As any recent music school graduate knows, it’s a scary thing to finish degree work and leave the protective enclave of the school environment. Musicians spend years honing a rarefied skill set in a safe, cloistered environment where it’s easy to start to think that the biggest challenge in music is the execution of the music itself. The real difficulties, though, start after school. Even for graduates of the best music schools all over the world, a career–or even steady work–is not guaranteed. The explosion of talent on the classical scene has not been met with a corresponding increase in job opportunities, and many graduates are forced to carve out a niche for themselves. This is the hard reality of life as a young musician in Europe and the Americas: imagine the difficulties for young, talented musicians in developing nations without the benefit of centuries of classical music infrastructure.
Most people know nothing about the MUSON (Music Society of Nigeria) School of Music in Lagos, Nigeria, and information about the school is admittedly difficult to find, particularly with Google’s warnings that accessing the pages of the school itself could cause harm to my computer. The MUSON School is Nigeria’s training center for classical music talent. Philanthropic organization/telecommunications firm MTN, which funds programs for social change and improvement in Nigeria, partnered with the Musical Society of Nigeria to create the MUSON School program. The partnership enables talented students to study at the school free of charge: tuition, board, and book money are all paid for by the foundation. The goal of the partnership is to ultimately provide a musical education for 220 students. Thus far, about 74 students have graduated from the school with Diplomas in Music. This year’s Muson class celebrated their graduation at the end of June with a graduation concert that received glowing reviews from Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper. The concert was produced by the Music Society of Nigeria and MTN Foundation, and it featured a wide range of talented students in performance–singers, instrumentalists, orchestral ensembles, and bands.
The review in The Guardian is a somewhat fascinating blend of familiar and new. Through Nwanne’s eyes, we are able to see classical music from the perspective of a country that is relatively new on the classical music scene and is developing its own relationship with it as colored by their own culture. Some comments that critic Chuks Nwanne makes are unusual for a classical music review, but the review in general is a thorough one that is palpably overflowing with appreciation and enthusiasm for the gifts of the graduating young musicians. Says Nwanne, “the graduation concert by the MUSON School of Music staged last week at the Agip Recital Hall was significant in two ways. Apart from creating a platform for enthusiasts to relax and savour classical compositions, the yearly concert… is an assurance that all is not lost for the genre of music that is erroneously associated with the old.”
Nwanne’s comment is telling: concerns about the dwindling place for classical music reaches even to Africa, where, Nwanne says, ” the impressive performance by the students was on the lips of everyone; both the old and young commended their efforts. However, the big question is, on whose platform are these talents going to exhibit their skills? Unfortunately, MTN Nigeria, which is known to promote music in Nigeria is more interested in funding hip-hop shows, thereby leaving the classical musicians with real talent with no option than to remain within the four walls of their traditional home, MUSON Centre!”
Nwanne’s lament is a familiar one, and it is in some ways surprising that a nation that is in its comparative classical infancy should reflect the state of the Western world’s predicament so closely. But the parallels are undeniable: “Perhaps,” wonders Nwanne, “it is time the telecommunication company came up with a major yearly classical music concert in Nigeria for enthusiasts and artistes to savour. A project on classical [music] like the popular MTN Project Fame should be in the cards. If nothing tangible is done in the nearest future to address the situation, the huge sums of money being spent to fund the diploma programme would end up as an effort in futility if there is no platform to publicly express this unique music form.”
Let us all hope that, around the world, we continue to work to give young talent a place in the sun.