The organ is used primarily in Nigeria in churches by Christians, and secondarily in concert performances. Nigeria’s use of the pipe organ and its infusion in the musical culture is due to the influence of early missionaries who came to Nigeria, and has culminated with native born composers who have enriched the organ music literature. Nigeria-born composers have taken the use of the organ many steps further, creating works which rival their European and American colleagues.
The missionaries established churches, schools and hospitals, and introduced sacred music into these institutions. In the beginning, it was the harmonium or reed organ that was used by early missionaries. The first pipe organ in Nigeria was installed/built in Hope Waddell Institute, Calabar, Cross River State, Southern Nigeria. All the pipe organs in Nigeria are built and exported from European countries such as England, Germany and Holland. Where there are no pipe organs electronic/digital organs are used which are the imitators of the pipe organ.
Pipe organs in Nigeria vary from one manual to four manuals. Some of the builders are: Harrison and Harrison, England; Elmander of London, England; Ballinger, Germany; Pels Organ, Holland; Hushworth and Dreeper, Liverpool, England; J. W. Walker, England. The voicing of the pipes are built to accompany very large congregations: the sound must be robust enough to carry large congregations.
It is noteworthy that churches in Nigeria are always packed full and then sing lustily unlike European countries and the U.S. where the congregation may be few and sing modestly. Churches in the southern part of Nigeria have congregations not less than 300 – 4000 worshippers at a time, depending on the size of the church.
There are various Christian denominations in Nigeria, namely: Catholic, Anglican Communion, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Pentecostal churches of various kinds, and they use the pipe organ to accompany hymn singing or for church music generally.
Most of the church organists are trained organists in church music and organ playing, and the standard of singing varies from church to church depending on the organists’ and choirmasters’ capabilities. Most of the songs we sing in Nigeria are Western oriented hymns and at times we adapt to Nigeria folk tunes.
Although many churches have pipe organs, there are few organ maintenance engineers in Nigeria; therefore, some of the organs are not properly maintained.
Nigeria has produced many world acclaimed organists and composers: E. Phillips, Fela Sowande, Ayo Bankole, Sam Akpabot, Godwin Sadoh and Kayode Oni, to mention a few.
Many Nigerian institutions of higher learning have departments of music where organists are trained, and some go to European countries and the United States for training in organ playing. Organ concerts do not occur as regularly in Nigeria as in Europeans countries. Organ recitals are given during choir festivals and occasionally in concert halls in some big cities such as Lagos, Ibadan and Port Harcourt.
St. Paul’s Anglican Church