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The lady with the baton

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Sharada Jotimuttu Schaffter, a music conductor who has been in the field for over half-a-century, traces her musical journey.

It’s the practice session of a renowned city-based choir. As the members take their seats, a lady, well advanced in years, steps up to the front, and with a wave, creates magic — except that she uses a baton instead of a wand. She is Sharada Jotimuttu Schaffter, who has spun a legacy of music for more than half-a-century.

Sharada's first experience with conducting, apart from church choirs, was when she took over as music conductor of the Madras Vepery Male Voice Choir in the early 1960s. This veteran of western classical music has come a long way since then. Having conducted choirs comprising many talented musicians who are popular music conductors today, Sharada has been performing in and around the city for more than 50 years.

She has conducted innumerable choirs and concerts and has performed in many concerts. The Schaffters have hosted quite a few house concerts to encourage budding talent.

Sharada is currently conducting the Handel Manuel Chorus, founded in memory of her late brother-in-law Handel Manuel, who was a musical legend. She has also been part of the production of ‘The Classic Hymns’ series, where she conducted a mass choir consisting of many of Chennai’s prominent musical groups. She has also conducted concerts where the choir was accompanied by a string ensemble. “I am grateful for the experience. It kept me constantly engaged, and it was quite different from conducting a choir unaccompanied or accompanied on the piano,” she says. Her love for music has been celebrated in many ways. The proceeds of many of the concerts she has held have been donated to charity. She recalls her trip to Europe with her husband during composer Bach’s 300th birthday. “We travelled all over Europe and got to listen to very good music. It was such an enjoyable trip,” she says. She wants to introduce music lovers to the music of the masters.

“I have been involved in music for as long as I can remember,” says Sharada. “My whole family was involved in music in some form or the other.” Her mother was a soloist whose singing and practising at home are responsible for her wide knowledge of music, even in her early years. Her aunts were organists in church. Sharada first involved herself in music when she, with a large choir, sang ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ for the dedication of OCPM High School, when she was nine-years-old. “Imagine my surprise, when 20 years later, I realised that the lyrics were part of the Matines sung in church,” she exclaims.

Sharada talks fondly of those who have helped her along on her musical journey. Albert Gnanadoss, her maths professor in college and also the organist in her church, was her mentor. “When he moved away, he passed on the responsibility of being the church’s organist to me,” she says. When asked about her experience of working with her iconic brother-in-law, she says. “Singing under him gave me the experience of real music. I enjoyed making music with him and my husband. Handel Manuel’s musical legacy is the foundation of what I am today.”

A maths teacher-turned-activist and author, she is best known for her contribution to the city’s western music scenario. Sharada enjoys the music of the pre-baroque, baroque and the classical periods. Her favourite composer is J.S. Bach and she feels in sync with the music of these periods. “Bach’s music, to me, is a personification of all that is noble and elevating to the soul,” she says. She also loves jazz. “Jazz is beautiful. I recently attended Madhav Chari’s jazz concert and absolutely enjoyed it,” she adds.

Sharada believes that Chennai holds great hope for the future of western classical music. “Many students of carnatic music are performing western classical music extremely well,” she says. She feels that hard work and practice are most important for aspiring musicians. She says, “Listen to great performers and performances, and involve yourself in different kinds of musical experiences. When it comes to vocals and instrumentals, sight-reading helps a lot in the long run. Keep singing till you can’t sing anymore. Music adds life to your years.”

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 11:37:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/sharada-jotimuttu-schaffter-traces-her-musical-journey/article7322094.ece

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