A Year In: Artina McCain, pianist

A busy schedule paused by the pandemic gave time for a long awaited album release


Artina McCain manages a multi-fold career as a piano soloist and university educator.And she is a scholar and concert curator of music by Black and other underrepresented composers.

McCain curates Black composers concerts for multiple arts organizations, including the Austin Chamber Music Center, the 2018 iteration of which, “The Black Female Composer,” garnered McCain an Austin Critics Table Award.

As she told Sightlines writer Dana Wen in 2018, “There are so many composers of African descent all over the world, and their music isn’t programmed that often.”

“A Concert of African Diaspora Composers, from the 18th Century to contemporary Puerto Rico”

This year music publisher Hal Leonard will publish McCain’s transcriptions of African American folk sSongs, and her 2016 album “I, Too” (Naxos), is a collaboration with soprano Icy Simpson Monroe, a collection of African American spirituals and art songs.

Long active in Austin after receiving her doctorate at the University of Texas Butler School of Music, McCain is now based in Memphis where she is on the faculty at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music at the University of Memphis. Her husband, trombonist Martin McCain, is on the faculty of Texas State University, and the two perform as the McCain Duo.

The strange quiet of the pandemic gave Artina a chance to release her album “Heritage: An American Musical Legacy,” which has already netted a Gold Global Music Award.

And on March 17 — a year after the world went into lockdown — McCain performed live with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, playing Florence Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement (1932-34), a virtuosic piece.

Sightlines: What were you working on and looking forward to when the lockdown began in mid-March 2020? What was the first of your work you saw cancelled?

Artina McCain: Last year when the lockdown began I had a big trip planned to go to Colombia for a guest artist residency. It would have been my first time in South America and I was thrilled to go. Also in the same week I was scheduled to perform the epic Beethoven Archduke trio in Florida. Everything happened so quickly and I went from non-stop practicing to figuring out new things to do.

S: What part of the pandemic were you surprised to find being a creative benefit?

AM: A huge creative benefit was the free time! Sometimes having too much to do can really be a drain on our creative energy. While it was odd at first, I had been moving non-stop before the pandemic and during the pandemic (and still!) I find myself honing other skills. I have created numerous video projects, learned new repertoire and made a lot of new artistic connections via Zoom. Also I have a real passion for the works of Black composers. In the light of the events of George Floyd and continued racial unrest, I found new creative spaces to celebrate and promote the works of Black composers.

Also a huge creative benefit with the additional time was the opportunity to release my album “Heritage.” It won a Gold Global Music Award and has received many positive reviews. I am so thankful for the time to birth these projects.

S: What changes do you want to see in music, how it’s practiced and how it’s presented to an audience? What could/should the so-called ‘new normal’ of classical music look like?

AM: I would love to see more of a hybrid approach to disseminating music. While I miss live concerts, I have also had the opportunity to attend events and interact with artists I would never have been able to pre pandemic. These new opportunities and interactions have been very enriching.

S: Artistically, what’s next that you look forward to, and are excited by?

AM: I am super excited about connecting with audiences again. Recently, I had the opportunity to perform the Florence Price Piano Concerto with the Dallas Symphony orchestra which was my first time on the stage in a year! I have several events lined up in person in the fall and hope that they will move forward. The energy from the audience is something that is so special and magical.

The series ‘A Year In’ catches up with artists now that the coronavirus pandemic has passed its one-year mark.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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