Monthly Archives: October 2011

Frances & Sara – Silver & Semiprecious Stone Jewellery at St James’s

Exotic silver and semiprecious stone jewellery from Frances and Sara at Piccadilly Market in the courtyard of St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London.

One of a series of articles on the market at St James’s Church Piccadilly where IMSLP merchandise is available at the stall.

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Magic at St James’s Church, Piccadilly

More magic at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, yesterday with the Royal College of Music String Band rehearsing for a concert inside and Davina Fox-Hill displaying a stall with a giant chandelier in the market outside.


One of a series of articles on the music and market at St James’s Church Piccadilly where IMSLP merchandise is available at the stall.

Maggie Cole & Jacqueline Ross at St James’s Church, Piccadilly

Fabulous lunchtime recital at St James’s Church in London’s Piccadilly yesterday, with Maggie Cole, fortepiano, and Jacqueline Ross, violin, in a programme including Schubert’s Rondo in B minor and the “Trockne Blumen” Variations in a version for violin.

I mentioned I was selling IMSLP merchandise in the courtyard outside and Maggie Cole was kind enough to let me photograph her rehearsing. She confirmed she is a regular IMSLP user but, unfortunately, does not wear T-shirts – except possibly when gardening – or I would have given her the new IMSLP T-shirt in exchange for these wonderful images.

Maggie Cole’s website

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African Music ~ Focus on Yoruba Composition (Nigeria)

A Yoruba song “T’ Olorun l’ awa o se” = “We shall do God’s will” attributed to late Rev. J. J. Ransome Kuti the grandfather of late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (The Afro beats musician)

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Yoruba is a language spoken by the people inhabiting the Lagos state of Nigeria, the Western states and the greater part of the Kwara state of Nigeria; part of Dahomey, and sometimes spoken by some of the descendants of the Yorubas taken across the Atlantic Ocean during the period of the slave trade to Bahia in Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and some other parts of the West Indies.

Many traditional Yoruba songs are formed spontaneously on special festive occasions during dances to praise, to abuse somebody, or to mark the importance of a special event. When such a song is taken up by a modern musician, he generally substitutes milder words for abusive tones, or merely uses the tune in composing his own song.

Yoruba is a tonal language, so a word can have several meanings depending on whether its tone is low, mid or high. One word may even have more than one meaning in the same tone according to the context. The monosyllabic word “ba” for example can be used in the following ways in the low tone.

NOTE: low tone is represented by ‘doh’ mid tone is represented by ‘ray’ high tone is represented by ‘me’.

1. Oju okuta ba mi = He threw a stone at me
2. Eiye naa ba sori igi = The bird perched on the tree
3. Ogbo l’o mu ki eyin re ba = Old age caused his back to bent

As the language is musical, so are the people! They sing working or walking, in joy or sorrow. The musical tone of the language enables message to be conveyed through it by means of a whistle or with the talking drum. By means of the talking drum, messages used to be communicated over long distances during periods of war in the olden days.

Those who brought Christianity to Yoruba land in the nineteenth century unfortunately taught their early followers to regard many Yoruba traditions, including their music, as paganish so that it was largely the non-Christians who continued to use traditional music. The Christians began to sing Yoruba songs translated from English hymns to English tunes. But as the language is tonal, the tone of the English music cannot in most cases agree with the tones of the Yoruba words translated from English into Yoruba; thus what is being read out in Yoruba is often different from what is being sung to English tunes as I shall explain later on.

Those who first started to break away from the English dominated system of singing at Yoruba religious services were the Cherubim and Seraphim and the Aladura (Prayer Warrior) churches. Other Christian organizations have, however, started to follow in their footsteps in their own way.

Vital Characteristics of a Yoruba Song

An authentic Yoruba song should exhibit two essential characteristics. First, the time of every word in the song should agree with the tone of the music and, second, it should be possible that the song can be accompanied with one kind of drum beat or another, or with the clapping of hands. Yoruba music like most other African music has characteristic rhythms almost second to none in the world.

The vitality of the accord between the tone of the word and that of the music can be further illustrated by changing the tone of the words and of the music in the following one sentence:

Oluwa l’awa o sin (We shall worship the Lord) Oluwa pronounced with mid (ray), high (me), and mid (ray) tones means the Lord, but if it is pronounced with mid (ray), low (doh) and high (me) tones, it is the title of a chief in Lagos.

