Excerpted from a Guest Artist Interview in the April 2017 issue of the Pro-Motion Music e-newsletter
Jeannine: Born in Lagos, Nigeria, what were your first musical experiences?
Dr. Sadoh: My first musical experiences in Lagos could be attributed to six entities or stages: My late mother, Taiwo Akinsanya, frequently sang to me and my other siblings a lot of Nigerian traditional music, pop music, church songs, and American Hollywood music by Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and John Wayne; My second encounter with music as a child was in the company of my sisters who shared folktale stories and the folksongs that go with them; The third point of my musical experience in Lagos were the observances of traditional festivals, naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals, house warming parties, that involved singing, hand clapping, playing of musical instruments, and dancing in different parts of Lagos; I will give the fourth encounter to my days at the Eko Boys’ High School where I was introduced to choral songs and piano accompaniment in the school’s choir, and subsequently appointed by the Teaching staff as the Organist and Choirmaster of the school at the tender age of 16; The fifth place was at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Idi-Oro. I joined the choir, sang tenor, became Assistant Organist and played several services, especially when the main organist was out of time; Finally, at the Cathedral Church of Christ Choir, I was formally introduced to advanced church music, complex compositions such as oratorios and cantatas, responses, and chanting of the Psalms of David. The choir performed works by notable composers such as John Ireland, William Byrd, John Stainer, Bernard Rose, David Willcocks, John Rutter, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Wesley, Thomas Attwood, Charles Villiers Stanford, Malcolm Archer, George Thalben-Ball, Sydney Nicholson, Hubert Howells, Hubert Parry, Edward Elgar, Mary Kay Beall, Eric Thiman, Healey Willan, Walford Davies, Edward Bairstow, William Harris, Orlando Gibbons, Martin Shaw, William Boyce, William Matthaias, Robert Cooke, and Charles Stanley.
One of the criteria to get admitted to the Cathedral Choir as an adult was the ability to sight read music as fast as possible because the choir sings numerous difficult compositions every week. It takes the choir about three months to prepare the entire three-part Messiah for concert during Easter season. Other major works performed by the Cathedral Choir were Mendelssohn’s Elijah, St. Paul, and Hymn of Praise; Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast; George Frederic Handel’s Messiah, Ode to Joy, Judas Maccabaeus, and Ode on Saint Cecilia’s Day; Joseph Haydn’s Creation; John Stainer’s Daughter of Jairus, and Crucifixion; Walford Davies’ The Temple. It was also in Lagos that I practiced on the piano for at least six hours daily and took the piano, theory, and general musicianship graded external examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, London. When it was getting close to my practical exams, I would stay behind on Sundays after worship to practice from 12:00PM to 6:00PM when the evening service would commence.
Jeannine: How and where did you discover the world of the organ?
Dr. Sadoh: I taught myself to play on the electronic-digital organ while at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Idi-Oro. However, I was exposed to the pipe organ at the Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos, when I joined in 1980. I still remember the awe and amazement on my face when I first saw and heard the sound emitting from the herculean instrument known as the King of all Western instruments and a one-man orchestra. At the end of each service on Sundays, I always ran as quickly as I could after the recession of the choir from the church, back to seat as close as possible to observe the organist play the postlude. It was heavenly for me. I would watch the feet of the organist as they move on the pedals and saw the pulling out of the stops and change of sound. I wanted to play the massive instrument so badly and accompany the congregation in singing. I received my first lesson in organ from the then Organist and Master of the Music, Charles Obayomi Phillips (1919-2007), who later appointed me as an Assisting Organist in 1982. It was Phillips who prepared me for all my piano examinations which I passed with Merits and Distinctions.
As the Assisting Organist, I accompanied the choir rehearsals on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:00PM to 7:00PM, and I played for the early morning Eucharist at 7:15AM on Sundays. One of the most profound experiences I had at the Cathedral Church was the meeting of some of the most advanced professionally-trained organists, choir directors, and operatic singers. I was privileged to hear preludes and postludes every Sunday, and observed several organ recitals played by the Cathedral organists and guest organists. This was how I was introduced and got hooked to the pipe organ and its music. In 1994, I left Nigeria to study African ethnomusicology and organ at the University of Pittsburgh, and received an MA in 1998. My organ instructor was Robert Lord. I earned an M. Mus. in organ and church music from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, under the tutelage of Quentin Faulkner and George Ritchie. At Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, I distinguished myself in 2004 as the first African to receive the Doctorate in Organ performance from any institution in the world. I studied organ with Herndon Spillman and composition with Dinos Constantinides.
Dr. Jeannine Jordan, concert organist, and David Jordan, media artist, are the creators and performers of three organ and multi-media concert experiences, Around the World in 80 Minutes, Bach and Sons, and From Sea to Shining Sea. Contact Dr. Jordan at email@example.com for information.