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Church music in Nigeria: The journey so far – Part 1


The emergence of Music as a force in spiritualism is anchored on the fact that music has influential elements over people’s feelings, morals and character. Music’s dominant powers have the capacity to shape the nature of man’s conduct, character and emotion. Thus, music became a veritable tool for spiritual engagement and man’s connection with his Creator world over. This colloquium on Spiritual Music in Nigeria: The journey so far, is, therefore, to investigate and interrogate the state of Church music in Nigeria as Nigeria celebrates its 58th anniversary of nationhood. This presentation briefly highlights the nature of music during the pre-advent of Christianity in Nigeria, advent of Christianity in Nigeria—education and music, Christian/spiritual music during and after amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates, church music at independence and types, sacred music during and after the Nigeria-Biafra war, new stylistic developments in spiritual music in Nigeria, the journey so far, contemporary trends in church music— music in church and church music, the Nigerian/African idioms, and samples of spiritual music and composers in Nigeria.
Keywords: Church, Nigeria, spiritual, music.

Advent Of Christianity In Nigeria: Education And Music
The Methodist Church was the first mission to arrive in Nigeria on September 24, 1842. Arriving Badagry, the Methodist Church established schools and churches. This three-prong approach of Christianity, Education and Music enabled the Wesleyan mission to not only Christianise Nigeria, but to also advance Western educational doctrine, and economy. The Anglican Church followed and arrived in Nigeria on December 19, 1842. According to Enemugwem (2017), the first known primary school in Nigeria was established by the Methodist mission in 1843 by Mr. & Mrs. William de Graft in Badagry with initial intake of 40 pupils. Thus, “the Methodist mission is a reference point in the history of Western education in Nigeria, as well as the country’s progress” (p.25). As a tool for proselytism and in conformity with the Wesleyan practice of hymn singing, anthems, chants and choruses, instructions in music were introduced. The areas of musical knowledge included staff notation, solfa notation, composition, organ playing, singing and choir management. The choir became an essential arm of the Church.

The hymns and choruses reflected and represented every season of the year and all the Church rituals and celebrations: Adoration and worship, God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Scriptures, the Christian life, the Church (the commission, the Sacrament, marriage, baptism, death, ministers and teachers), the children, school and work, national and social life, times and seasons, and so on.

With the advent of Christianity, all African musical instruments were considered idolatry, and therefore, were not allowed to be used in the Church. It is of utmost importance here that the decision of the missionaries to brand these instruments idolatry was informed by their little knowledge about the culture and environment of the people of Nigeria. Most of the instruments banned by the missionaries were instruments that have not only accompaniment values, but are also ones with functional beauty and aesthetics that have the capabilities to aid true worship. Clapping, which was an accompaniment support in the traditional society was also stopped. The most popular ‘slogan’ in the church then was “For the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silent before Him”. This was the doctrine or set of guidelines that was initially given to the Church.

No doubt, spiritual (sacred or church) music was introduced in Nigeria by early missionaries in the 19th century. The missionaries outlawed the use of traditional musical instruments, as well as singing songs in the indigenous language, stating (missionaries) that the use of local instruments is a form of satanic worship. Consequently, they introduced solmisation, which is the use of syllables in association with pitches in oral learning of melodies. Similar method was also used in teaching some persons how to play the organ to enable them accompany hymn singing with organ or piano during church services. Choir directors went through similar tutelage.

His Grace The Most Revd. Chimezuo O. N. Nwankpa, Archbishop of Uyo Archdiocese, METHODIST CHURCH NIGERIA.

In this article:
Onyee N. Nwankpa
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