Music

The BATON is his WAND

Teacher-conductor Augustine Paul. Photo: K. V. Srinivasan  

Two decades ago, eight gifted, like-minded musicians got together to perform choral music and decided to call themselves Octet Cantabile. The leader of this mixed voice group is a man who lives and breathes music. Clichéd it may sound but those words best describe Augustine Paul.Even as the Octet prepares to celebrate 20 years of musical togetherness with two concerts on October 16 and 17 at the Museum Theatre, Chennai, the teacher-conductor is happy to re-live his music-filled moments, whether it is singing at church or a cathedral abroad, or simply listening to a Mozart piano concerto or smiling when a student of his soars towards fame and fortune.

Today, Augustine has his hands full as a teacher at ProMusicals, Egmore, and conductor (MMA, Octet and Mellow Circle), besides arranging music for films.Meeting Augustine is always a joy. He is ready to tell me all about himself even though he has six students waiting to know what to play next. He begins, “I hail from Tirunelveli, and my parents are teachers. My mother, Victoria, was an organist, and my father, Paul Appadurai, was a church choir conductor. My early years were filled with music, learning as I did from Mrs Mani and Thompson. I moved to Chennai after completing my Masters in English Literature. That’s when I took to playing the guitar and was part of the rock band called The Challengers.

In the meantime, I was also in the church choir and would often conduct a song or two when the need arose. In 1980, I got the opportunity to join the amazing Dr. Kalyan Subramaniam as part of the EMC choir and Male Voice Ensemble. Those years changed the way I perceived music.” And soon, he also did his LMusTCL (Diploma in Theory from Trinity College London). Augustine’s horizons got broader when he had his first brush with tinsel town, and the inimitable Ilaiyaraja. “Those days, Dr. Kalyan would do a lot of studio work for Raja sir. I would tag along. The first song I worked on was “Idhu Oru Nila Kaalam’ from the film ‘Tick Tick Tick.’ I soon learnt the nitty gritty of music making, something that has stood me in good stead.” Even now, Augustine does a lot of arrangement for A. R. Rahman (Lagaan, Kadal) and Harris Jeyaraj, among others.So how did he end up conducting the MMA? “Well, I have to thank Dr. Ravi Santosham, the president then.

On his suggestion, I joined the MMA committee as a librarian in 1990. And was part of the choir.” All the while, Augustine was trying to find a smooth balance between his bank job and his music aspirations.Soon, music took precedence. In the early 1990s, Augustine donned the role of teacher for ProMusicals and forged an amazing bond with the soft-spoken guitarist Sudhin Prabhakar of ProMusicals, who gave Augustine a free rein in setting the rules of the school. It’s a musical friendship that’s still going strong. Today, Augustine’s days are filled chock-a-block.

He has (hold your breath!) 60 vocal (at PMA School of Music) and 100 piano and theory students (at ProMusicals), each of whom he knows on a personal basis. He works with his Octet Cantabile troupe once a week (more so now as the concert dates approach). Then there’s the MMA and Mellow Circle, besides mutually beneficial tête-à-têtes with Carnatic musicians now and then. “Recently, I spent a day with violinist Ganesh. We had a great time reading scores and understanding the nuances of both the classical genres.” Augustine can identify Carnatic ragas and find an equivalent in Western classical music. For a man who is pushing 60, Augustine has energy and enthusiasm that will put a youngster to shame.

“I guess music is my energiser, my mission,” says Augustine with a smile.His dream? “I want to conduct a full-fledged symphony orchestra with Chennai musicians first!”

Those special moments

Augustine lists many emotional moments in his life, And most of them involve his students. Here are a few:

*When Tanvi Shah got a Grammy.

*When Shekinah Shawn became the first Indian to get an FTCL in singing (the highest exam offered by Trinity College London)When his group Octet Cantabile first presented ‘Choral Enchantment’, a two-hour concert at the Museum Theatre in 1996

*When he got an opportunity to conduct the MMA choir and Madras Chamber Orchestra in Handel's ‘Israel’ in Egypt in 2009

*When he visited the homes of his icons Mozart and Haydn in ViennaWhen he played an improvised version of ‘Ode to Joy’ on a 300-year-old-organ at the Baroque Palace

* And most important, “Every time my talented students achieve laurels as music directors and playback singers and excel in a choir or an institution, I feel blessed.”

The Octet Cantabile

The group’s oeuvre is quite eclectic. The members -- Maxyn Kingston, Anupa Christdoss (Sopranos), Pearline Roopkumar, Jayanthi Prabhakar (Altos), Billy John, Kingslin Ponbhabha (Bass), Emmanuel Prathapsingh and conductor Augustine Paul (Tenors) – are happy to present variety. They sing classical (Bach, Mendelssohn and Mozart), contemporary (country gospel, reggae and rock), highly complicated arrangements by the Kings Singers and the Swingle Singers and kirthanais in Tamil. The Octet Cantabile has charmed music lovers in Malaysia, the U.S., Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Singapore. A cappella singing is its forte and, yes, the group’s focus is to spread the Gospel through music.

The Octet’s 20th anniversary concerts are on October 16 and 17, 7 p.m., at the Museum Theatre. Tickets priced Rs.500, Rs. 300 and Rs. 200 are available at ProMusicals, ELS Purasawalkam and PMA School of Music, Ritherdon Road.


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