Nigeria sends music aid to besieged St Paul's Cathedral

Nigeria sends music aid to besieged St Paul's Cathedral


norman lebrecht

October 30, 2011

Two London singers, Katy Hill of The Sixteeen, and Stuart Young, a bass at St Paul’s, have sent me an article with pictures of their work with choristers at Lagos Cathedral in Nigeria.

While they were gone, St Paul’s erupted in a deacons vs demonstrators standoff that has yet to be resolved.

Reading Katy’s piece, which I publish below, I’m glad to see that the boys from Lagos will come visiting St Paul’s next year to restore Christian humility and a sense of proportion to the beleaguered cathedral.

Here’s Katy’s tale:

Bleary eyed and excited, Stuart and I are greeted with broad smiles and vigorous handshakes and bundled from the hot and frenetic arrivals lounge at Lagos Airport, swarming with hyperactive baggage touts and  taxi drivers all competing for business far too energetically for 5am, into a suddenly very calm and chilly air conditioned people carrier. The door shuts, and with a swift click the hubbub is silenced and replaced by the unexpected soundtrack of the Nottingham Church Choir singing English psalmody emanating from the oh so up to date car sound system…

The Provost of Lagos’ Christ Church Cathedral, Rev’d Johnson, is a music lover and a wonderful man. He rates the place of music in the place of worship extremely highly and wishes his choir to compete with among the best in the world. A frequent visitor to Westminster Cathedral when in London, he knows what he wants and his expectations are high. Earlier this year, he asked his good friend and fellow music lover, Damola Aboaba, to invite two singers from The Sixteen to visit Lagos to make suggestions to help the improvement of the choir.

Lucky Stuart and lucky Katy.


Our mission was to enthuse and improve the treble line by giving each of the 20 boys two singing lessons, alongside working collectively towards some treble only pieces for the Sunday service. Along the way, we would also surprise a bemused and beautiful bride with some impromptu Haydn donned in brightly coloured traditional dress at her grand orange-themed wedding, eat a lot of goat, drink a lot of gulder and shake an ex-president’s hand. Throughout our stay, we were continually humbled and delighted by the warmth and kindness shown to us by Damola, Rev’d Johnson and their friends. And everybody we met laughs so very, wonderfully, loudly.

Inside the cathedral itself, the boys were impressively receptive, and the general standard was already good (a special mention should be made here of the considerably talented resident organists, Babatunde Sosan and Adejola Adeosun). Each boy seemed to relish some one-on-one attention, and individual lessons quickly turned into mini master-classes as boys actually abandoned their football games to come and watch their colleagues at work. Two lessons allowed us enough time to make some real headway – the most notable changes being in the older boys who arrived at our lessons as trebles and left as basses (!), much to the surprised gratification of the boys themselves. All performed beautifully on the Sunday, dutifully following our fairly experimental conducting (likened in my case to a jumbo jet trying to take off by a tenor who shall remain nameless).

Happily, our week there was not the end. Stuart, a bass at at St Paul’s Cathedral, has arranged for three particularly talented boys to fly over in early 2012 to sing with the cathedral choir for a week, which we hope will create an enduring memory for all boys involved, both Nigerian and British. The head chorister in Lagos (21 year old Joshua), who impressed us with his musical aptitude and fine countertenor voice will also come across to study with Tim Travers-Brown. We hope this visit will not only fuel their enthusiasm for the cathedral choir, but also encourage them to pass on what they learn by osmosis to their colleagues back home. Such is the community feel that surrounds the cathedral in Lagos that it seemed no sooner had we dreamed up this trip, funding had already been raised by generous members of the congregation.

For our part, any expectations that we may have unwittingly gathered before going were blown out of the water, stretched and reworked, and returned to us in brightly sparkling HD. It was an experience of extremes, with chilly smooth rides between our smart hotel and the cathedral each day (always accompanied by Norwich cathedral choir), versus the hot and hectic buzz of the amazingly over-populated and dusty world outside, with its own backing track of constant car horns and revving motorbikes, a joyful disregard for traffic lights or even which side of the road to drive on, and anything from lemons to carpets piled impressively high on grinning heads weaving between colourful street stalls. Wonderful then that a common love of choral music provided such unifying ground for us all.