February 10, 2017
Ottawa pianist John Dapaah recalls the surprised looks on people’s faces once when he arrived for a classical audition.
“It was like, ‘Whoa, a black guy,'” Dapaah says.
There have been other instances of “those looks — ‘What’s he doing here?'” he adds.
“I try not to give too much thought to that because that consumes you and it takes away from the art.”
As for that audition in question? “When I finished, they were pleasantly surprised,” Dapaah says.
The 27-year-old is giving four concerts in February as part of Black History Month. Dapaah has a foot in each of the classical and jazz-and-pop worlds, and his concerts will reflect that versatility.
Two of the four concerts — a performance this Sunday night with singer Angelique Francis at Ottawa Pianos on Bank Street then a Feb. 18 piano trio concert at the same venue — are already sold out.
The other two concerts are at Ottawa churches. On Wednesday at noon at Southminster United Church, Dapaah will play with the Despax String Quartet, playing music by Robert Schumann as well as some spirituals. On Feb. 25, at a time to be determined, Dapaah will play with the singers Roxanne Goodman and Michael Hanna.
After the Wednesday concert, Dapaah will take part in a discussion of classical music and race.
For his part, he says that whatever snubs and attitudes he’s received have only made him stronger. “It’s almost like I have to prove myself. I like that challenge,” Dapaah says. “It motivates me to go hard, to be better, as much as it can be uncomfortable sometimes.”
While he was born in Ghana, Dapaah lived in Japan from the ages of six to 11. When he lived in Japan, he began piano lessons with the wife of his church’s pastor.
Then, he moved to Ottawa. He also stopped taking piano lessons, although he says that during high school he continued to teach himself music.
After high school, he chose to study music rather than his other interest, architecture. He wanted to stay in Ottawa, and chose Carleton University over the University of Ottawa because the former’s music program was more eclectic.
He began with jazz studies at Carleton. “It’s liberating to be able to improvise,” he says. But before long, he returned to his classical roots. He finished his Carleton degree as an exchange student, studying classical piano in Graz, Austria, for six months.