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Choral groups celebrate maestro Anthony Mereni

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The dimly lit church hall of the Good News Baptist Church, Surulere, Lagos, was as quiet as a graveyard with students, classical music lovers and members of the academia who had come to witness the evening of songs barely seeing one another to acknowledge greetings or exchange pleasantries.

Just while the eagerly anticipated audience were beginning to think the situation would last long, the stage light came on, revealing ensemble of singers adorned in choir robes awaiting orders to let loose their angelic voices.

The once quiet hall soon became raucous, as some people in the hall waved and hailed their family members and friends for being part of the selected few that made the ensemble.

This circle was repeated each time the different schools invited for the show came up to sing in honour of the retiring Professor Anthony Mereni from the University of Lagos (UNILAG), or ended a performance.

From the Bestspring Chorale to Divine Symphony Orchestra of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church (MFM) and the UNILAG Choir, each group showed the stuff they were made of, as they excellently presented Easter excerpts from GF Handel’s Messiah and other gospel songs.

The audience tapped their feet and slowly moved their heads right to left and left to right in admiration of the songs and those who knew the lines hummed along.

From Now Behold The Lamb to In Christ Alone, Bless The Lord Oh My Soul and The Halleluyah Chorus, the audience had a generous fill of classical music.

The audience went frenzy when organisers called on Prof. Anthony Mereni, the retiring Professor of Musicology, to conduct one of the sessions.

Explaining reasons for the concert, Dr. Albert Oikelome, an Associate Professor of Music in UNILAG and the concert director, said, “Prof. Mereni will be 70 this year and because of the mandatory retirement procedure of UINLAG, he is bowing out and we are honouring him with our performances and gifts for his great works this Easter season, since we shall not be having any other presentation till next year.

“His contribution to the School of Music and Musicology in the country is not in doubt. He is a quintessential music therapist with passion for the physically challenged. He unarguably ranks among the most highly trained musician and musicologists, Nigeria can boast of.

“His retirement is the end of an era and the beginning of another. He has been in the university for over 30 years and has conceptualised theories within the scope of music therapy, which he intends to build upon.

He is not tired though he is old and we do hope that he gets to offer his expertise,” he said.

Assessing gospel music in the country, Dr. Oikelome urged gospel artistes to stick to the message of salvation, while being creative and exploring both the classical and pop music.

He observed that present day gospel music is not as bad as people think, but the artistes still need to do more, adding that there is a paradigm shift of gospel music of the 90s and the 2000s to pop music, which in a way is not a bad thing.

“Gospel artistes should stick to salvation messages; there is a consistent shift to the other side in a bid to be popular and sometimes we find it really difficult to decipher between gospel music and other genres of music.

I advise gospel artistes to be creative and not get to the point where we will begin to wonder if they are playing gospel music or other type of music. If gospel music is not spreading the good news, then there is a problem because gospel is good news,” he said.

The elated President of Music Therapist Association commending organisers for holding a concert to honour him noted that MFM is showing seriousness in the adaptation of classical music, saying that classical music, also known as school music, is the way to go in moral building or to address youth unscrupulous behaviours. 

“Classical music instills discipline in the people. Our culture cannot be pop, because any country that has pop culture cannot be serious.

There is corruption in the country because people cannot think properly, that is why you also hear things like ‘gospeltainment’ and ‘edutainment.’ I am disgusted with all these craziness,” he stressed.

On the message organisers want to pass on to the people with the concert, Dr. Oikelome, said: “We want to pass the message of serious music to the society.

I am not against other forms of contemporary music, but we need to make good music. If you look at the composition of the choir you will find out that about 90 per cent of them are young people; so, it is a subtle revival of classical music.

We want the youth to have alternative to the music they are used to, so that, with time they will get use to classical music.

“You will find out that the level of awareness and the level of interest of young people into music is gaining grounds; many years back you can hardly find young people playing classical music, but today many are gravitating towards it.

You will also find out that there are now a lot of schools and organisations that are tactically promoting it and one of them is the MUSON. So, the music is growing,” Oikelome, observed.

How long would it take to have this reflect on the type of music we hear in the streets? The UNILAG don disclosed that there is a lot of garbage in our music in terms of the lyrics, saying we all need to bear with the system, as the necessary change will not come overnight.


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Anthony Mereni
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