this review, however, is not to go down a Theodor Adorno-inspired Marxist rabbit hole about the illusion of choice, but rather to say that musical canons, like taste, are both fluid and malleable. And a good thing too. In the last number of years, there has been a concerted effort by symphonies, artistic societies and record labels to feature greater diversity and inclusion in their offerings, broadening the range of the artists whom they have chosen to platform.

Michael Lee, a DMA scholar, current faculty member at his alma mater  the University of Toronto, and a tremendous pianist, has taken on this responsibility of canon expansion with seriousness, aplomb and care. And, supported by an arts grant from ArtsNL (The Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council), Lee has made a beautiful recording capturing a number of major piano works from BIPOC composers. American Spiritual seamlessly bridges European Art Music with important American Spiritual compositions of Florence Price, Margaret Bonds and the Niagara Falls-born Canadian/American composer Robert Nathaniel Dett. The 2023 recording is top shelf, and the canonic expansion to include these important compositional voices most welcome.

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