“sin” in the Yoruba word above has three meanings
“sin” (low tone) worship
“sin” (mid tone) bury
“sin” (high tone) pierce

For example, taking the word Oluwa as the Lord and changing the tone of the word “sin” alone we have the following interpretations:

1. Oluwa l’awa o sin (low tone) = we shall worship the Lord
2. Oluwa l’awa o sin (mid tone) = we shall bury the Lord
3. Oluwa l’ awa o sin (high tone) = we shall pierce the Lord

Similarly, we have the same results if we change the tones of Oluwa to Oluwa, that is mid, low and high tones so that it means a chief in Lagos, and then vary tones of the word “sin” as was done above. Oluwa (a chief in Lagos) is often adored in singing many canticles every Sunday instead of adoring our Lord Jesus Christ, but the singers do not observe this error because it is more or less parrot-like singing.

When an English hymn is translated into Yoruba and sung to the English tune, it is often difficult for the singer to understand the real meaning of what he is singing and thereby get real spiritual value from the song. The meaning of the song is more clearly understood when it is read than sung. A typical example occurs in a verse in “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” where the “fo” meaning to float in the high tone is sung to the English tune of “Diadem” in a low tone where it means to fly. Thus, instead of singing “One who makes the earth to float”, the singer sings “One who makes the earth to fly”. This example is not an isolated case.

There are many English songs, however, which, when translated into Yoruba, give an almost correct meaning, one of these songs is: “Let us with a gladsome mind, Praise the Lord for He is kind…”

But even then such songs would be better understood if the tones of the music were made strictly to agree with the tones of the words. In the case of sacred songs translated from English into Yoruba, it is not possible to substitute purely Yoruba songs for all of them for two main reasons.

First, it is not easy to compose Yoruba songs to the standard of spiritual depth to which many English hymns translated into Yoruba reached. Second, many Yoruba hymns translated from English hymns and sung to English tunes cannot easily be understood when sung.

Therefore the substitution of purely Yoruba songs for these hymns translated from English into Yoruba has to be gradual. A judicious use of the combination of the two at Yoruba religious services should serve as a welcome compromise. Some recent composers of Yoruba songs who have become victims of not allowing the tone of the music to agree with the tone of the word commit very serious errors in their compositions, although the rhythm is Yoruba, the songs do not convey the intention of the composers.

Many errors are committed in several places nowadays by those who have long been accustomed to singing songs translated from English into Yoruba and sung to English tunes. Even short lullabies composed by teachers for school children often become meaningless when sung to the music composed for them.

What to Observe when Composing a Yoruba Song

The first duty of a modern composer of any Yoruba song is to follow the footsteps of our forefathers who always saw that the tones of the music strictly agreed with the tones of the words of the song. This rule is not difficult to follow if the composer composes only one verse. But if he intends to compose more verses than one, or if he wants to get more parts than the soprano only, he is faced with three difficulties.

First, the composer should see that the tones of every word of every line of the second, third and subsequent verses agree with the tones of the words of the corresponding line of the first verse. If this is not done, the music for each verse has to be written separately. This is the main reason why it is easier to compose a Yoruba anthem for a special event than to compose a Yoruba song with two or more verses for the same music.

Second, since the tone of the soprano is higher than that of the Alto in the same song, and that of the tenor higher than that of the bass, the composer who wants more parts than the soprano must ensure that the other part singers sing the words with the same meaning as the soprano. This is the reason why only a few songs in Yoruba can be composed with three or four parts. Some cannot easily be formed with two parts.

Finally, the composer should ensure that when two or more parts are sung together, they produce a satisfactory musical harmony.

Many educated Nigerians who have studied English music have realised the importance of agreement between the tone of the word and that of music, but unfortunately they have not yet realised that an authentic Yoruba song must have its characteristic rhythm: that is, it should be capable of being accompanied with one kind of drum beat or another or with regular clapping of hands. Many of their compositions lack this essential quality.

To demonstrate that this essential characteristic is vital in a Yoruba song. Research should be carried out away from the coastal towns and far into the interior of Yoruba land, where foreign influence has less domination on Yoruba music. Even a funeral dirge or a recitative song in praise of obas (Traditional rulers) or chiefs has its peculiar rhythm which is generally regulated with a drum beat.

