Discover Choirs,
Concerts & Composers
in Ghana

Editorial Walking Off the Beaten Path

Hello choral music lovers,

The final concerts of the Easter season were held at the beginning of this month. This brought an end to a really exciting few weeks for most of us.

In the last month, we met Gramophone Ghana‘s choir at their Fellowship of Songs and later attended Harmonious Chorale‘s pre-Easter concert. Both events were well attended; the latter not coming as a surprise at all given James Varrick Armaah’s fame and Miss Joyce Aryee’s boundless influence. A week after Easter Sunday, Grace Chorale held Et Resurrexit; a post-Easter concert that included works from the regular favourites, a French hymn (Il est vraiment ressuscite!) and some South African spirituals.

The night before the Fellowship of Songs, Cheryl and I attended a Night of Classical Music with Alfred Patrick Addaquay and the Belcanto Chorus; our first encounter with the celebrated pianist and his choir. It was held at the British Council in Accra, a largely quiet affair attended by some big shots in Ghanaian society. One thing we found remarkable besides the audience discipline (more on that later!) was the selection of pieces Patrick chose to entertain us with before the main event.

As our name suggests, our primary interest is choral music. That’s where we’ve seen the most activity in recent years. Several choirs are becoming increasingly vocal and commercial, the traditionally huge ones have become legends in their own right; they command respectable audiences and a lot of interest.

But the African classical music tradition is something we’re as keen on. We believe it is in art music that the height of Ghanaian musical expression is achieved. Choral music in Ghana has been dominated by the Christian narrative: all concerts we’ve been to so far have had as their focus the Gospel in general and the current spiritual season in particular. It is a fair reflection of our society’s popular interest and values. The pervasiveness of the Gospel message was not lost at Alfred’s concert. However, the pre-concert performances were secular. That fact heightened my interest.

Among the pieces performed were Mozart’s 12 variations on the theme of “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman”, popularly known as “Twinkle, twinkle, little star.” Alfred had me on the edge of my seat and leaking with emotion as his fingers did justice to the great classical composer’s work. A live performance of KV 265 is overwhelming.

I mention this because, too often we regard choral and classical music – and I should desist from this needless separation and use a more general term, serious art music – as a vehicle to spread a religious message. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I feel that view denies the wealth of expression that is found in the many secular works of critical acclaim.

Ghana’s favourite, GF Handel did not only compose Christian oratorios and religious anthems. Mozart’s repertoire of secular music is amongst his most glorious – even his Requiem in D was not free from secular influence. Recently, my own parish choir chose to learn an anthem from Handel’s Semele – Endless Pleasure, Endless Love – a sign that music directors are looking into other books for new music and refreshing messages.

One image that still visits me from the night at the British Council was the performance of Ephraim Amu’s Bonwire Kente. The mix of song and recitation accompanied by the piano opened my mind to musical performance as I hadn’t anticipated. It is shame that I, who considers myself a classical music enthusiast was only this year made aware of the unique work done in this song I’ve often overlooked.

In the middle of the performance, I found new delight in the ‘Kro hi kro’ theme. It’s playful seriousness reminded me of Kenn Kafui’s work in his famously massacred “Mida Akpe”.

The experience reminded me that there is character in Ghanaian classical music, that our greatest composers have said things that Handel, Haydn, Stainer, Mozart and Verdi never said. There are heights of musical expression that have gotten lost in the dominant focus of many choirs in Ghana.

This month on the 29th, Alfred will hold a piano recital at the British Council. He promises us the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Nketia and Kenn Kafui. I am looking forward to discovering more great music with one of Ghana’s most prolific pianists/composers.

Alfred Patrick Addquay and Professor Nketia at the British Council
Alfred Patrick Addaquay and Professor Nketia at the British Council

There’s so much I personally am yet to explore in Ghanaian music. I haven’t had the benefit of any local formal music education, but I still have the curiosity that led me to stray from the beaten path of popular classical music to discover for myself and appreciate Renaissance and Early Baroque madrigals as well as the minimalist and atonal music of today’s most daring composers.

This curiosity will lead me down the path to discover music from some of our most exciting composers, past, established and emerging. Throughout the season when we aren’t inundated with concerts every other weekend, the Choral Music Ghana team will go out in search of some of the finest talent and bring you the best new music of the choral and classical tradition.

I believe that quest to discover more music of the Ghanaian classical tradition will lead us to heights of ecstasy we have never been exposed to before. It is a journey we are only just beginning. We hope you will join us.

The Editor-in-Chief

Choral Music Ghana