Edna Jane Deinyo Soyannwo, 88 has had a blissful career as Author, Composer, and Teacher in top schools in the UK, Ghana and Nigeria. One of her former students, TONY IYARE, an International Journalist and Development Expert, discusses her life, family and accomplishments.
Popularly called EJD according to her initials, Mrs Edna Jane Deinyo Soyannwo, a Ghanaian by birth, has made profound impact on alumni of our school, United Christian Secondary School, Apapa, Lagos. They are distinguished professionals in different fields, leaning on inspirational vibes of the lyrics and rhymes of our School Song, “Arise and Shine,” authored and composed in four stanzas by her which have stirred many to greatness.
At the Thanksgiving Service of the school’s 60th Founder’s Day held in October 2019 at Williams Memorial Methodist Church, Ebute Metta, even our young saxophone revelation, Rapheal Lasisi, who lent helping hand to EJD, was dazzled by her dexterity on the piano as she rendered “Arise & Shine”. Many still relish the ecstasy and thrills of the historic reunion of the UCOSA WhatsApp Group on Easter Monday in 2015 with EJD on the Piano as we rendered “Arise and Shine” both at the beginning and end of the memorable event.
Born on Sunday January 7th, 1934, Mrs Soyannwo holds a BA (Dunelm) degree, a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of London, an Associate of the Royal College of Music (ARCM), and a Masters in Education from the University of North Wales (Bangor). She’s had a long successful teaching career starting from the UK, Ghana, and Nigeria.
From 1960–1961, she had a stint at a Girls’ Secondary School in South of London during the PGCE course. Mrs Soyannwo also taught at Winneba Specialist Training College, now University of Cape Coast, Ghana between 1961-1963.
A daughter of the Konotey-Ahulu family of the Krobo ethnic group, the largest of the seven Dangbe ethnic groups in southeastern Ghana, she got married in December 1962 to a Nigerian Port Engineer, Sofoluwe Olumide Soyannwo at the chapel of Achimota School, her alma mater.
Between 1963–1965, she accompanied her husband to the US, and returned to Nigeria in 1965 with their first child Soniyi, to be followed by four more in relatively quick succession.
Mrs Soyannwo taught at Ibadan Grammar School from 1965-1968. They relocated to Lagos where Engr Soyannwo got a job with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Apapa. She also got enlisted on the teaching staff of our dear alma mater, then called United Christian Secondary Commercial College, Apapa where she taught English and Music from 1968 to 1973.
She later left for King’s College, Lagos where she taught between 1973 – 1984. She was appointed Vice Principal in 1983 and was granted a year’s study leave to pursue a master’s degree abroad. She returned in 1984 and got appointed Vice Principal in Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos from where she voluntarily retired in 1986.
From 1986-1995, she worked as the first Administration Manager of Corona Schools Trust Council. Also from 1987 to 2018, Mrs Soyannwo worked with the MUSON School of Music, Lagos initially as a member of the school’s committee, then as part time piano teacher in the basic school, and later a full member of the staff of the MTN sponsored Diploma School as Deputy Director and Chief Examiner of the MUSON Theory and Practical Examinations till she voluntarily retired in July 2018. She was also Director of Chapel Music, Chapel of the Healing Cross, Lagos University Teaching Hospital and College of Medicine between 1987-2004.
Looking back at her formative stage, EJD was nurtured in the Scottish Presbyterian Mission Schools between ages 5 and 12 – three of those years in boarding school. She continued for the next seven years at the renowned co-educational Achimota Secondary School, from 1948 – 1954.
After her sixth form, she got a job on Tonal Languages at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies for one year before she got admission into Trinity College of Music London for a year. And after being successful at the Professional Piano Teaching Diploma, ARCM, she got admission to the University of Durham’s St Aidan’s College, where she graduated with a BA in 1960. She spent the first year after graduation successfully pursuing the Post Graduate Certificate in Education in Senate House, London University.
Reminiscing how she met her husband of 51 years, who died in 2013, she said it looked as if it was graciously arranged by the Lord who is present at each turn of her life.
They met in 1960 at a British Council Reception for Overseas Students in London Bible College. She was one of the old students invited to entertain the new arrivals. After she gave a very exciting piano solo recital, Engineer Sofoluwe Soyannwo was one of the spectators who came along to congratulate those who entertained the crowd, and she was singled out by the young Port Engineer for a talk.
Narrates EJD, “The first time Sofoluwe met my father, Rev David Andrew Konotey-Ahulu, he prostrated the Yoruba way, but my father, not understanding the Yoruba tradition, said he did not like being “worshipped”. However, they later got along very well with each other because of his many visits to our flat during which the friendship blossomed.
