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Review of “Think…..Together” by Dr. Charlotte Hester

If one can capture in sound the heart of a musician “Think…..Together,” a new release by Steinway artist Kadisha Onalabayeva, indeed achieves that goal.  The eleven compositions exhibit the characteristic style and mastery of the keyboard, gentleness, exuberance and often cheekiness with which Onalbayeva’s students, colleagues, and followers are familiar.  The title composition, “Think….Together,” is dedicated to Aisuly Dosaeva, the composer’s teacher as well as teachers everywhere. Widely expressive, the music illustrates the influence a teacher has on the pupil through gentle nudging, encouragement, challenges and high expectations, all of which are needed for students to grow.  The compilation includes Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor, Wo0 80 and an arrangement of excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, which was originally created as a video collaboration with University of Mobile’s RamCorps.  The inclusion of these performances demonstrates Dr. Onalbayeva’s commitment to excellence not only as a performer, but as a mentor and teacher.

Two compositions are homages to Dr. Onalbayeva’s homeland, Kazakhstan.   Alla, a work composed for the documentary “Muse of Dior”and dedicated to model Alla Ilchun, exudes a quiet strength.  The music says,  “I am a woman steadfast, strong, and full of grace.”   The Kazakh Variations “Desert” are very different than Alla.  When one thinks of a desert, a wasteland often comes to mind but these variations beautifully illustrate that within the sand and the heat is flourishing wildlife and beauty to embrace.  The melodies and rhythms, reminiscent of Kazakh dances, are contemplative and wandering and then energetic and playful reflecting the diversity of the desert landscape and the fond memories of the composer.

Dr. Onalbayeva’s arrangements of Amazing Grace and The Lord’s Prayer were inspired by women who modeled service to their fellow man and a devout love of God:  Dorothy Coleman (her mother-in-law) and Susan Turner.  That Dr. Onalbayeva was profoundly influenced by these women is evidenced in her expressive playing of these hymns of faith.

’96 Etude by Michael Coleman is an energetic work featuring arpeggios in contrary motion, sweeping across the keyboard in perpetual motion.  The composition was the result of a breakfast conversation between the composer and his pianist-wife, Dr. O, which suggests that morning coffee can indeed yield lovely art.

In my conversations with composer Michael Coleman he has struck me as a man of reserve and yet in Chaconne No. 1 the music speaks conversationally and intently as someone with something specific and profound to say and once said, it is time to be silent.  In contrast Lullaby for Dorothy exudes the sweetness and gentleness of a grandfather’s love.  The lullaby began as an improvisation as Dorothy, a precocious child with curly hair and twinkling eyes was trying to go sleep.

Think….Together by Kadisha Onalbaya is a beautifully rendered musical offering by a skilled and expressive artist but for this listener it is also a musical reminder of the connections that we have with people in our daily lives whether they are fellow citizens, friends, students, colleagues or family.  As we again draw together, it seems to me that these connections and their expressions are indeed something that we should think about.

Dr. Charlotte Hester
Associate Professor of Music
Director of Music Education
Alabama School of the Arts
University of Mobile