The news of Christopher Ayodeji Ayodele’s transition came as a rude shock. I first met Ayo during my NYSC service year at The Polytechnic, Ibadan in the early 1980s. In those days, studying music at an institution of higher education was a rarity in Nigeria, and it was such a great delight for me to meet someone with a similar career trajectory.
Ayo’s expertise on the organ at such an early stage of his career was inspirational. We quickly developed a warm friendship as part of a wider circle of musicians that included Paul Konye, Wole Hicks and Funso Olaniyi--Ayo’s classmates at the polytechnic. Christopher encouraged me to revive my interest in the organ, an instrument that I had begun to abandon after embracing the piano during my undergraduate years at Nsukka. My decision to take up the position of organist at Saint Stephens Anglican Church, Inalende, Ibadan was due largely to the encouragement that I received from Ayo. I have recalled this experience only to draw attention to how Ayo inspired the young and the old to tap into the enchanting world of organ music.
The son of an Anglican pastor, Ayodele Christopher hailed from Isanun-Igbaraoke, Ondo state. He sang in his father’s church choir and became interested in choral singing and organ playing. Not surprisingly, he proceeded to study music at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, where he was fortunate to meet his mentor, Kayode Oni (FTCL), under whose tutelage Ayo achieved considerable proficiency at the organ. Ayo was appointed lecturer at Ibadan Polytechnic upon graduation, rose through the ranks to become a senior academic staff, and worked with his colleagues to build an innovative curriculum in music technology. He also accompanied various choral groups, including the FRCN Choir, University of Ibadan Choir, Nightingale Voices, Warri Choral Society, and Lagos City Chorale. Christopher played in many of the major churches in Ibadan, including All Saints Church, Jericho—where he held tenure until he passed away. His term at All Saints was particularly significant because it afforded him an opportunity to work with Professor Ayodele Falase, who mentored and supported him right till the very last days.
Christopher was a devoted academic who mentored budding organists and provided much needed professional guardianship for those who were not privileged to study music formally. He exposed many such young organists to important organ music repertoire. He was the organist that every person wanted to play at family weddings and other ceremonies. His calendar was always full, and people had to book for his services months in advance. At his disposal in fulfilling these multiple roles were his impressive professional skills and, most importantly, his amiable personality.
Ayo’s status as an organist bears comparison with notable pioneers like TKE Phillips, Fela Sowande, WWC Echezona, Ayo Bankole Snr., Olaolu Omideyi ( all of blessed memory), as well as practicing ones like Kayode Oni and Sam Ojukwu, to mention but just a few names. Ayo’s musicianship was bicultural. He composed works that mixed African and European elements, and performed and taught African and European music on a regular basis. Bi-musicality is amply demonstrated in a CD recording of his performance, an important material that he has left behind. The 13-track CD, titled Inspirational Hymns, Series 1 (Ascent Records, nd.), features protestant hymnals and Yoruba musical compositions that include “Now Thank We All Our God” (Nun Danket), “Praise My Soul the King of Heaven” (Lauda Anima; Regent Square), “Great is thy Faithfulness” (Runyan), and “I need thee Every Hour” (Lowry; Ghanaian tune). The list also includes ‘Is̩é̩ Olúwa,” “Ìbè̩rù Kòsí,” and “Yé T’Olúwa Làwa ó S̩e.” To emphasize the devotional intent of the recording, his organ playing is interposed with scriptural readings that resonate with the message of each hymn. In combining these two traditions, the CD presents a microscopic view of the music of the Anglican Church in Western Nigeria, showing how the hymnal tradition introduced by the British has been supplemented with a new Africanist idiom that was pioneered by composers like TKE Philips and the Rev. JJ Ransome Kuti.
Aside from its bi-musical theme, the recording reveals striking features of Ayo’s organ technique and why he was able to enthrall his listeners so powerfully. Many have attributed the phenomenality of his style to his ability to configure and use organ stops effectively. The effective use of organ stops is however only one of his multiple skills. What I find particularly remarkable in this recording is his ability to articulate each of the inner parts of a four-part texture with great clarity. Inner parts also often provide the musical spaces within which he generates subtle embellishments and a unique tone-color. The rhetorical power of his organ performance, replete with great spiritual impact and a unique keyboard style, is partially attributable to these qualities.
Ayo was a beloved organist who gave joy to everyone who came under the power of his music. He played in multiple churches and served as collaborative pianist with prominent singers and diverse choral groups. His ability to function in manifold musical roles was remarkable. He traversed diverse professional spaces with great efficiency and charisma.
As we mourn the loss of this great son of Nigeria, I pray that the Almighty God will comfort his family and friends. May his soul rest in peace. Amen!
Professor Bode Omojola teaches at Mount Holyoke College and the Five College Consortium (Amherst, Hampshire, Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, USA).