Allison Nelson: Pianist, Teacher and Editor
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This study documents the varied and significant contributions of Allison Nelson (b. 1927) to the field of piano through her work as a solo and collaborative pianist as part of the piano duo Nelson and Neal and teacher, primarily as a faculty member at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM), and as a writer and editor of the Nelson and Neal Piano Study Series and seventeen piano ensemble publications for Alfred Music. Nelson’s career has spanned over seventy-five years. Beginning in 1938, performances as a child prodigy in Australia both on the radio and in public venues for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) launched what became a distinguished career. As part of the highly regarded Nelson and Neal piano duo, Allison Nelson toured the United States and Canada from 1950 to 1968 with her husband, Harry Neal, performing approximately 1,500 concerts. Following Neal’s death in 1968, Nelson served as artist-in-residence at UTM from 1971 to 1989 where she helped establish the bachelor of music in piano performance degree program at UTM and founded the UTM Piano Ensemble, a course for music majors led by Nelson that created performance opportunities for its students. Nelson first wrote and edited the Nelson and Neal Piano Study Series in the 1960s, and in her retirement began extensive editing work with co-editor Dr. Maurice Hinson on piano ensemble publications for Alfred Music. This editing work began in 2005 and continues to this day. Nelson’s contributions as a pianist, teacher and editor are characterized by her seriousness as a musician and her deep understanding of the nuances of solo and collaborative performance. The author interviewed Nelson as well as professional colleagues who worked with her in various capacities to profile Nelson’s contributions. The author also gathered information through mailed questionnaires from additional colleagues as well as from former students of Nelson. This study contains seven chapters and several appendices. Chapter 1 introduces the subject, contains a description of the procedures and sources used, and includes a review of similar studies. Chapter 2 contains a biographical sketch of Nelson. Chapter 3 reviews Nelson’s contributions as a pianist including her years as a child prodigy in Australia, beginning at age ten in 1938, her time at the Curtis Institute (1944-1949), her Nelson and Neal duo years (1949-1968) and her service as artist-in-residence at UTM and beyond. Chapter 4 considers Nelson’s contributions as a teacher, and includes her years as artist-in-residence at UTM where she helped establish the bachelor of music in piano performance degree program, the UTM Piano Ensemble and the University Trio at UTM. Chapter 4 also considers Nelson’s attributes as a teacher and the assimilation of her teaching philosophies as seen through the eyes of former students and colleagues who participated in this study. Chapter 5 explores Nelson’s contributions through her work on the Nelson and Neal Piano Study Series and chapter 6 documents her collaboration and work for Alfred Music on piano ensemble editions. Chapter 7 summarizes Nelson’s contributions and makes recommendations for further research. The appendices provide lists of work produced by Nelson as well as information on and methodology used for the research, including interview guides and questionnaires mailed to Nelson’s colleagues and former students.
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