Mrs. Chichi Ayonmike, Ph.D is an unusual Music Director and foundation member of the Warri Choral Society (WCS), a classical music group. While her father enlisted her into the choir at the age of 8, she stretched it further by enrolling her own daughter, Anino Ayonmike at the age of 6 months. This underscores what classical music means for her. She was introduced to music by her father who took her with him to his choir rehearsals, until she was 8 and then enlisted her to sing in the choir. She moved naturally into WCS from St. Andrew’s Cathedral Choir, Warri. She has performed sevel solos and duets in virtually all the 56 Concerts of WCS, as contralto singer. In this interview, she spoke about the forthcoming 57th Concert of WCS and the essence of classical music. Excerpt.
To start with, you are a lecturer at the Delta State University. Your Ph.D is in Technical and Technological Education, and even the founder of Warri Choral Society and your husband (Mr. Joseph Ayomike), is an Economist, how come that both of you who have no regular backgrounds or degrees in music have been able to perform this feats at professional level?
It is the nature of music. It has only one source: God. Music is the language of God which is then translated into sound. The sound is then brought into this world as music at three different levels, with classical music at the highest level. The, sound, apart from having healing effects on the hearer is a wonderful communicator, transcending human barriers of race, culture etc. etc. The only thing that matters is that you should have the gift of being able to hear and understand the sound. You see, for instance, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose work is being studied and analyzed at Post Doctoral Levels had no formal schooling; under the tutelage of his father, he learnt Arithmetic, Latin, some French, Italian and English. Yet he was said to be capable of reaching into the deeper recesses of the heavens to bring down his music flawlessly, effecting no cancellations in his manuscripts. Millions of learned professionals are living by his music. So, that is the nature of music.
What informs the choice of Chief John Odigie – Oyegun? Could it be because he is the current national Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress at the National level, Edo and Lagos States? (At this point, the founder of Warri Choral Society and husband of Mrs. Chichi Ayonmike, Mr. Joseph Ayonmike volunteered to answer this particular question because of his encounter with Chief Oyegun many years ago. His request was obliged).
His choice is informed by an event that happened in 1983 when he was Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance. That year, I sought and obtained an offer of an Off-Shore Loan from the ABN Bank of Netherlands, the first largest Bank in Europe then to build what was to become the first 5-Star Hotel in the Federal Capital of Abuja, Agura Hotel. I needed what was then known as “Approved Status” from that Ministry to bring in the money. From the point where you lodged the application to his table there were five intervening level, and I had to pay the demanded bribes (Quite Substantial) before his table. When my application got to him, he merely called in and expressed surprise that I was so young pursuing such gargantuan project. I paid no Kobo. Thus in passing, when I read in the papers recently that he took some bribe over Ondo State Governorship Primary, I said without hesitation, “that is not the Oyegun I know.” That apart, he is a classical music enthusiast; he has attended several of our past 56 Concerts. So this time he is coming not just as a special guest; the concert is being staged to honour him for his life time achievements. He has been a Federal Permanent Secretary (most people end up there), a State governor; and now the National Chairman of the ruling party, APC. We are giving him an award for his lifetime achievements. It is instructive to point out that we are not into Politics, but registered with the Delta State Government as a non – profit making body. From the above we could still have honoured him even if he were the PDP Chairman.
Now back to you madam, what informed your choice of Lagos for this concert?
Accessibility for him and for his friends all over the country, across party lines, that are coming with him.
Is classical music as a genre of music still being appreciated in Nigeria? Has Pop and Gospel music not taking over?
All over the world, in any major city, there is a class of people not necessary elites, who enjoy and attend classical music concerts. They are by no means in the majority; but you would find they are the few who have the discipline to listen to, and to hear, and to understand the language of the sound into which, as I said above, the language of God is translated into. Please, do not ask me who does the translation and how, because that will be above this level of interview.
What are your expectations before and during the concerts?
Very simple: Lovers of classical music, and those who have heard and listened to us in the past will make whatever sacrifice it takes to attend from wherever they are in this country. We expect them to join us on Sunday December 4, 2016 at the Agip Hall, Muson Center, Onikan, Lagos, by 3:00pm prompt.
What exactly is classical music?
At the risk of repeating myself, I have already said that music is the sound which is translated from the language of God and that, that sound is then brought into this world as music, by those who are gifted to understand the sound. It comes into the world as music; whether as classical music or any other genre depends on the nature of the gift that inheres in the receiver. But broadly speaking it comes at three levels: at the apex is classical music. I will not go into the other two levels which really are not my concerns in this interview. Anywhere in the world the lovers of classical are in the minority but not necessarily the elites.
And you don’t agree that this genre of music is going into extinction in Nigeria or the world?
No! No!! No!!! Nigeria or any other country has enough serious - minded people with the discipline to listen. Let me remind you of an incidence: When our erstwhile Head of State Murtala Mohammed was assassinated, the Nation declared 7 days of mourning. All of a sudden, all our noisy, “Jargar – Jargar” music disappeared. We started hearing “Hallelujah Chorus etc. etc. on the air waves. That indicated we can be serious – minded when occasion demands. Since then music graduates have started producing serious indigenous music.
What does the membership of WCS look like?
In WCS membership is currently about 60. One time it was 100, but have deliberately reduced it to about 60, which manageable, especially when performing out of base. To be a member, you must have a good voice, and preferably been involved at Choir singing, say, in a church for instance. That will put you in a position to pass its auditioning. Once a member you are now passed through basic music knowledge such as reading staff notation and intensive voice and breath training, and playing of the organ for those who have the talent.
Where do you see WCS 5 years from now?
Anything that has a beginning must eventually have an end. The society is 24 years old. If the members have the will to carry on, I can see them going on from decade to decade.