THE HISTORY OF THE METHODIST SINGING BAND
The roots of the Methodist Singing Band can be traced to the Temperance Society formed by one R. J. Ghartey of Anomabo during the tenure of office of Rev. William West, who succeeded Rev. Freeman as Chairman of the Gold Coast District. R. J. Ghartey was a prominent leader of the Church at Anomabo and accompanied Rev. West to Kumasi, in April 1862, to persuade King Kweku Dua of Ashanti to allow Methodist Church Agents to preach his subject to become members of the Church if they wished.
On a visit to England the year before Ghartey had been introduced to the Temperance Movement. He saw in that Organization a way of winning this people from the habit of drinking the local palm-wine and imported liquor. Returning the same year, he formed with characteristic swiftness, a Temperance Society at Anomabo. For the benefit of members of society, he built a water tank in stone and mortar costing some £150, which remained the main source of good drinking water until pipe-borne water was connected to the town in 1939.
The society came to be called Akonomosu (water-drinking people). It was Ghartey’s intention that Akonomosu should give every support to the Church in all aspects of its work. To that end he organized a section into a “Band of Hope” with the special responsibility of leading the singing in the vernacular at Church Service and thus provided a model for the “Singing Band” Ghartey also introduced the “cover-shoulder” or “kabasroto”- an imitation of the English blouse for the female members to cover the upper parts of their bodies. He first tried it with his own maidservants and later extended it to the Band and Hope from which the fashion spread throughout the country and, beyond, to Nigeria.
THE BEGINNING OF THE REAL SINGING BAND
The Rev. Jacob B. Anaman, who had a strong belief in the wisdom of translating portions of the Bible into Fante, thought that it would be better go give the Gospel to the people in their own vernacular. He wasted no time in translating the English Hymns into Fante. Then Rev. Terry Coppin also brought in the idea that a Sunday school should be made as interesting as possible in order to attract the young to serve as a nursery of the Church.
Some illiterate members started attending the Sunday school from where most of them learned how to read and write the vernacular. Invariably, a singing band grew out of the Sunday School and not only led the singing in the vernacular in the Church, but also accompanied preachers on their visits to surroundings villages.
The Band throve on a collection of hymns translated from English into Fante by Rev. J. B. Anaman, and published in 1893 under the title “Nkwagye Ho Ndwom” (Hymns about Salvation). With these Hymns and through the Model Singing Band, which Rev. Anaman himself organised in 1889 at Cape Coast, the Sunday Schools harnessed the Ghanaian’s Love of singing and thereby brought the Ghana Methodist Church in step with World Methodism which is known to be born in song.
It will be great interest for members of the Church to know that the under listed are some of the songs translated and taught by Rev. Anaman: - Lend a Hand (Sankey No. 764), Wait and Murmur not (Sankey No. 710), When the roll is called up yonder (Sankey No. 783), Precious blood of my behaviour (White Robes), Wonderful Words of Life (Sankey No. 357), That Old story is true (Sankey No. 856), All to Jesus I surrender (Sankey No. 601), Count your blessings (Sankey No. 745), Behold me standing at the door (Sankey No. 378), Yes for me (Sankey No. 664). The City of Jasper Wall, Happy Day (Heart and Voice).
THE WORK OF EGYA KOJO ABOKYI
Special mention must be made of J. Hayford, popularly known and called by his native name Papa Kojo Abokyi who had an extraordinary and unique love for singing sacred songs; a celebrity whose whole bodily fabric seemed to have been woven with strings of singing.
Papa Abokyi led the singing Band at Wesley Methodist Church, Cape Coast for many years. He had a vibrant voice, and was gifted in the art of singing. In all the songs that he sang, however long the verses, he sang from memory; and when inspired with the words and sweetness of the music, he became ecstatic to such an extent that his voice was the loudestwith a peculiar part created by himself. This won him the appellation “Abokyi Part”.
Papa Abokyi infected all his children, grandchildren and nieces with the art of singing and were all members of the Singing Band.
FORMER LEADERS AND ORGANISTS OF SINGING BANDS IN OUR CHURCHES
In compiling the history of the Methodist Singing Band the names of the following personalities cannot be left out for their immense contribution to the development of the Singing Band. They are: Papa Kojo Abokyi, Papa Egyanka Abraham, Papa Branwell, and Papa John Andzi Quainoo. Messrs Butler, W. Bessa-Simons, Kobina Ackon, E. A. Peters, all of Cape Coast. The rest are Papa Aidoo of Saltpond; Mr. Kwesi Yamson and Maame Yalleh from Anomabo; Mr Acquaah-Harrison from Kumasi and Mr, L. Sam from Takoradi.
The Bands as stated earlier were begun with members who were mostly illiterates or semi-illiterates. It is heartening to say that today, many of the Singing Band members are scholars and some of the Bands are able to sing anthems and other excerpts from Handel’s Messiah and other renowned composers.
THE NATIONAL UNION OF METHODIST SINGING BANDS
There were singing bands in most societies within the Methodist Church. Ghana was proclaimed autonomous in 1961, but the bands did not belong to a union that could be identified as such. Matters related to the Singing Bands were handled at Society Leaders meetings. Unless a crisis occurred none of the other organs in the Church’s hierarchy, namely, the Quarterly Meeting, the Synod and the Conference, heard of or concerned itself with the affairs of the Singing Band. When criticisms of the structure were raised in the 1960’s it came to be assumed that responsibility for the general oversight of Singing Band affairs belonged to the Secretary of Conference’s Youth Committee.
The late Rev. J. K. Foh –Amoaning and the Rev. Micah Edu-Buandoh in turn, and in that capacity, devoted some attention to the Bands. By 1969 when many Bands were represented at the conference in Sekondi, it was recognised with joy that the presence of educated persons in the Bands was beneficial; and that the Methodist Conference of that years had done the right things in directing that the National Union should be formed.
