IT TAKES TWO CHOIRS TO PARTY

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MUSON Centre’s 2 Choirs Concert, which featured the renowned King’s College London Choir alongside the MUSON Choir, is the brightest spot in its events calendar, writes Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

Obviously, this is one of those unheeded historic moments in classical music annals. Surely, having a choir like the renowned King’s College London Choir live on a Lagos stage, alongside the MUSON Choir, deserves more than a passing mention! Isn’t it, therefore, anticlimactic that the choir’s visit – long-heralded and trumpeted in the Musical Society of Nigeria’s events calendar – eventually flits by like just any other event?

Perhaps, the natural insularity of classical music events takes a greater part of the blame. Or, perhaps, it could be because of the glut of cultural events in the recent weeks.

Whatever. The fact that the local classical music buffs readily warmed up to the concert, dubbed 2 Choirs Concert, saves the day. For isn’t it pairing the local MUSON Choir with one of England’s best a landmark event? Indeed, the King’s College London is touted “as one of the leading university choirs in England”.

The choir, which has been existing in its present form since 1945, basically provides music for chapel worship at the London-based university. Besides the weekly Eucharist and Evensong offered during the term, the choir also sings in various other services held in the chapel, which are frequently broadcast on BBC Radio. There was, for instance, the Epiphany Carols Service, which was broadcast on Radio 3 in January 2017.

Outside the university, the choir also regularly sings for worship at both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. This is in addition to its many concert performances and appearances in such festivals in England as the Spitalfields Festival, Oundle International Festival, and the Christmas Festival at St. John’s Smith Square.

The Joseph Fort-led choir’s many international tours have recently seen it visiting countries like Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, and the USA. And in July 2017, it served as choir-in-residence for the north-east convention of American Guild of Organists and Royal Canadian College of Organists in Montreal. With its many recordings and “an ongoing relationship with Delphian Records”, it has definitely earned its seat of honour among the world’s best choirs. But the trouble with such lustrous antecedents is that it unreasonably ratchets up the audience’s expectations of the choir. Perhaps, this explains the latter’s subdued reception of its rendition of the opening anthem “God Is Gone Up…”, a work of the British composer George Finzi.

Then, the choir ups the ante with the more solemn and sombre William Byrd’s “Agnus Dei” (from Mass for Four Voices) and fully asserts itself with Hubert Parry’s “Blest Pair of Sirens”. Somehow, these contemplative moments with the visiting choir seems to flit quickly by.

Unmistakeable, therefore, is the concert’s abrupt mood-swing from sobriety to gaiety when the MUSON Choir files out on to the stage for the first time. Apart from donning stylish festive national green-themed attires, with red headdresses to match, the choristers seem disposed to dancing to all their locally-composed songs. This might indeed not be so awful, as it offers a counter-pole the King’s College Choir’s solemn offerings. And – who can tell? – the concert might have lapsed into a lachrymal experience.

Indeed, a concert bringing together two renowned choirs should indeed be a festive affair. Hence, it seems right that the opening song, Ayo Oluranti’s “Polongo Jesu” (Yoruba for “Proclaim Jesus”) should be rendered in a joyful mood. This, after all, is all about celebrating the Saviour.

This should definitely not be the case with the choir’s second offering “Atul’egwu” (Igbo for “Fear Not”), composed by Sam Ojukwu, whose message is admonitory. Perhaps, the rhythms of percussion instruments really overwhelm the song’s words.
The next song, “Agidigba” (an Igbo composition by Chinedu Osinigwe) should have been more reverential than insouciant. This is because the title, which is actually a hyperbolic adjective – if not a slang word – attempts to describe the Supreme Being, whose greatness is far beyond any creature’s imagination.

If the choir’s concluding song for the first part of the concert, “Shine Ubangiji” (Hausa for “King of Kings) by E. Y. Zwahu takes the cake as its best so far, it is because it induces the listener to lift up his heart for worship.

Back from the concert’s interval, the audience must have had a feeling of déjà vu when the King’s College London Choir files back on to stage. The choristers’ appearance somewhat evokes the beginning of the first part of the concert.

Their first song, Matthew Martin’s “An Invocation to the Holy Spirit”, is a short and simple composition, dedicated to the memory of the English organist David Robin Charles Trendell. Trendell, a lecturer and director of music at King’s College London, died on October 28, 2014. The work sets two Latin texts concerning baptism and Holy Spirit. It is well suited piece for confirmation or baptism services as well as for Pentecost. It is also a piece that involves the four vocal ranges of choral music (soprano, alto, tenor and bass or SATB) alongside a soprano solo.

If this choral piece seems to blur into the others, Thomas Weelkes’ “Alleluia! I Heard a Voice!”, Thomas Tallis’ “O Sacrum Convivium” and Herbert Howells’ “A Hymn for St. Cecelia”, it is because they are all ideal for worship. Besides, the choristers’ enchanting voices magically transport the listeners to an Anglican church’s hour of worship.

The mood lightens up once again with the return of the MUSON Choir, whose first song “Fun Mi N’Ibeji” (Yoruba for “Bless Me with Twins) by Ayo Bankole rouses the audience from its reverie. Strictly speaking, this song should be classified as a petition to the Most High rather than as a worship song. Even the next song, “Ibike” (which is Ijaw for “Worship God) by Derrick Esezobor sounds more like a highlife composition than a song composed for worship.

Hence, the choir’s succeeding highlife pieces – one by Ayo Ajayi, the other by James Yankey – remove the choristers’ last vestiges of restraint and literally turn the stage to a dance floor. Highlife, a West African popular musical genre that traces its origins in Ghana in early 20th century, is known for its melodic and rhythmic structures, which are appropriated from traditional Akan music and played with Western instruments.

With the two choirs now dancing together on stage, it is easier to have them organised for a joint performance of George Friedrich Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” (from The Messiah) conducted by Emeka Nwokedi. Dr Joseph Fort, now sporting a red fez and a locally-made tunic made from the indigo-dyed adire textile material over his black suit, conducts the concluding piece, “Messiah, Baba Mi (Messiah, My Father), which was composed by Ayo Oluranti.

This concert, by the way, is just one of the King’s College Choir’s three engagements while in Nigeria. Besides the MUSON Festival, which runs from October 17 to 28, this concert should be rated as the Musical Society of Nigeria’s most important for the year.
––This concert held on Friday, June 8 at the Agip Recital Hall of the MUSON Centre in Onikan, Lagos.

Pix- Nwokedi leading a combination of the two choirs.jpg, Fort conducts the two choirs.jpg and Members of the