The Coimbatore Chamber Chorale and the Coimbatore String Ensemble presented their first concert together, called Monsoon Rhapsody.
Every Friday evening, for the last six months, the walls and wooden rafters of the YMCA hall have echoed the voices of the 35-member Coimbatore Chamber Chorale (CCC). “Sopranos come to the centre!” “Where are the altos?” asks their conductor, Faith Ragland. Chairs are dragged into place, a mohawk is further spiked up, some grey hair patted down, kondais adjusted, plaits straightened, sheet music shuffled and the opening prayer whispered. The piano gives the key and the choir warms up.
On an overcast Sunday evening, a 200-strong audience trooped into Kasthuri Srinivasan Art Gallery to hear CCC at a concert wishfully named ‘Monsoon Rhapsody’. As the first notes of ‘Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho’ rose up, Coimbatore saw its first showers rain down. The enunciated ‘t’s in ‘battle’ met the softer ‘sh’s in ‘Joshua’ to recreate the Biblical story of Joshua’s army destroying Jericho’s city walls by singing praises.
“There isn’t enough intensity in the tenors and basses. Don’t sit on your notes!” urges Faith and the choir rehearses the driving rhythms of the Negro spiritual once again. Sixty percent of our members are singing on stage for the first time he explains. “There’s so much untapped talent, especially in the city’s church choirs, and there are so many youngsters learning classical music through Trinity College of London’s grades. All that was missing was a stage to bring them together and that’s what CCC does,” he says.
On stage, the choir began their next classical piece, the Irish ballad ‘O Danny Boy’. Four-part harmony blended in perfect unison through the rises and falls of the love song. It left your hair standing on end. ‘Monsoon Rhapsody’ also featured an instrumental section opened by pianist Dhruva Seshadri who played ‘Sonatine’ by Ravel, ‘Etude in A Flat’ by Chopin and L’isle Joyeuse by Debussy. After Dhruva, self-taught cellist Francis Rozario performed Beethoven's ‘Sonata No 3’ and the Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’. In sharp contrast to the buzzing madness of ‘Bumblebee’, Francis rendered a cello cover of the soulful ‘My heart will go on’.
“Sing it like the Irish! Don’t be so stiff. You’ve got the sketch done, now paint it in,” advises Faith as the choir closes its second rehearsal of ‘O Danny Boy’. Behind them a 16-member group, Coimbatore Strings Ensemble (CSE) unpacks violin and viola cases. Strings are tuned to piano cues, bow hairs are tightened into spines and polished with wax. Neck muscles are stretched and cheeks settle lovingly over well-worn instruments.
“CSE is a group of professional musicians originating from the rich tradition of string instruments in the Lutheran church. They meet through the year in Coimbatore and have performed across the country under the guidance of conductor John George from 2003,” says Faith. The ensemble arranges itself before the choir and together they begin ‘Va Peniero’ by Giuseppi Verdi. After three wrong starts, the timing falls into place and a perfect performance ensues despite the choir meeting the ensemble for the first time.
On stage, classical guitarist Selvin Herbert followed Francis to perform several classical pieces. His finger-picked rendition of Beethovan’s ‘Fur Elise’ restored dignity to the piece disrespected by car-reversing and call-waiting tunes. Singer J.W. Johnson followed it up with a rousing performance of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive’ accompanied by some interactive play-acting. CES then picked up their instruments to perform Vivaldi’s ‘Concerto Grosso’ and Johann Strauss’ ‘Pizzicato Polka’. The latter left jaws dropped. It was a short piece performed devoid of bows, instead entirely finger-plucked to create soft staccatos.
CCC then joined CES to mesmerise the audience with the perfectly-timed ‘Va Peniero’ followed by ‘He trusted in God’, from Part 2 of G.F. Handel’s ‘Messiah’. The four voices built over each other to picturise a powerful crowd mocking a crucified Christ. The evening closed with a medley of ABBA’s popular numbers.