Donald Derek Black

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Donald Derek Black was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1935. When the family inherited a piano from his grandfather he insisted on learning how to play it. However, he did not like practising and his teacher, Joyce Kadish, a concert pianist said she would not continue to teach him once he had entered the first level examination. He passed the examination with honours and so Joyce Kadish felt that she could not desert him if he could do so well without practising!

Donald's mother also played the piano but had learnt in a country town in the Orange Free State. That meant her technique was excellent but she felt she was lacking in expressive playing so Donald gallantly offered to teach her the technique Joyce Kadish had taught him. His mother was so outraged by his offer that she swore she would never play the piano again and the withdrawal of her participation and support resulted in Donald developing manic depression which he suffered from until January 1st, 1991. The incident caused him not only endless depressions but it also caused him to make mistakes compulsively in anything he played.

He took Music as a subject in high school. He was a boarder at Wynberg Boys' High School and went on to university but the constant mistakes he made in his playing and his difficulty in memorising pieces meant he soon dropped out of university. Instead he attended the Mass-Phillips Studio of Speech and Drama and gained the Associate and Licentiate Diplomas of Trinity College London in Speech and Drama, extra-murally.

He also went back to the University College of Music to take composition lessons but the tutor he was assigned categorically claimed that you could not begin a melody on the 7th note of the scale so he and Donald parted company.

Between work and evening classes he visited the Waldorf Café in the centre of Cape Town. His good friend Valda Bloomberg introduced him to Jeanne Robert who sang there with the Lisbon Gipsy Orchstra and she came and listened to some of the tunes Donald had composed. She selected one, added lyrics in French and performed it at the Waldorf Café as "Des Folies". This was the first tune Donald had composed and later became the Café Song theme in his piano concerto.

From 1955 to 1960 Donald worked as Secretary of the Speech Department and Front of House Manager of the Little Theatre, University of Cape Town. He acted in many productions -- in the title role of "The Private Secretary" by Charles Hawtrey, the 3rd God in "The Good Woman of Sechuan" by Bertholt Brecht and as the juvenile lead in "Moon Birds" by Marcel Aymé. He also performed for Theatre for Youth as Candlewick in "Pinocchio", the Clown in "Circus Adventure", the King in "Holes in their Soles" (the Dancing Princesses) and the title role in "Seraphino". During this time he studied composition with Laura Searle, a concert pianist, and also wrote music and songs for productions at the Little Theatre and for Theatre for Youth.

He came to London in 1960 to study at the London School of Film Technique in Brixton. After completing a six-month course there he wrote, produced, directed and played the lead in a 15-minute film comedy "One Man and his Dog". This became one of the Ten Best Amateur Films of 1973 (MovieMaker magazine), won the award for the best use of sound (MovieMaker magazine) with a score specially written by Pamela Liebeck whom Donald had met and collaborated with at the Little Theatre, Cape Town, where she had written incidental music for their productions of "Hamlet" and "Julius Caesar" by Shakespeare. The film won a silver medal at the Cannes International Amateur Film Festival in 1973 and the Best Comedy award at the Canadian International Amateur Film Festival.

Donald had hoped to write musicals a medium he loved but nothing was coming of that so in 1969 he decided to combine some of his tunes in a piano concerto and the format was sketched out during his week's annual winter leave that year.

As the concerto approached completion, Donald attended the Morley College in London to study Harmony, Counterpoint and Musical Composition and also Orchestral Conducting.

What the two main melodies in his concerto have in common is that they both start on the 7th note of the scale.

So as to prevent confusion with Don Black, the famous lyricist who wrote the words for "Born Free" for the film of the same name (and other well-known songs), Donald has felt it necessary to use his full name for his music.

The following are links to audio clips from "The Cafe Concerto".