R.V.B. - Can you describe what your childhood surroundings were like in Nigeria? What did you do for fun and how did you first come into contact with music? What kind of songs did your family teach you at first? Were they songs of Nigeria or of European classical origin? What instruments did you first experiment with?
A. E. - While I was growing up in Lagos Nigeria in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, Nigeria was a British colony and did not become independent until 1960. I should say right away that my father played a very significant role in my music career, and he gave me my first music lesson in 1943 when I was 8 years old. Lagos was at the time Nigeria's capital. Life revolved around the church. I do not recall learning songs at home but I recall that my father sang songs by Stephen Foster. I did not know that the songs were by Foster until I got to the University of Pittsburgh, where as you may know there is a major Foster archive. I should also mention that the schools that I attended in Lagos were Missionary schools, operated by the CMS, Church Missionary Society, an Anglican organization based in the UK. Music in the schools consisted of singing lessons, during which we learned British folk songs. There may have been the occasional Nigerian song but the main fare was British folk songs.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy the first Nigerian Festival of the Arts? How did you become a participant?
A.E. - I participated in three successive festival of arts, only in music. I think the Lagos Musical Society of which I was a member played a leading role in the organization of the festivals and this was how I became a participant. I very much enjoyed taking part in the festivals because they brought me a great deal of attention in Lagos circles and must have contributed to my receiving a Government scholarship to study music in the UK.
R.V.B. - In your pre-college years how were you introduced to Major J.G.C. Allen. Where did you learn with him? Did he have place with a piano or did he come to you? How important was this for your later studies? In your college years, you studied at some prestigious institutions such as: Trinity School of music, University of California and The University of Ghana, How did you first choose Trinity? Did you have a plan to concentrate on the music of Africa or was it a natural progression with the college learning experience? Who were some of the teachers or educators that were instrumental for your learning music? Did they have an influence in your later years?
A.E. - My father and I were members of the Lagos Musical Society and so was Major Allen. That was how we met. Allen was an official of the colonial administration that we had at the time. I might not have pursued a music career if Major Allen had not helped me. Apart from giving me piano lessons, it was through his help that I got a Federal Government scholarship to study in the UK. He even arranged for my admission to the Trinity College of Music. When Allen felt that I had learned all I could from him, he sent me to another teacher. This was Monsiuer Tessier du Cros, who was at the time, French Consul in Lagos. Allen and du Cros prepared me very well for my studies at the Trinity College. When I was growing up in Lagos, there was a lot of drumming in the streets, mainly connected with ceremonies of Moslems, and this may have influenced my decision to study drumming for my doctoral work. Lagos was a very cosmopolitan town, and apart from people from other parts of Nigeria, there were also people from neighboring countries resident in Lagos. It was a place where one could hear many types of music, because foreign residents of Lagos loved to celebrate their events, e.g. life cycle events with music from their home areas. It was customary for celebrants to parade the streets with music and dance. Often such parades included masquerading. Lagos was a town where one could have free artistic entertainment many times during the day or night. In one of your questions, you wanted to know about educators who may have had a lot of influence on my career. In this regard I would like to mention Eric Taylor, with whom I studied harmony and counterpoint at the Trinity College. Eric Taylor not only steered me toward composition, but made suggestions which guided me toward developing an African voice in my composition. The kind of role Taylor played in my career was no doubt possible because at that time harmony and counterpoint were taught on a one to one basis and not as class subjects. Other educators who impacted my career were people I met at UCLA. I did not stay long enough at UCLA to do doctoral work, but decided to enroll at the University of Ghana and work with Professor J.H. Kwabena Nketia, whom I first met when he taught a summer course at UCLA in 1963 Of all the people whom I had the privilege of studying with, Nketia impacted my career longer than anybody else. My latest book on creative musicology is based on Nketia's practice. Other educators whom I met at UCLA were Mantle Hood and Klaus Wachsmann. Professor Hood was director of the Institute of Ethnomusicology when I went to UCLA in 1962 and he was very instrumental in my having an academic career by encouraging me to acquire academic degrees. In my career as a scholar, I think the way that I do because of the kind of training I received from Hood. Those who are familiar with Hood's approach and know my scholarly style will have no difficulty in understanding what I mean. I have only recently realized the extent to which Hood's thinking influenced my thinking. I am currently working on the second edition of my book on Yoruba drumming, which was first published by the Bayreuth African Studies Series, and came to realize Hood's influence on some of the ideas which I expressed in that book. Klaus Wachsmann was a great scholar of African music and not only encouraged my scholarly efforts but was a sort of role model. There was something that I noticed when I was at UCLA, and this was that my teachers, for whom I had the greatest respect, seemed to treat me more like a colleague than like a student. At least that was the impression that I had at the time.
R.V.B. - After College you worked at the Nigerian Broadcasting Company. Was that fun for you being in this environment of music? What were your duties there?
A.E.- Working for the NBC was very useful for my career as a musicologist, for it gave me a chance to travel around Nigeria recording traditional music. One of the most important was on the Hungarian composer Bartok, around whose practice I was later on to base my concept of creative musicology about which I wrote my latest book, entitled JH. KWABENA: BRIDGING MUSICOLOGY AND COMPOSITION, A STUDY IN CREATING MUSICOLOGY. The book is published by MRI Press. My interest in Bartok later led me to visit the Bartok Archive inBudapest and to organize a conference which took place at Churchill College, University of Cambridge, UK in August 2010. The title of the conference was "Bridging Musicology and Composition: The Global Significance of Bartok's Method". The keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. Laszlo Vikarius, director of the Bartok Archive, whom I had met when I visited the Budapest. In 1960, the year of Nigeria's independence from Great Britain, the NBC made a series of recordings for broadcast on its network, as its contribution to the Independence celebrations. The main item was Fela Sowande's Folk Symphony. which had been commissioned by the NBC. The recordings were all made in the UK where Sowande's symphony was performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves. The recordings included some of my compositions and also featured me performing Beethoven's piano concerto number 3 with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Groves. In preparation for this performance, I spent several weeks in London in the summer of 1960, studying with Maria Donska, a Beethoven specialist, who had been a pupil of Artur Schnabel. While I was in London, I had the privilege of hearing Ms Donska perform the Beethoven piano concerto number 1 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent at one of the Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. I recall that when Ms. Donska got to know that I was a composer, she suggested that I might write a cadenza for Beethoven's number 1 which she could play at her concert. Needless to say I did not have the courage to take up her suggestion. The recordings project was handled by the BBC on behalf of the NBC.
