I first met Awadagin when I was a freshman at the University of Illinois in 1984. He was also a freshman that year, at the age of 16. He was one of those guys in theory class that drove me nuts. He never seemed to be paying attention, but he always knew the answers…
When I got to know him better I found out that he had the gift of perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is when someone can listen to a musical note, played or sung, either live or recorded and they can tell you exactly what note it is. For wunderkinds like Awadagin it went one step further. He could tell you the chords too and probably could sit down and write the whole piece out on paper just by hearing it. For an 18-year old kid like me who had to work so hard at it I found him irritating and intriguing all at the same time.
Dodge’s musical gifts weren’t limited to the piano. He was equally gifted as a violinist and violist. We performed the Beethoven Serenade, Op.25 together on a recital in 1986 and Dodge played the violin part. I remember some very interesting coaching sessions with my flute professor, Alexander Murray, who had been raised in Johannesberg, South Africa in the 1940′s. Apartheid certainly existed during Alex Murray’s days in South Africa and in fact still did in 1986 as Nelson Mandela was still in prison. He really didn’t know quite what to do with this young black man sitting in his studio. The world may not be where it needs to be yet, but when I see Awadagin being introduced by Michelle Obama to perform at the Whitehouse, i realize that we all have traveled a long way from [what used to be] Normal.
In 1992, while studying at Peabody and with so little money that he didn’t even have a checking account, Awadagin became the first African-American to win the Naumberg International Piano Competition. It was one of those great moments that made everything worth it. All the people who had dismissed him couldn’t any longer. Ever since he has been a tour de force in American chamber music. In September 2004, Pratt was appointed Assistant Professor of Piano and Artist-in-Residence at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.