interviewBy Laju Arenyeka
No doubt, the Nigerian music industry is a force to be reckoned with internationally. Classrooms are filled with youngsters whose mentors are the singing sensations on their television screens. Is music education meeting up with the task of providing quality for the booming industry, or are music teachers still stuck in singing "do, re, mi." Dr. Bababtunde Sosan is the Acting Director, Muson School of Music, Lagos. In a chat with Vanguard Learning, he talks on the trends in music education.
Considering your wealth of experience and skill, why did you decide to be a teacher?
I started teaching music because I have a passion for it. You can't be a music teacher without passion. If you love what you do, it will impact the way your students respond to you.
What training programmes does the Muson School of music offer?
We have Diploma courses for people who already have knowledge of music. The programme is sponsored by MTN and the students don't pay. We also have Basic school. Basic school is an avenue for those who haven't had any form of training to come and learn from scratch. We have different teachers that cover areas such as singing, piano, brass instruments etc. It's a flexible time table that is for people of all ages.
How long does it take an average person to learn how to play musical instruments?
It depends on how interested the person is. As soon as students come to me, they almost always want to know how long it will take them to learn a particular instrument. But there is no hard and fast rule about it. The students' level of interest will determine the time limit for their learning.
What is your take on Music education in Nigeria?
The music education climate is alright, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. At the basic level, we have nursery rhymes, basic musical songs, call and response etc. But at the secondary level, there are few schools that have taken it to professional standards. One major concern I have about general music education is that teachers pay more attention to theoretical music education than to the practical aspect. Theory and practical should go hand in hand. But most times, teachers bombard students with a lot of information, and when the students come out, they are more or less half baked. Balancing theory and practical application is what provides the total package for any musician.
What do you think is the reason for this?
It is as a result of the level of training given to teachers. Some teachers themselves have not had enough experience in the practical. If we have more qualified teachers in our system, it would go a long way to raise the standard. I also think that something should be done in the area of funding. Government should actually show more interest, because I believe music plays a large role in nation building.
What role does music education play in nation building?
Let me answer that with this example. I got an email from London recently. They needed some of our students to play at the upcoming diamond Jubilee of the Queen of England. In many established countries, music is an important part of what they do. The Queen is celebrating her diamond jubiliee and we have choirs coming from all over the country to celebrate her. It enhances unity and world peace, and if we apply practical music education to our country, it would be a golden opportunity for music to unify us, just as football does. I think music might even play a much stronger role in that aspect.
Tell us about some popular Musicians that have gone through your centre?
Bez, popular guitarist and singer, was my student in Basic school. I had lessons with him for a short time. He told me that he wouldn't go on for a long time, because still had a lot of recording to do, but he just needed to learn some things about playing the piano. He wanted to be able to play his own songs on the piano when practicing. Another person I taught was Naomi Mark. She was a finalist on Nigerian idol season one. She found it quite difficult to learn the classical way of singing because she was already used to contemporary singing. But she was able to adapt quite well eventually.
What differentiates artistes who have had formal training from those who haven't?
Again, let me answer this with another illustration. Let's Say we have a crowd of about 5,000 people waiting to hear two different artistes perform; one of them is well known, without any training, and the other a well trained classical musician. Very likely, when the classical musician comes on stage, everyone is quiet at first because they don't know what to expect. But there is a dexterity with which such a person performs.
There is a certain depth to the performance of trained musicians that causes the audience to stop and meditate. Such performances leave an impression on members of the audience long after the music fades. But then suppose someone else comes up, plays a popular beat and all he says is "Lalalalala Baby O," from the beginning to the end. Because we are Africans, and we get very excited at rhythm, the audience will make a lot of noise for such a person. But at the end of everything, you have to ask, which of those performances left a lasting impression on the audience?
What can a parent do if he/she notices musical talent in a child, but cannot afford training or buying of musical instruments?
The most important thing is to keep the child as interested in music as possible. For example if a child seems to show interest in drumming by hitting things all around, and if you can't afford to buy him an actual drum, there are toy drums sold around that you can get for him; just to keep him interested. There are also videos of people who play instruments that are not expensive. You could buy such videos, hence providing him visual training. But a time will come when you will still need to provide quality education for that child in the area of music.