R.V.B. - The 1960's was a very prolific time for you as far as composing music. What were some of the early pieces that you composed that you consider the building blocks to your African influenced compositions? How did you enjoy your years at UCLA? The 70's and 80's were a time of great output for your African based compositions, from drum based pieces to symphonies.
A.E. - That was indeed a period of good composition discoveries. That was when I began to understand the key to developing an African voice in composition. I came to the conclusion that an African voice would depend on using African musical instruments. I celebrated this discovery by composing Igi Nla So, for piano and Yoruba drums. When translated into English this Yoruba title means A big tree bears fruit. That was in 1963 I think. In 1966 I composed my MA thesis for an ensemble consisting entirely of African instruments. It was possible to do this at UCLA because the person who chaired my MA committee, Roy Travis was himself interested in exploring African resources in composition. Moreover, Mantle Hood, who was the founder and director of the Institute of Ethnomusicology at UCLA, was a member of my committee. The Institute pioneered some of the most innovative approaches to the teaching of ethnomusicology. Hood assembled musical instruments from different parts of the world and brought over people to teach them. This enabled students to learn to play the music they were studying. The atmosphere at UCLA at the time promoted intercultural composition and was most favorable for my development as a composer. I am sure that without Hood and Travis on my committee it would have been difficult if not impossible to get a composition MA written for an ensemble consisting entirely of African instruments accepted at UCLA. My best example of working with African instruments is Chaka, a one-act opera whose ensemble consists of By the year 2000 African and Western instruments. The works that I composed with African instruments have been rarely performed and this illustrates one of the problems of using African instruments. It is not easy to perform works which use African instruments because one usually needs to assemble the instruments and often their players. A CD of my Chaka exists because we were able to solve all problems involved with getting instruments and players. By the year 2000, when I composed Orunmila's Voices for soloists, chorus. dancers and symphony orchestra, my interest in using African instruments had waned considerably, for here is a major work, describing aspects of Yoruba culture, in which not a single Yoruba musical instrument is used. I reasoned at the time that there are enough musical instruments available in a normal symphony orchestra to simulate African instruments and there was no need for using African instruments. This reasoning was no doubt born of the difficulty of assembling instruments and players in the performance of compositions that feature African instruments. The goals that I set myself in Orunmila's Voices were driven by my pragmatic reaction to the situation at hand. These goals included using instruments available in the normal symphony orchestra to achieve the effects of African instruments. I also set myself the totally ambitious goal of Africanizing the symphony orchestra. I did not achieve this goal in Orunmila's Voices but believe it is achievable. The symphony orgfrt GT chestra has made inroads into parts of Africa and exists notably in Egypt, South Africa and Ghana.
R.V.B. - Some of the publications that you have written have groundbreaking ideas and theories as African music has found it's way into world culture. In your writings of Ethnomusicology, how important is the African influence in todays music?
A.E. - The African influence is very important in the music of today. It is well known the extent to which Africa has influenced jazz and pop music, but in addition, composers of art music are increasingly turning to Africa as a source of inspiration. Therre has been a considerable increase in the knowledge of the music of Africa around the globe as a result of many channels that exist for hearing this music and this has affected peoples attitude to the music and encouraged new intercultural idioms of music that have the basic in the music of Africa.
R.V.B. - Eventually you became involved as an educator, holding distinguished positions at various learning institutions. How did you wind up at the University of Pittsburgh? Was it enjoyable to watch students taking knowledge that they recieved from your classroom and succeed in their own musical interests?
A.E. - I am certainly thrilled whenever any of my former students show an interest in adopting and developing my ideas. This has happened with African pianism and creative musicology. Ayo Oluranti, a young Nigerian composer/theorist, who was my student for a while, seems to be developing these ideas.
R.V.B. - Are you enjoying your retirement years? Do you still find time to compose new music?
A.E. - My composition career seems to be over as it has been some years since I wrote anything new. I do not regret this because compositions are born when a composer feels the urge to say something. If there is an urge, I will certainly compose again, but if there is no urge, I am quite happy to leave things as they are.
R.V.B. - Do you have any regrets of things that you may not have accomplished in life? Do you have any hobbies that you like to do?
A.E. - There is one matter that I regret and this is that during my tunurein the USA, I have been at war with The Society of Ethnomusicology, SEM, the professional organization that is supposed to look after my professional interests. The reasons why I object to the SEM are as valad today as they were in retrospect, it was wrong to oppose them as vocally as I did. I now think this way because the SEMand ethnomusicology are American things and as a guest in this country, I should not have been so critical of them. My main reason for opposing them is that in my understanding ethnomusicology and the SEM represent the other and I think it is wrong to represent thse who can speak for themselves. We should let them do so and should provide facilities for them to do so if necessary. The only other question that I have not answered has to do with my hobby. The only hobby I have is listening to international news on the BBC World Service radio, when I am at home in Pittsburgh. This is something I do everyday.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz 12/21/14
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