India., Dec. 18 - As Christmas draws nearer, residents who belong to cities like Bombay and Bangalore and local choirs have begun practicing feverishly for the festive season.
Ashok Serrao (32), a civil engineer who is also a member of the prestigious Paranjyoti Academy Chorus, says, “We started practising carols two months in advance. This year the Paranjyoti choir is organising six concerts in the city from Dec 12 onwards, so we have been quite busy with practice.”
Anthea Sequeira, a resident of Orlem, for instance is a member of the Paranjoti choir, which besides singing at different churches in Malad, also performs at NCPA and St Andrews. Sequeira studied Western classical music for 10 years and enjoys singing in the choir.
“We experiment quite a bit,” she claims, adding, “We do not sing traditional hymns for the mass. Music is written specially for the Paranjoti choir, which is a capella choir.”
Sequeira explains, “In a capella choir, you sing without instruments.” The Paranjoti choir has also sung for masses in different languages — Spanish, Latin, German, Hindi and even Marathi.
Like Sequeira, most residents join a choir at a young age. Charlotte Lobo, who lives opposite St Joseph School at Orlem joined the choir when she was still in school. Lobo is a member of the parish choir at Orlem Church, which sings at the 8 pm mass everyday and will be singing at the 10 pm mass on Dec 24.
“I grew watching my father singing for the choir and I joined it when I was in school,” adds Lobo. Besides singing, she also plays the electronic keyboards.
The Orlem parish choir is a 45-member group of which only 20 are regular singers. Says Eugene Rodrigues, conductor of the choir, “We have 10 to 12 singers participating in the 8 pm mass.
But during Christmas, the number rises to about 18 or 20.” Rodrigues has been part of the group for 49 years. He started singing and playing the violin for the parish choir soon after he passed his SSC exams.
Rodrigues claims, nowadays, more people offer to participate in the choir. He reveals, “More youngsters are joining the choir because they want to express their faith in God.” Rodrigues adds, “We try and do one number, which only the choir sings and the rest are hymns that the audience can participate in.”
On the other hand, the Malvani Church choir still does voice singing.
Rudyard Gomes, a resident of Rose Villa, Rathodi, says, “We sing the Soprano, Alto and Tenor. We basically pick a song and do voices. The singing is all about cohesion of voices, about four voices singing in
Malvani parish choir has 12 members singing in English. Gomes, who joined the choir when he was 12-years-old is trained in violin from the Trinity College of Music, London. “I used to play the violin in the choir, but now I sing too,” adds Gomes.
Equally popular is the Marathi choir that sings the Sunday mass as well as the Christmas mass at the Infant Jesus Chapel in Kharodi.
The chapel has two choirs — one in English and one in Marathi. Says Tony Nigrel, a founder member of the choir and resident of Kharodi, “Even during the Christmas mass we sing carols in Marathi for half an hour and then the English choir takes over.” The choir uses Indian instruments like tabla, dholak and harmonium.
Yes, it is either love of God or passion for music that drives most youngsters to join the church choir. The current choir of Our Lady Fatima Church is no different. A group of eight, the choir is a crazy mix of youngsters, all in the age group of 16 to 24.
Currently, the choir members — Bosco D’Souza (guitarist), Orson Alex, Olivia Fonseca, Brenela D’Souza, Danny Chandra (guitarist), Alston Tixera (keyboard player), Jayesh Fernandes and Sonia — are in Christmas mood.
Apart from hymns for the mass, the group will sing carols before the mass on Dec 25. So the priority for the group is practice and more practice.
“Intensive practice has begun. Apart from the weekend, we practice at leas for an hour everyday,” says Bosco D’Souza. The emphasis on rigorous practice, he says, is to ensure that the group sticks to rhythm and synchrony on the big day.
“We sing carols before the mass and during the mass and we work on many hymns,” he explains.
Says Father Michael Fernandes, priest of the church, “Singing for the choir is popular among youngsters, as it is not only a platform to pray but also an opportunity to take up music. After singing in the church, they are confident of performing in public.”
In fact the choir members agree that being part of the choir has helped in terms of experience and exposure. Danny Chandra learnt to play guitar after joining the choir. “I always avoided playing the guitar. But after joining the choir, I started playing the instrument and enjoy playing it now,” says Chandra.
The choir is serious about the task at hand and entertains no non-serious members. “We take people who are seriously interested. It takes time for the group to sing in synchrony. Anyone who joins the group has to have strong dedication and practice regularly,” says D’Souza.
Unlike popular belief, the members have a no-fuss attitude for food. They eat just about everything. But the one thing the group does not compromise on is practice session.
Like most people their age they enjoy all kinds of music be it rock, pop, film or jazz. “All of us love music and enjoy any kind of music. This really helps if you are part of a choir,” says Olivia Fonseca.
