COUNTRY Director of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) in Nigeria, a versatile organist and music trainer, Mr. Sunday Olawuwo, in an interview, spoke on the international school which supports a network of over 8,000 churches, schools and individuals across the globe and its planned annual musical conference as well as sundry issues relating to church music. Excerpts….
We have been doing series of pro-grammes. We have been organis-ing annual international courses and conferences for church musi-cians and stakeholders across the country. So, we have not kept it under wraps. Many have attended the conferences from across the country. The awareness will continue to grow.
What genre of music do you focus on?
The RSCM is generally about church music; every music that promotes Christian worship— classical or contemporary. We seek to improve standards of musical performance in Christian worship.
Many are worried that hymns no longer play significant role in church services. As a music trainer, do you share that worry?
Yes, I do. This is because Hymns remain a major component of our Christian heritage. You will find that as old as some of the hymns are, they contain a lot of messages. In fact, they are richer in messages than many of our contemporary songs. An average contemporary song contains just a few lines that you continue to repeat; but the hymns are like poems written in many verses for singing, meditation and reading. So, for us, we are worried and we are working for many people to appreciate these hymns again.
That is why we gather music leaders, song writers and producers for a week for intensive training. They return to their churches to effect changes and reforms that they have learnt during the training. Our passion is to promote quality church music. You find that many of our contemporary songs lack pro-fessionalism. An average music leader only listens to an album and tries to reproduce everything by ear. That is how they learn but that is unprofessional. Every composition has a music score that can be read by those who understand music, including the contemporary songs. So, if you love a particular music, all you have to do is to do your research, get the original music score to be able to correctly interpret it. But oftentimes, because even the music trainers don’t understand music language and can’t inter-pret music scores; they resort to reproducing by just listening to the music. If you do that, there is no way you will be able to re-produce the music correctly and perfectly.
Did you read music?
I studied music at a professional level; but that is not my main job because I also run a chain of businesses.
So, you don’t do music full time?
I don’t do it full time for so many reasons. One, for me, it has become a calling and that is why you won’t see me get out of it for once. My primary assignment is to use my musical gift to teach others and elevate the worship of God. I’m a graduate of Economics and I run family businesses alongside my music career. My passion came from the fact that I was born into a musical family. My father was a renowned organ-ist and choirmaster and I had the opportunity of sitting for ABRSM professional exams up to the final grade. I also had some training at the famous St. Giles Organ School, London. It is not about making money from music or making a living out of it. Definitely if I’m not making money out of it, then I must be doing something else to make a living. My first degree was in Agricultural Econ-omics from OAU, Ile-Ife. I had a master’s degree in Management Economics and later an MBA.
So, how did music discover you or vice versa?
Well, I was born into a family of musicians. My father, who just died last December, happened to be one of the greatest organists of his time. We were all choristers under him and so I picked it from him. All my life, music has always been there. Being a disciplinarian, my father made me learn music under strenuous conditions, including being punished for not practising enough. I was in the choir all my life. As a child, I felt bad and wondered if I had to be a musician like him but I thank God I did. It got to a time he would always say to me that ‘look, if you don’t do this thing now, you’d regret it in the future.’
People were coming from outside to learn from him. We had a piano in the sitting room that everybody wanted to play but I would rather play football. But at a point, God touched my life and they had to start telling me at home to leave the piano after hours of practicing. I thank God for how far He has led me. I have had the opportunity to serve as organist and choirmaster in a few churches before my present position as the Director of Music at Archbishop Vining Memorial Cathedral; a position I have held for 15 years, first as organist and choirmaster and later the Master of the Music or the Director of Music.
What kind of feedbacks do you get?
People have said we shouldn’t restrict the training to Lagos alone but bring it to other parts of Nigeria and we are already working on that and I believe it will happen soon.
How many participants do you have every year?
We have always had an average of about 60. We are working towards achieving 100 partici-pants this year. We have two facilitators coming from Ireland and UK in addition to local facilitators.
The participants are few because the conference is elitist….
No, we are not elitist. I think the main challenge is that many people cannot leave their work and other activities to stay for a whole week of the training. That is because we have a bad culture of not resting in this part of the world: we don’t go on vacations. We just like to work and work. Otherwise, you can plan your annual leave for a programme like this to spend your vacation nicely. A lot of us don’t know how to relax and enjoy our lives.
Why can’t churches retain the good musicians they produce?
That is another beauty of the conference. It is not just about the choristers and musicians but also about the stakeholders like priests, pastors and administra-tors. We need to let them know how to manage church musicians be-cause it is a team work. Behind any church that is thriving; you will find pastors or worship leaders who appreciate and pro-mote music. They use good music to attract and retain members of their congregation.
But why do musicians leave their churches as soon as they acquire some skills?
If you check most of those musicians, it is about their person-al fulfillment. The fact that the economy is comatose also puts more people under financial pressure. They want to commer-cialise every little skill that they have. You can’t blame anyone for that. That is why I think our churches should remunerate our musicians better than they do now because that is the only way to keep them. If you remunerate them well, you can keep them for a long time and that creates stability.