Segun Akinfenwa
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Odo-ona, Ibadan, Nigeria

Magic and Mendelssohn at St James’s


Walk a few yards from London’s Piccadilly Circus and you reach St James’s, a fine Wren church where William Blake was baptised in 1757. It was hit during the first phase of the London Blitz on 14 October 1940:-


High explosive bombs fell on the eastern corner of the churchyard gardens and on Piccadilly itself, in the process demolishing the Vestry. The Rectory was also smashed to pieces, trapping the Verger and his wife in the kitchen beneath. The blast severely weakened the Church’s brick and Portland Stone fabric: the north wall was fractured and pieces of shrapnel lacerated the building’s east end. The stained glass east window was blown out: fragmentation marks are still visible on the exterior Corinthian stone columns.

Several incendiaries then hit the Church roof and set it ablaze. The burning roof, spacious vault and wooden gallery all collapsed. The interior of St James’s – pews, plasterwork, decorations, six rows of gallery piers and supporting Corinthian and Doric columns – was rapidly consumed by fire. Although the Tower survived, St James’s Gothic steeple toppled, crashing down with its two bells. Heavy debris fell onto the Church floor, causing major structural damage.

The Verger of St James’s and his wife were trapped in the Rectory rubble for over twelve hours. Rescue teams were forced to drill through large blocks of stone and three thick masonry walls to reach them. Tragically, both died of their injuries. On the opposite side of Piccadilly – the road had been disfigured by a large bomb crater – a branch of the Fifty Shilling Tailor’s chain was also struck by an incendiary at 8.15pm and caught fire. Molten wax tailors dummies fell into the street. Nearby, the roofs of buildings around Piccadilly Circus glowed red with incendiary fires.

When the smoke cleared, early on 15 October, St James’s was a burnt-out ruin, open to the elements. It remained a roofless shell for nearly seven years. Source

I ran a market stall at St James’s yesterday, and in a quiet moment was thinking about the October raid when, suddenly, Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream drifted across the courtyard. I walked into the church and there, magically, was the Orchestra of the City rehearsing for a concert that evening. Unfortunately, I only had a camera phone:


Mendelssohn was vilified by the Nazis for being a Jew and his music banned. So, a few days short of the 71st anniversary of the raid, St James’s poked Hitler in the eye with a good dose of Mendelssohn (they also performed his third symphony). It was quite gratifying.


I couldn’t stay for the concert but, in some ways, rehearsals are preferable. The orchestra stops and starts, the conductor explains what he wants, the players make notes on their scores, people in the audience come and go. I stayed for a while, the orchestra was very good, then returned to the market.

St James’s 2
Hitler 1



Surveying Current Perceptions of Porgy and Bess

The controversy surrounding the upcoming production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess is merely the latest stir generated across the storied history of George Gershwin’s “folk opera.” Since Porgy and Bess premiered in 1935, debate has ensued over its portrayal of African Americans and over the restrictions requiring all sung roles, at least for staged productions in the United States, be assigned to Blacks. Even the very nature of the work itself has raised questions – is it opera, musical, or some hybrid of the two?

The controversial nature of the “folk opera” has undeniably affected its popularity over the decades. However, has the equally undeniable beauty and power of Gershwin’s music, DuBose Heyward’s story, and Ira Gershwin’s lyrics finally earned for Porgy and Bess the status as America’s greatest contribution to 20th-century opera?

Have attitudes about Porgy and Bess and interest in performing the work finally reached a level where it can become a staple in the standard repertoire of vocal studios and opera houses?

Author Randye Jones explored current perceptions of Porgy and Bess through a survey of singers, vocal instructors, opera directors and others with an interest in the opera. She analyzed the participants’ responses to questions related to their knowledge of the opera, their depth of experience with the opera as either performers or listeners, their views about the characterization of African Americans in the opera, and their thoughts about the opera’s future, especially regarding the assignment of singing roles to non-Blacks.

The article includes numerous, insightful comments made by the survey respondents, as well as excerpts from interviews Jones conducted with five singers who have performed in the opera.

Surveying Current Perceptions of Porgy and Bess