After nearly a year together, they are more friends than co-singers. Except for a brother-sister pair, others were complete strangers before they joined the group. But today they are close friends.
In OLPS church, the voices may be off-key and the guitar chords may not be at the rights spots. They are members of the church’s carol singing group.
It is the idea of having fun and remembering the Lord at the same time that attracts these youngsters to carol singing. Not all of them are trained singers and start practicing only a few weeks before Christmas.
The OLPS English Carol group has 20 singers, including two guitarists — all of them between 16-20 years of age.
Some of them provide the ‘sound effects for the carols’. Reshma Saldanha, who is a regular singer at mass, says, “This year we want to make the carols more lively. So, we are adding dance steps and giving extra sound effects.”
Cheryl Pinto, the only other member of the group who is a regular mass singer says, “We have been listening to carols from childhood and that is how we learnt them. We have been rehearsing daily since last week. Next week, we will start going to various communities to sing carols.”
The two guitarists of the group are Royston Rodrigues and Richard Braganza. They also have a professional guitarist and singer, Newman Pinto, who helps them with the singing. But most of the time, the youngsters train themselves, have fun and come closer to God.
The OLPS carol group came together when they organised a seminar on stress management as part of YouThink, an activity conducted by the youth wing of the church.
Lesten Vaz, who is in charge of the carol group at Holy Family Church says, “This is the most sentimental part of the year. Everybody is in a jolly mood and people want to spend time with their loved ones.”
Perhaps that is why the group began rehearsals in the first week of Nov. They have two guitarists and one keyboard player. Vaz says, “As we are not trained singers, we try and blend our voices with instrumental sounds. So the flaws in the voices are camouflaged by the music.”
For Sabina Anthony, it is not her voice that matters as much as pronouncing the words correctly right. This Class 12 student and her group of friends sing Christmas carols in Tamil. She says, “As our mother tongue is Tamil, we don’t have a problem singing.
But as we cannot read Tamil we write the carols in Hindi. So, we have to
ensure that we are pronouncing the words correctly.” Sabina is a regular singer at mass, where she is also a part of the Tamil mass.
She says, “My parents help me with the language and they have inspired me to sing carols for Christmas. She and her group of seven friends will also stage a play based on the life of Christ, for their Tamil Sangam programme.
She says, “We have translated a script into Tamil from the Children’s Bible and we have composed two songs in Tamil. We are also training school children to act in the play.”
The carol singers also get requests when they go singing in their communities. Saldanha says, “The most common requests we get is for Jingle Bells, as kids like to dance to it.” Vaz says, “Some of the more popular carols which we are often asked to sing are, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Silent Night and Joy To The World.”
He adds, “Most of the carols date back to the 14th Century. But there are some contemporary ones written in the 19th and 20th Centuries. This year we plan to sing some of those as people find it easier to relate to them.”
The guitarist of the OLPS group Richard Braganza says, “Every year we make it a point to go to some social organisation. We have gone to the Spastic Society and to Ashray, home for destitute women. This year we are planning to go to the old age home at Mankhurd and maybe an orphanage.”
In Lokhandwala, spirits are soaring as choirs in churches prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
St Blaise Church, near Amboli Naka and Good Shepherds Church in Four Bungalows, are already practicing hard for the big day on Dec 24.
Father Gavin, of St Blaise Church, a keen musician himself says, “There are five choirs in our church, including a Konkani and a Marathi one. This year we chose the youth group to perform at midnight masses. This would be a good opportunity for youngsters to utilise their talents.”
Claude Abranches, parishioner of the church and drummer for the choir says, “The choir has been practicing almost everyday from the end of November. This year I wanted to pray to the Lord for peace and joy and decided to play for the choir.”
Father Ubaldo Barretto of Good Shepherds Church says, “Our church has six zones and 25 units. We have a choir for each unit, which are approximately 20 choirs. There is a rotation by which a different choir performs every Sunday. Similarly, even for Christmas, choirs are rotated.”
Jobita Rodrigues, a professor of English at St Andrews School and a resident of Lokhandwala Complex says, “I have been a part of a choir since 1989. In the past, people sat passively while choirs performed, but now choirs also lead congregations.
We have begun seeking active participation from the audience.” She adds, “This year our choir will perform on Christmas eve at the Good Shepherds Church. I will be playing the keyboards as well as singing this year.” She adds, “And I am working with a younger crowd because their voices blend better.”
Zeon Sequeira who has been part of the group for the last 18 years says, “Singing is an outlet for me. It somehow fills up the empty spaces in me. I listen to all kinds of music except hard rock. I love the sound of the keyboards with the hymns. They make the 100-year-old hymns sound contemporary and come alive.”
With the Christmas bug having definitely bitten these enthusiastic choir members, they seem to be drunk with the Holy Spirit. And, why not? ‘Tis the time to the merry. Let the music flow.