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Côte d’Ivoire event promotes cross-cultural music

Eileen Guenther (right) teaches students to play keyboards during a United Methodist Global Praise training event at the Methodist University of
Cocody in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. UMNS photos by Isaac Broune.

By Isaac Broune*
Aug. 21, 2008 | ABIDJAN, Côte d'Ivoire (UMNS) 

Cross-cultural sharing to enhance United Methodist music ministries across the globe was the focus of a week-long training event at the Methodist University of Cocody in Côte d'Ivoire.

Thirty-five United Methodists from the church in Côte d'Ivoire and an international team of musicians engaged in reciprocal teaching and learning Aug. 3-10. The event was organized by the Global Praise program of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Abraham Mandan, the youngest participant, learns to play the piano.


Global Praise emerged as a United Methodist mission initiative in the 1990s to gather, receive and share the songs of Methodists and other Christians around the world.

An overarching concept is that the church is indeed global and that all parts need to be familiar with the gifts of music that various cultures contribute to the whole. This is especially true for Methodists, who belong to a Christian heritage born in song.

Sharing gifts of music

Bettsy Curtis plans to take back to North Carolina the new drum rhythms and Ivorian Christian songs she learned to use with elementary school-age students. She directs music ministries at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Wilmington, and works with fifth-graders in a performing arts magnet school.

Eloise Bodje, a 20-year-old Ivorian with no previous experience in music, made impressive progress in piano skills—"the equivalent of six months of intensive courses," according to Jacques Kangni, a Togolese organist with 15 years of experience.

Ivorian Methodist worship incorporates many musical idioms, according to Michael Hawn, a professor of church music and director of the Master of Sacred Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Dallas.

"There is a wide variety of songs from Anglican chants to traditional hymns, gospel songs and short choruses, a lot of singing in worship," said Hawn. "It is impressive to see how the whole body is involved in songs, not just the voice, how spontaneously a director can continue and vary a song longer in the Spirit. All these are gifts from the Côte d'Ivoire United Methodist Church that we need in the United States."

At the same time, the Ivorian church is in need of music leadership, greater skills in teaching the wide variety of songs, and training in electronic keyboards, which are growing in popularity across Africa.

With no prior musical training,
Eloise Bodje, 20, begins to
develop new skills.


Global Praise brought 10 electric keyboards to leave with the church in West Africa. Abraham Arpellet, director of the National Board of Music in Côte d'Ivoire, has set up a ''strategic plan to do the follow-up in order to increase the current level so that, in a 12-month time-frame, all the students can play all the songs in the churches.''

Hawn and the Rev. Debra Tyree, a Global Praise staff member who is minister of music at Bellevue United Methodist Church, Nashville, Tenn., hosted two groups in voice development and choir conducting. They taught music theory, promoted the use of new songs and shared techniques for effective leadership during worship.

The Ivorians learned how to sing ''Alleluia'' in languages from Syria, India, Zimbabwe, Argentina and the Caribbean.

Attie Agovi Lazare, a 25-year-old musician, anticipated the training will lead to qualitative and quantitative changes in the two choirs he leads: M'Pouto United Methodist Church with 45 members and Locodjo United Methodist Church with 150 members in his mother's village. He also wants to improve the music skills of the children of his local church.

Cross-cultural teaching and learning

Visitors from the U.S. and Europe learned about the use of traditional Ivorian dance in worship. Their teacher was Daniel Konan, an expert on traditional dance with 11 years' experience teaching at the National Institute of Music, Drawing and Performing Arts.

Every day, following morning devotions led by the Rev. John Thornburg, a hymn text writer, participants separated into four groups to attend various classes.

The Global Praise team included:

  • Jorge A. Lockward, Global Praise program coordinator and co-founder and conductor-in-residence of Cántico Nuevo (New Song), a worship and arts ecumenical project in New York City;
  • The Rev. Debra Tyree, business manager of Global Praise and minister of music at Bellevue United Methodist Church, Nashville, Tenn.;
  • Michael Hawn, professor of church music and director of the Master of Sacred Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Dallas;
  • Eileen Guenther, president of the American Guild of Organists, associate professor of church music at Wesley Theological Seminary and lecturer in music at George Washington University, both in Washington D.C.;
  • Bettsy Curtis, director of Music Ministries at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Wilmington, N.C.; and
  • The Rev. John Thornburg, an accomplished hymn and anthem text author.

They were joined by:

  • The Rev. Martin Heider, Lutheran pastor, composer and musician from Germany;
  • Godfrey Taylor, author and organist from Jamaica; and
  • Simei Monteiro, worship consultant at World Council of Churches, Geneva.

On the Web: www.globalpraise.org

*Broune is a United Methodist communicator for the Côte d'Ivoire Annual Conference.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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