In December 2019, at Accra Central, 84-year-old retired District Elder Brakohiapa, despite struggling in his gait and mobility, moved curiously to the very front of a visibly impressed audience. The occasion, 50th Anniversary Music night. The audience was still applauding a virtuoso piano duet of J. S. Bach’s Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. He, out of elation, wanted to personally shake the hands of 13-year-old John Saade, and his elder sister, Caroline Kotey, for that masterful display of the well-known classical.
That was not the only time. District Apostle Ehrich, in January 2019, after a divine service at Ningo, walked over to John and requested a photograph with him. He promised John that he would publish that picture in the next edition of Our Community magazine, and he did. As a 12-year-old, John independently led musical delivery throughout the service. He impressed the District Apostle. Indeed, the District Apostle had wanted to introduce his son to John on his visit in September 2022. Unfortunately, John was away in school.
For John, the seeds of his talent had been sowed over a decade ago. Now 17 years-old and a second year Science student at St. Augustine’s College, one of the best second cycle schools in Ghana, he shares how it began: “My mother used to play classical music at home, and I was always mesmerized by the beautiful melodies and sounds coming from the piano. She noticed my interest and passion for the piano and decided to enroll me in piano lessons when I was just 6 years old. It was a bit challenging at first and I had to practice a lot, but as I learnt more and improved, I fell even more in love with the piano.”
John also plays the violin. On many united divine service days, he has been part of the orchestra in Accra. Interestingly, another string instrument has piqued his interest: “I've also been intrigued by the guitar. Its expressive sound and beautiful melodies have always fascinated me, and I think it would be an exciting challenge to learn how to play it.” And he did learn to play.
When asked his proudest moment, John recounts an event a few years ago: “My biggest achievement was somewhere in January, 2020, where I qualified to be part of the performers in a concert hosted by the legendary James Varrick Armah who is best known for the composition of the famous “Oye”. I was so glad because not only did I get to meet him, I got the opportunity to play before him.” John performed And He Shall Purify by GF Handel, to a standing ovation at the Juvenile Art Music Expo in 2020. He was hugged on stage by Joyce Aryee, the patron of the biggest and most popular chorale choir in Ghana, that has won international music awards.
And yet, that was not the most challenging piece he had performed given the place and time. John explains why Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto No.4 in F Minor ‘L’Inverno’ is his most difficult: “It is a technically demanding composition, and it's part of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. What makes this piece so challenging is its complex fingering, speed and hand independence. Balancing the technical aspects with the emotional depth of the music is also a significant challenge.”
Perhaps, our West African music coordinator, District Elder Oehler, would best appreciate John’s explanation. For many of us, we have watched John in awe, losing himself in the flow and emotions of some of his performances.
But the journey has not been smooth sailing; it still is not. John belongs to a family of three, all musically inclined. His mother, Grace, has been a chorister for 33 years. She has single-handedly nurtured and raised John and his elder sister, Caroline, through their formal and musical education. Caroline, just like John, also plays the violin.
On one difficult occasion, John’s music tutor observing his mother’s financial struggles, had presented a proposal from one of the big orthodox churches in Ghana to have John’s secondary and tertiary education fully sponsored, in exchange for the use of his talent and full commitment to their course. “The offer was very good, my dear brother” she tells the reporter. “I needed that help. I still do. But I said no to the offer. It was not the first time. My family belongs to the New Apostolic Church. For as long as my children live with me, and I still take care of them, their talents and sacrifices belong to the Apostles’s ministry, to our Altar of Grace.”
John, despite seeing the circumstances, has always appreciated his mother for her resoluteness. He, together with his family, are happy in the New Apostolic Church. Things are still difficult for them, but their faith keeps them going.
Having had some exposure, John thinks the Accra Working Area could take some initiatives to help develop musical talents: “Establishing lending programs for musical instruments would be beneficial for young musicians especially for those who are in the orchestra, who cannot afford their own instruments. This would enable them to pursue their musical interests and talents, even if they don't have the means to purchase these very expensive instruments. Also, organizing music workshops and masterclasses with renowned musicians would be a fantastic opportunity for us to learn from the best. These events could focus on various aspects of music, from performance techniques to music theory and composition, enriching our musical knowledge and skills.”
John’s talent is precocious; he is well ahead of his peers. The challenge he faces is how to develop his God-given talents to its full potential in an environment with little resource and lacking enablement. But John is determined: “I would remain committed to continuous learning and improvement. Seeking opportunities for advanced music education, whether through workshops, masterclasses, or online courses, can help me refine my skills and deepen my understanding of classical music. Being dedicated to regular, focused practice is also vital.”
Beyond music, John aspires to be a medical doctor. “I want to build my very own hospital with state-of-the-art and modernized equipment to heal others. Perhaps, I might even play some tunes for my patients, so I can see the smiles I put on other’s faces.”
John firmly believes music is a powerful tool to connect with God, and lead others in worship. Now a youth, John has a word for his fellow mates: “I will encourage you to explore different aspects of music and discover what truly resonates with you. Whether singing, playing an instrument or even composing, offer your gifts in praise and service to the church community.”
Oh, wait a minute, did you know John was also one of the trainees to represent his school at the popular National Science & Maths Quiz?