Monday, November 05, 2007

The 90th good thing about Lagos: African choral music

I'm worn out today after subbing in a 1st grade classroom at the American school. I enjoyed it, but it was tiring. But one nice thing about working -- I return home in the afternoon and the dishes from the night before are done and put away, the bed was changed with fresh sheets and sheets washed, floors mopped and bathrooms cleaned. It's really nice to have a stewardess!

This weekend we went to a choral concert, the final performance of the Muson (Musical society of Nigeria) festival. It was the best attended of the performances we saw -- obviously people here enjoy choral music. The first half of the concert was Western music -- a performance of Mendelssohn's "Lobegesang," (Hymn of Praise). It was not a piece I was familiar with, but it was quite enjoyable, despite the struggling orchestra. The choral movements were a large part of the work and the choir did a good job and the soloists were excellent. There was a nice setting of the hymn "Now Thank We All Our God" in one of the movements. And my soprano friends may want to look up the music for movement 5, which is a beautiful soprano duet. The interesting program notes about the work said that this piece was written for a festival in Leipzig, Germany in 1840 (where Mendelssohn was then directing their orchestra) celebrating the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. Most of the choral movements were set to texts from the Psalms -- so the major theme of the work is praising God for blessings (like the printing press). One interesting tidbit from the notes is that a movement from a work Mendelssohn wrote for another evening in this festival is well known to us today as "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." Who would have guessed that the printing press and this Christmas carol have a connection? It's a bit of trivia that will probably never be useful, but you never know when you can impress someone knowing something like that!

During the intermission, the choir members changed out of their tuxedos and shimmering chorus gowns into colorful African dress. The second half was African choral music, and it was a highlight of the evening. They sang mostly without scores and were accompanied with a piano, at times, and percussion. They swayed together during much of the singing. It was kind of interesting to see how the 2 white people in the chorus just don't do the swaying as comfortably as the Nigerians. I can relate -- I remember when the Houston Symphony Chorus joined with a couple of church gospel choirs for "Gospel Night at the Symphony." It was lots of fun, but it was clear that us whites just didn't have the same knack for the swaying as did those black gospel singers. It must be something in the genes. The video clip below doesn't really do justice to the performance, but you may get a hint of what it was like. We were told (by a Nigerian musician in the audience) that this music was African folk songs that had been arranged for choir, but probably most of it had not been published. Much of the music was fairly complicated rhythmically and harmonically. It was a real treat to hear this Nigerian choir!

(Sorry, it looks like this video turned out really dark here -- unfortunately, I don't know how to lighten it so you can see their colorful green African dress costumes.)
video

1 comment:

Erin said...

As I was on the edge of experiencing my first pregnancy meltdown today, I realize that I could really use a stewardess too. I wish one was included in our rent. I would want OUR stewardess to do basically everything you mentioned...my life would be so much easier. Guess I am going to have to move to Nigeria for that one.