“It was when it was time to leave for Ghana after my long stay in Britain, whilst on board the MVAureol, in August 1961 bound for Takoradi, Ghana, just before they left the ship, my father prayed for traveling mercies and safety for the sea liner. Sofoluwe’s parting words were addressed to my father and he said, “Papayo, with your blessing, I plan, God willing, to resign my appointment with the London Ports’ Authority within three months, go to Ghana and get married to Edna. You will be hearing from my parents.
“I saw Papayo was emotional because traditionally, Krobo daughters, especially the eldest were expected to marry “at home” and be close to the family homestead when the older generation moved on. When Sofoluwe realized that, he assured Papayo that we would raise our children in both Nigeria and Ghana.
“He kept his “promise” and even long after my parents had passed on, he still took us to Ghana often. Our eldest daughter, Oladunni, studied at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, and she’s a lecturer there and married to Dr Edwin Laing. They have grown up daughters both graduates.”
For the past 50 years, the Soyannwos chronicled their life graciously guided by the Lord with newsy newsletters. They covered the corporate lives of the five children, named the “Quiverful” after Psalm 127v5 and in their teens, they became the “Olive Plants”.
Music obviously runs in the family. “Starting from our parents, Rev Andrew and Mrs Chris Konotey-Ahulu. Our father was taught the harmonium by the Basel Missionaries and played hymns at worship. Mother, had been a women’s fellowship choir leader and taught tonic sol-fa and played the piano accordion, beautifully. All their children, my siblings are musical and all our children have exhibited their talents in various ways, and in different instruments singing, the flute, violin, classical guitar, saxophone, the trumpet, and the piano.”
Who inspired Mrs Soyannwo to take up a Music career? Hear her:
“Our home was full of songs so it was part of our upbringing. I attended a Scottish Mission Boarding School at 11. The Missionaries all young women, played the harmonium at morning and evening devotions, so I discovered that women could play the keyboard and decided I should play the keyboard when I grew up.
“During school holidays, I saw my big brother also from boarding school, playing the organ at the Manse….I used to listen to him with so much interest. If he could play I should too when I got to his age!….Then, at Achimota Secondary School, at 13, I asked my father to write to the school requesting for paid piano lessons for me.
“That’s how for the following 7 years, I seriously studied the piano under Mr Robert Kwami, a great Pianist, a professional from the Royal College of Music and I later got a Degree of Bachelor of Music. I was the first to take Music for A Levels. He then advised me to read Music…….it’s a long story.
“During my music studies, I concentrated on the composers of Piano Music, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelsohn, then the Classics. After continuous teaching for 60years, I have navigated towards Christian Church Music, re-harmonising hymn tunes and writing Descants. I am still not ‘retired’.”
How do I describe Edna Soyannwo?
“She thanks God for being born into a strong loving Christian family, and raising a similar family. At age 88, she continues to study whilst continuing to teach all levels of Musicianship, choral, piano and theory.
“I thank God for His favour, and for giving me an understanding supportive husband for 51years and caring responsible children. The Lord has been gracious altogether.”
Mama Soyannwo is the founder, Yopeyo Foundation, which is committed to providing vocational and educational support mainly for her native Krobo girls in Ghana. This is aimed at young girls experiencing covert discrimination thus making it difficult for them to realize their God given potential.
She is particularly grateful to the Almighty God for her many successes.
“I have had a very comprehensive music career, entirely packaged by the Lord to whom I ascribe all honour and glory all parcelled and labelled GRACE,” she says.
Life without her husband has not been too easy. “Since June 2013 when Pa So bowed out, taking decisions has been a solo affair; but I was helped by known prayer supporters and thank God, the children with practical ideas to fill my empty hours. Continuing with my musical activities which I enjoy because they are stress-free, have yielded good results”.
In October 2016, the Soyanwo family gathered for the 3rd year memorial service of their patriarch and worshipped at St Paul’s Cathedral Church in his ancestral home, Odogbolu, Ogun State. The day also coincided with his 84th Birthday. She recalls:
“Our close family attended from Ibadan and Lagos. A small group I took with us provided the singing accompanied by an Alto-Saxophone at the grave side. The epitaph, a hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807 – 1892), was sung to the tune of ‘O Perfect Love’ and the last verse had the Descant I wrote to the hymn for Oladunni’s wedding 30 years ago”.
*Tony Iyare, an International Journalist and Development Expert, writes from Lagos