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Chinwe D. John: Music, Love and Loss

I’ll begin with Love. My first introduction to classical music, came from my father’s vinyl and  CDs, which he played on Sundays after Mass. The recurring albums were Verdi’s Aida; the  Giulio Cesare recording featuring Beverly Sills and Norman Treigle; The 1976 recording of  Handel’s Messiah under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner, and a Mario Lanza LP. He would always return to these records, and in time, I came to love them, and others which he played. I  would be amiss not to mention that it was he who introduced me to the magic of Mozart and the orchestra St. Martin-In-the Fields, via the movie rendition of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, which had a huge impact on my young mind. Sundays were the only days I didn’t have to do some form of academics, and since generally everyone was in a better mood, I came to associate the music with happy times and comfort.  

At the time, I had no idea that classical music was a genre with a reputation… Think of how classical music lovers are mostly depicted in movies and at times literature – Cecil Vyse, or even worse Dr. Lecter. Unknown to me also as a child, was the fact that its listening audience was rather small. I grew up in many places, but primarily in Nigeria. Most people back home at that time, would have experienced classical music mainly through religious music. Hymns based on music by composers such as J.S Bach were frequently encountered; secular classical music was not nearly as much. My father had won a scholarship in his youth, to attend the Prague Institute of  Technology. His school years in Europe, alongside his earlier well-rounded school days at St.  Patrick’s College, Calabar, all played a role in his having a rich musical palette. So it was that while I was growing up, classical music was just like any other genre of music – no pomp or circumstance surrounding it, and I have my father to thank for this. 

While I know the various viewpoints surrounding the relevance of classical music in today’s world, I cannot say I fully understand them all. A large part of the aforementioned notion of exclusivity within the genre, stems from a lack of classical music funding in certain countries,  especially as pertains to non-private school education. This has led to only those with funds to afford such music classes, or those who hail from families within the industry, getting the all important early exposure. I do not know why the ruling hands in these societies, who all profess to enjoy classical music themselves, would not want to make its invaluable power and beauty,  felt by all members of society, regardless of economic class.  

I might raise eyebrows for suggesting classical music should receive dedicated government funding. Some may ask why I feel it deserves such special attention? Why can’t classical music and musicians stand on their own feet, like every other art form or profession for that matter?  The answer is far more lengthy than this space allows. It is not because I feel classical music is  ‘superior’ to any other musical genre that is created with artistic honesty, it is simply because time and time again, it is a musical genre, that has shown that it is capable of unlocking emotions, potentiating mental ability, soothing the soul and producing a slew of other benefits.  Why not promote and support it?  

The year 2020 certainly generated more turmoil than usual, and like many, I found myself leaning further into music for comfort and balance. A lot of the musicians I was listening to at the time, were UK-based, and the news coming out at the time, painted a dire picture for their industry. I found myself wanting to do something to help and to participate not only as an audience member, but as a creative. One thing led to another, and three years later, I had written the lyrics to three song cycles, two of which were combined and released on the Divine Art recording label, as an album Songs for Our Times. It was an intense time, as my father’s health had taken a turn, and time seemed never to be in enough supply. 

Loss. These are the early days of mourning. I have come to a phase earlier dreaded, one where life is navigated without my dear father – my nurturer and guide. Words can either be comforting or sometimes seem empty when it comes to accepting our mortality.  

I’ll end with the music. It’s much more than just a comforting blanket, it is a portal connecting memories, emotions, and souls. “O death, where is thy sting?…” 

In loving memory of my father Sir (Dr.) Thomas M. A John,
Chinwe D. John

Born in California, Chinwe D. John is a Nigerian-American physician and poet/lyricist, whose previous work includes: A book of narrative poetry Tales of Fantasy and Reality, EP Within a Certain Time and Place, released under the Voces8 label in 2022, and the new album Songs for Our Times released in October 2023, to positive reviews under the Divine Arts Record label.
Songs for Our Times can be heard here. Subscribe to Chinwe’s YouTube channel.

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