In the Spirit of Yuletide, They Sing

In the Spirit of Yuletide, They Sing

The Amadeus Singers, the musical arm of the Amadeus Arts Foundation, makes a spectacular comeback with a Christmas concert. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports 

Talk about resilience! The Amadeus Singers, dressed primarily in black with a splash of crimson and performing for the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak, appear poised to defy all obstacles stacked against them this sweltering Sunday, December 3 evening. One of these obstacles is the venue—a cosy, narrow L-shaped hall at the Grail Centre along Adeniyi-Jones Street in Ikeja, Lagos—which was obviously not conceived for hosting concerts.

Exciting though the idea of a Christmas concert with the theme A Child from Bethlehem may sound, it comes with a burden of expectations from the audience—albeit unspoken—that weighs heavily on the choral group, which, directed by Dr. Chinedu Nathan Osinigwe, operates under the aegis of the Amadeus Arts Foundation. Kudos therefore to whoever conceived the idea of prefacing each of the concert’s three segments—referred to as “presentations”—with voiceover narrations by Nnaemeka Agina.

So it happens that the concert, an exciting mishmash of hymns, carols, and instrumental performances, spiced with solos, succeeds in keeping the audience in suspense by forcing them to sit through two opening solo performances—one by a bassist and another by a tenor—before hearing the Amadeus Singers sing the famous hymn, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” While the choir may not surprisingly seem to get more sure-footed with each subsequent song, it is also evident that its mostly amateur singers are more at home singing the more laid-back calypso offering by Jubilate music group “See Him A-Lying on a Bed of Straw” and indigenous carols from four different Nigerian ethnic groups. Besides the humour value of Osinigwe’s Igbo language animal song, the cheerful tempo of the same composer’s carols in Hausa, Efik, and Yoruba must have so infected the audience that their hearty applause couldn’t have been anything but spontaneous.

Then, of course, the fact that choral presentations are thoughtfully interspersed with insightful, sporadic voiceover narration serves as a constant reminder to the audience of the season’s joyful message—which, regrettably, has long since faded away amid the revelries of the epicurean fun fair that passes itself as Christmas. Indeed, it cannot be overstated that the season is all about the birth of a Saviour, Who, as a Mediator between the Godhead and erring humanity, incarnated in flesh and blood as a Part of the Almighty, through an Act of His Will, as the Incarnate Word. The words “Man will live forever more because of Christmas Day” from the hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and the lyrics of the subsequently sung “Sussex Carol,” which were first published in 1684 in a book titled Small Garland of Pious and Godly Songs by a certain 17th-century Irish bishop named Luke Wadding, both aptly highlight the imperative necessity of Christ’s earthly mission.

Surely, the choir deserves praise for not faltering in singing the long-drawn-out strophes of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” The anthem is a popular English title of the chorale from Johann Sebastian Bach’s 1723 Advent cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life), BWV 147, which occurs twice in the cantata. The same is true of its performance of “Christians, Awake, Salute the Happy Morn,” an English Christmas hymn based on a text by John Byrom and sung to the tune “Yorkshire” by John Wainright.

As for the efforts of the soloists, especially those of Deborah Awunor (soprano), Erhieyovwe Obodo (soprano), Nwife Akhidenor (alto), and Edikan Abia (tenor), among others, they deserve special mentions. Kudos also to the solo instrumentalist Edikan Abia, who is obviously at home with the recorder; the percussionists, Ogunbowale Williams and the Okeakpu siblings (Uzonnakamso, Otitodilinna, and Kamsiyonna), whose sterling performances belie their juvenile looks; and the pianist, Victor Eze, who, as an accompanist, is the concert’s behind-the-scene hero.

Then, there is the inclusion of an audience’s participation—wittingly curated by Chijioke Nwamara—in the concert’s programme, which offers an opportunity to unearth talents that have hitherto been hidden under bushels, so to speak. But shouldn’t the poetry recitation part, featuring only Patrick Akhidenor and which unfortunately seems able to accommodate one poem—the American poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (a work first published in the August 1915 issue of the Atlantic Monthly and later published as the first poem in the 1916 poetry collection, Mountain Interval)—be part of it?

Surely, many i’s and t’s must yet be crossed for the choir’s future outings. Better luck next time to those who hoped for a more varied instrumental performance portion with cellists, violinists, and pianists. For the time being, they should be satisfied with Edikan Abia’s deftness with the recorder.

All of this, in the spirit of the Yuletide, is brought to a happy ending with the Amadeus Singers’ hearty rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” set to Boney M’s “Feliz Navidad” along with the audience.

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