‘Strike the harp and join the chorus'
As the carol season reaches its summit, we bring you Tiruchi’s choral tradition
Be it the mellow refrains of the timeless ‘Silent Night' or the sprightly tunes of the ever popular ‘Jingle Bells' that come wafting through your window, they mean the same thing- Christmas is here!
Even as those interested from churches, schools and colleges are busy exercising their vocal cords, the city's independent gospel choirs are notching up the festive spirit with concerts and singing sprees of their own. What sets them apart is their attempt to unite music aficionados from across churches and denominations to hit the right pitch together. They also double up as training grounds for artistes like legendary yesteryear organist Cooling Rajaiah to anchor turned musician James Vasanthan.
Charm of choral singing
It takes talent to sing alone, but more than that to sing in an ensemble. In an age when solo singing and pop music are the order of the day, these groups hold aloft the tradition of choir singing, with three and four part singing inclusive of tenor, soprano and bass exacting rigorous training. Little wonder why there is something elevating about choral singing, for even as many voices blend as one, nuances and shades emerge as some hit the deep notes and others soar to the skies.
While all men's choir Minstrels stands by its western classical flavour, old timers ‘The Carollers' have invested their music with an Indian ethos. The PSALTS, an exclusive children's choir are gaga over venturing beyond the realm of singing and new kid on the block, ‘Singspirations' believes in traversing music's infinite possibilities.
The oldest existing choir group in town, true to its name, catches up only during X-mas before their calendar event ‘Carols by candlelight'. “The demise of our only remaining founding fathers, Cooling Rajaiah and Rajasingh Theodore in 2010 spelt a great loss. Determined not to fade away, Carollers are regrouping to keep up the tradition,” says Secretary Christopher Devanesan.
“In an attempt to welcome fresh blood, we are trying to strike a balance between classic and contemporary styles of singing,” says Wilfred Selvaraj, Treasurer, acknowledging the need to change with the times. “The Carollers date back to pre-war times when a group of youngsters were engaged regularly to perform for the military stationed at Golden Rock. But after the war, they turned to carols. They went around in trucks stringing instruments during Christmas,” reminiscences Wilfred, who joined the group after listening awestruck as a boy.
The signature event is the only ecumenical carol worship here where Christians from TELC, Lutheran, CSI and Catholic churches light up candles and let their voices mingle. A grand open-air affair, today the event has moved indoors, succumbing to escalating expenses and the ravages of weather on it's elderly audience.
Classical gospel music no longer attracts the discerning listeners of the past admits Harry Pandian, founder of Minstrels, an all-men's choir. Addressed as ‘uncle', the 78 year old choir conductor is a stickler for discipline and much respected. Minstrels emanates the old world charm of a British cathedral choir, right from the grey suit and red ties of the men to the solemnity that prevails. But it is truly enervating to listen to the church reverberate with strong, steady, measured tones. “Classical singing requires commitment and constant practice to ensure standards do not slip though quality of singing has been relatively compromised to keep the group going,” says Pandian. Though the group has few local performances in recent years, Minstrels have performed in Ooty, Banglaore and Chennai over a period of three decades.
If cherubs were to break out in a heavenly chorus, they would undoubtedly sound much like the PSALTS. It is evident that music is a celebration here as a radiant joy envelopes the spirited singing of the bright-eyed kids aged between 7 and 17 years.
“PSALTS has an interesting history,” narrates founder Andrew Santosh. “I was looking for a choir to enrol my daughter and found there were not many where little girls could fit into. The group came into being after like-minded parents agreed to join my girl.” A decade, many concerts and a couple of albums later, Andrew's daughter Rachel Joy heads the 30-member troupe today. The children can sing, act and dance for Rachel is eager to move beyond singing. “We need to keep growing and innovating. Our concerts integrate mime, dance and action songs.”
“You need not be a terrific singer to join a choir. I gauge the seriousness of parents over the talent of the child. If we judge children very young, they may never have a chance to bloom,” adds Andrews.
A choir is as good as its leader. “If the members know the choir master is training hard, then they get inspired,” grins ‘Singspirations' leader Jonathan. with a grin.
The group though recent is perhaps the most colourful and versatile as it boasts of an eclectic mix of teens, collegians, professors and doctors. Singspirations, true to its name is much inspired to take the inventive route, say members. Though the concerts are open only to invitees, the group keen on upping its musical quality revels in trying difficult pieces and seeking to perfect four part singing. Singspirations also hosted a concert by Poona Musicale recently.
It is the C word that holds these choirs together. “Most members are also part of their respective church choirs and it takes commitment to make time to meet up to keep the independent choirs going,” says Selwyn Andrews, a choir member.
For what keeps octogenarian ‘Local Jim Reeves' George Evers tug along his muffler and eight year old Sherin to wind up the half-yearly exam revisions to head out into the cold December night are the same reason- their common love for music!