Accordingly, it was decided that one of the prominent literate members, Bro. E. S. Aidoo, a lawyer and then Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Calvary Methodist Singing Band Accra, be invited to be the first President of the National Union then being established.
The National Committee under him soon convened in Accra and decided on the form the Union should take. A constitution for the Union was drafted and sent through the relevant Connexional Organs to the Conference of the Methodist Church, Ghana, which at its session of 1972 approved it. The members of the Band in the Union rejoiced and were glad to note that the Choirs in our Church quickly followed in their steps by forming a union (the Association of Methodist Church Choirs) which was also approved by the Church’s Conference a few years later.
A fact to note is that our National Committee did not allow the Union to be bogged down by apparently difficulties. Whenever any local problem seemed likely to occupy the Leaders’ Meeting of any member society for an unnecessary long time, it was confronted by selected individual officers going there and discussing matters with the ministers or catechist in charge; and, if called for, the National President would sent in a letter or personally pay a visit to that society.
God blessed the Union’s efforts. Its aims and objectives as formulated by the first National Committee and approved by the Conference of the Methodist Church, Ghana were: -
i. To worship God through singing;
ii. To bring together all the Singing Bands in the Country with a view to assisting them in matters of Organization and education of its members;
iii. To hold Biennial Conferences at which active fellowship will be shared by as many members of all Singing Bands as possible and general problems facing the Bands will be discussed;
iv. To provide a form which the various Band s can obtain songs and other material for use in their societies.
No one can deny that within these years of its foundation the Union had achieved commendable success. A Nation conference has been held from Diocese to Diocese every two years and each has been successful. Members have thrown themselves into organizing these and full accounts have always been rendered. Bands from several societies have brought records of their problems and successes for discussion.
By the middle of the 1980’s, the Union had become so well organised and was operating so well that Singing Bands from the Presbyterian Church of Ghana in many towns sought close association with it.
Many of the Union’s members were invited to speak to Bands in the Presbyterian Church; and the then National President (Bro. E. S. Aidoo) was particularly busy in that. Almost all were keen on how to attract educated men and women into the Bands, stressing the contribution that such persons could make. Below are some of the devoted brethren who have served on the Executive Committee of the National Union.
Presidents: E. S. Aidoo (1972 – 1988), J. K. Aduku (1988 – 1990), S. K. Appah (1990 – 1994), Daniel Adu (1994 – 2000), J. K. Arkorful (2000 – 2004), Nathaniel Kojo Crentsil (2004 –
Vice Presidents: Boamah (1982 – 1986), J. K. Aduku (1986 – 1988), Daniel Adu (1988 – 1990), J. K. Arkorful (1994 – 2000), Nathaniel Kojo Crentsil (2000 – 2004), Ben Afful Eshun (2004 –
Secretaries: J. S. Coleman (1972 – 1982), A. K. Bentil (1982 – 1990), Noah Opoku (1990 – 1996), Ben Afful Eshun (1996 – 2004), K. Agyeman-Appiah (2004 -
Assistant Secretaries: F. Obeng-King (1982 – 1990), J. K. Arkorful (1990 – 1994), Ben Afful-Eshun (1994 – 1996), K. Agyeman-Appiah (1996 – 2004), Jonny Oduro (2004 -
Bandmasters: C.E. Grantson ( - 1988), Jacob Nda Blay (1988–1992), J. Kweku Adjei(1992–98)
Organists: Jacob Nda Blay (1982–1988), J. Kweku Adjei (1988–92), Nana Okyere Boadu (1992¬- 1994), Bright Amankwah (1994-1998)
Director of Music: J. Kweku Adjei (1998–2000), P. E. T. Sackey (2000- 2004), Yaw Mensah (2004- )
1st Deputy Director of Music: E. Mensah-Essilfie (1998-1999), P. E. T. Sackey (1999- 2000), Yaw Mensah (2000- 2004), Kwamena Arkorful (2004- )
2st Deputy Director of Music: P. E. T. Sackey (1998- 1999), Kingsford Yaw Mensah (1999- 2000), Kwamena Arkorful (2001-2004), Bobie Ansah (2004- )
Treasurers: Sam Asare Kyere (1972- 1988), Victoria Oduro (1988- 1990), CeciliaMcVroom (1990- 1996), Florence Amo Mensah (1996- 2004), Comfort Adjoa Kesse (2004- )
Financial Secretaries: S. K. Agyare (1986- 1990), E. J. Fiifi-Hayford (1990- 1996), Isaac K. Botchway1996- 2004), Samuel Gbor (2004- )
Auditors: Daniel Van Ess ( - 1994), J.K. Appiagyei (1994- 2000), J. K. Acquah (2000- 2004),
Chaplains: Rev. J. K. Nketsia, Rev. J.A.Y. Adubah (1988- 1994), Rev. Samuel E. Nketsia (1994- 2004), Rev. John K. Buabeng-Odoom (2004- )
Space will not permit the inclusion of all the Districts and diocesan representatives who have contributed in no small way to the sustenance of the Union. However, a few prominent ones are listed below:
Araba Mansa (Cape Coast), Victoria Baidoo (Sekondi), F A. Adomako (Sunyani), J. A. Acheampong (Kumasi), J. E. Ampong (Cape Coast) J. C. Assan (Accra), Sarah Beccies (Winneba), Nathaniel Kojo Crentsil (Cape Coast), Peter K. Tsiabah (Sekondi) and Stephen Appiah-Danso (Tema).
Pondering on the tremendous achievements of the Methodist Singing Band over the period of its existence, one can boldly say that the Hand of God has really been with us.