Guest Artist Interview with Dr. Godwin Sadoh
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.
Jeannine: You have done extensive research and writing in the field of African ethnomusicology. How is this research being used to further music education and performance in Nigeria and beyond?
Dr. Sadoh: My extensive researches on African ethnomusicology, intercultural musicology, modern African art music, Nigerian church music, organ building, and composers, have been published in reputable international journals such as The Diapason, The Hymn, The Organ, The Organ Club Journal, Journal of the Royal College of Organists, The Organ: An Encyclopedia, The Musical Times, Africa, Choral Journal, Percussive Notes, MLA Notes, NTAMA, Living Music Journal, and Composer-USA. In fact, one of my books, Intercultural Dimensions in Ayo Bankole's Music, topped the bestseller list as No. 1 on Amazon in 2007. My books have been catalogued in some of the most prestigious archival centers and university libraries around the world, including the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Libraries, Harvard University Library, Yale University Library, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College Music Library--New Hampshire, UCLA Music Library, Duke University Library--North Carolina, Stanford University Library--California, Southern Methodist Libraries, Dallas--Texas, Center for Black Music Research--Chicago, Bayreuth University Library--Germany, Tufts University Library--Massachusetts, University of London, School of Oriental Studies and African Studies--London, Cathedral Church of Christ Library--Lagos, and the Music Libraries of the University of Pretoria, University of South Africa, University of Kwazulu-Natal, University of the Witwatersrand--Johannesburg, all nestled in South Africa. This is just to mention a few.
I am always excited and grateful to see my published articles and books listed as references in theses and dissertations, and in the syllabi of both undergraduate and graduate courses at colleges and universities around the world.
As regards my compositions, they have been performed all over the world including Birmingham, Cameroon, Canada, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Scotland, Tanzania, South Africa, and of course, the United States, where my music is performed regularly in churches and schools every week. Since my return to Nigeria in 2013 after several years of sojourn in the United States, I have come across a lot of Masters and PhD students and Music Instructors who informed me of how useful my scholarly publications have being to them when writing their theses or dissertations. My compositions too have been widely performed at churches, schools, colleges and universities all over Nigeria.
The climax of my creative reward in Nigeria were the mammoth concerts featuring only my compositions that took place in the nation's capital, Abuja, on April 29, 2016, and on August 6, 2016, at the prestigious Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos. The third phase of the concert would feature only my organ compositions at the Cathedral Church later in 2017; while the Grand Finale would take place in my late mother's home town in summer 2017. At this Finale, a 100-Mass Choir would perform my choral songs to the glory of God. To me, these are priceless and quantum experiences in my musical career!
Jeannine: Intercultural music is described as that in which elements from two or more cultures are integrated. Please describe your compositional technique and how it exhibits intercultural tendencies?
Dr. Sadoh: My compositions exemplify the process of intercultural music as three distinct cultures are vividly and copiously utilized in them; these cultures are Nigerian/African, European, and American. Jazz idiom in some of my early piano works is the major American influence on my music. As regards Nigeria, it could be further broken down to the influence of the Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa cultural traits. In terms of Africa as a continent, I have incorporated elements from South Africa and Ghana into my piano works especially the ten-movement Childhood Dreams. The Nigerian musical elements are quite glaring in my music because I always want my music to be conceptualized in that way, music written by a modern Nigerian composer. I deliberately make painstaking efforts to infuse a lot of Nigerian musical flavors into my music. Hence, I employ Nigerian traditional, popular, and church music resources in my compositions. Some of these elements are the rhythmic patterns, tonal organizations, parallel harmony, formal structures, timbres, folk melodies, instrumental resources, indigenous languages as exemplified in my Five Nigerian Songs for Vocal Solo and piano, Three Wedding Songs for Soprano and piano, and most of my choral songs that are in Yoruba.
Quite a number of my organ works are based on indigenous church tunes, traditional, and folksongs. In terms of tonality, I combine European pitch collections with indigenous Nigerian tonal schemes such as diatonic, pentatonic, hexatonic, and octatonic scales, atonality, as well as the 12-tone row method. For illustration, Memoirs of Childhood for piano is a three-movement work based mainly on pentatonic scale. My Nigerian Organ Symphony is largely influenced by 19th century French organ symphonic techniques, in particular, Louis Vierne and Charles Marie-Widor. Even though the character, style, and registrations of the five movement work are influenced by French music, the Nigerian Organ Symphony is infused with distinct African music creative and performance procedures such as scales, ostinati, call-and-response, interlocking rhythmic patterns, dance nuances, folk melodies, bell patterns, foot stamping, and hand clapping rhythms.
Structurally, the forms of my music ranges from simple binary, ternary, rondo, theme and variations, sonata form, aria, strophic, through-composed, canonic imitation, contrapuntal forms to other free styles. In the area of instrumental resources, I do conjoin Western and Nigerian traditional instruments, such as the Fisherman Song for Flute and Organ, African Nostalgia for Xylophone, Harmattan Overture for Symphony Orchestra and Nigerian Instruments, and Folk Dance for a Percussion Ensemble of Four Players.
One of my most successful intercultural compositions is The Misfortune of a Wise Tortoise for Organ and Narrator (An African Folktale).It is a work created to introduce kids to the nature and workings of the pipe organ. This composition could be regarded as a "Nigerian program music," in which the organ replicates the narrated folk story in sonic space. There are 8 short pieces that are actually variations of the original song that goes with the folktale. Each organ piece is given divers registrations to introduce the children to the various sounds that the pipe organ is capable of producing.
I am always excited to hear comments from organists around the world telling me how much they enjoy playing my music and that my compositions are practically different in style from all the other organ repertoire they have ever played. That is so cool to hear. They could feel the Africanesques in my music. Here are some comments from selected organists and pianist:
i) In a letter on March 17, 2008, American organist, John Abuya, writes: "Dear Dr. Sadoh, . . . Your music is interesting and delightfully refreshing. I have nothing like it in my repertoire. I am entranced by the authentic African melodies and rhythms. You can be assured that I will use them in my service playing at church and my organ recitals. God has truly blessed you with a great gift. . ."
ii) In The Organ, a British journal, August 2008, No. 345, A review of the Nigerian Organ Symphony, Roger Rayner, writes: "Sadoh makes an important contribution to our repertoire in introducing African rhythms and a style of playing possibly unfamiliar to most of us."
iii) From Michael Vollmer, German organist, Bielefeld, Westphalia: "Godwin, let me tell you briefly about last Sunday. We had a feast with our congregation, we had fellowship the whole day. My best friend and I lead the Gospel Choir and we sang some songs. I had your Nigerian Suite No. 2 with me and we were so full of Gospel music that (when everyone was having lunch outside) I pulled out your Suite and started playing. Of course, I held back "K'a Juba," this is for tomorrow. :-) But I played the last movement, the “Royal Dance.” My friend grabbed a pair of Bongos and joined me. It was so much fun, so vivid, so full of life. We played the entire suite *three times* and hearing us from the outside, people would pop in and listen. When we finished, the church was a quarter full and your music earned much applause! :-) Thank you for this music, it is new to me and although I may not always understand the background, I feel the life and the spirit behind every written bar!" [April 14, 2011].
iv) Stephen Jenkins of the American Guild of Organists, Holland, Michigan Chapter, writes: "I find Godwin Sadoh's work fun to play and refreshing. I love the way he uses Nigerian riffs on the pipe organ. Dude rocks." He made this remark after listening to the recording of "Konkonkolo" from Five African Dances for organ solo. [February 24, 2015].
v) E-mail message on February 10, 2016, Italian international concert pianist, Silvia Belfiore, comments on my compositional style: "Your music plays an important role in my repertory. The interest that it arouses is extraordinary. Your music is characterized by metric mixtures, syncopation, rhythmic counterpoints, and above all, clarity and transparency. Through your music, I discovered that the process of composing music and creating hierarchies within the voices of a piece are the dichotomy between traditional practicum and modern expressionism. I can also attest that the public reactions were amazing everywhere I played your music, in any country, and for any type of audience."
vi) Facebook comment on February 20, 2016, American musician, Daniel Walton, writes, "This is super cool. I've never heard these definitely African sounds out of an organ, and it's such a joyous noise." Reacting to Mark Pace's performance of "Ijo Oba" (Royal Dance) from Nigerian Suite No. 2 for organ.
vii) Chase Castle: "Looking forward to playing selections from Godwin Sadoh's Impressions from an African Moonlight. Sadoh is a Nigerian organist, composer, and ethnomusicologist, who offers trans-cultural and exciting modern organ repertoire." [October 8, 2016].
viii) Monty Bennett: "Godwin, they loved your pieces! You should have heard the applause after the toccata!!!! The best part was that because the console is turned so the organist looks at the auditorium, there was a camera placed on me and was shown on a big screen at the front of the hall. They could see my feet playing the toccata and the fast pedal work." This is a report of the audience response to the Middle-Eastern Premiere of Nigerian Suite No. 1 for solo organ, at the prestigious Israel International Organ Festival 2016-2017, under the auspices of the Israel Organ Association, at the Hecht Museum Auditorium, Haifa University, Israel, on February 24, 2017.
Jeannine: Your compositional output includes music for the organ as well as many other choral and instrumental combinations. Where can one find/listen to your music?
Dr. Sadoh: All my publications are on the internet, however, my website is the best place to find most of the audio and video recordings of my compositions performed by various artists from around the world and myself. Videos of my music are also on YouTube.
**My official website: www.reverbnation.com/godwinsadoh
**Organ solos, choral songs, hymn book: http://www.wayneleupold.com/catalogsearch/result/?q=godwin+sadoh
**Chamber and Orchestra works: http://www.wehrs-music-house.com/?page_id=1364
**Two Organ Works: http://www.evensongmusic.net/sadohorgan.html
**Organ, piano, vocal solo, Duet, chamber, orchestra, books: www.lulu.com/spotlight/godwinsadoh
Jeannine: Other ideas/thoughts you’d like to share with our readers.
Dr. Sadoh: For all those who might be interested in the creative and analytical procedures of Nigerian compositions, certainly, my books are A-Must-Read. The books contain biographies and analytical discourses of modern Nigerian compositions. These books are valuable resource materials for class room teaching, research, and writing of theses and dissertations. They would be immensely beneficial to music students, music instructors, church musicians, historians, clergies, composers, scholars, and African ethnomusicologists.
Jeannine: Thank you, Dr. Sadoh, for sharing your life's work with us.