S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Madras Youth Choir in Washington

By P.C. Ramakrishna

“Music has no language barriers. Its just music, you could listen to it and feel it” just about sums up our experience in the recently concluded Serenade 2017 international Choir Music Festival in Washington DC. For us at Madras Youth Choir, it has been a wonderful learning and enriching experience as we showcased Indian Choral Music to international audiences. Interacting  with 18 choir groups from 14 countries helped in the appreciation of a wonderful array of voices together with their enthusiasm and beauty in singing.

The festival was a cultural exchange as we interacted with Choir groups from different parts of the world - Zimbabwe, Bulgaria, Chicago , Northern Ireland, Latvia, Shanghai, Mongolia, Spain , India to name a few. Every culture has its tradition of songs, sounds, rhythms and folk tunes. There were several workshops conducted by the various Groups explaining the nuances of their music. Ramakrishna from MYC conducted 4 workshops including two for children where we also taught them a melody song in  Bengali, which was received very well.  Concerts were held at prestigious venues throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Listening to a wonderful array of voices from around the world marked with enthusiasm and beauty in singing was an enjoyable experience.

MYC premiered a piece specially composed for the festival marking the birth centenary of JFK. This was a medley of 7 songs , comprising of lyrics from a garland of Indian languages. The composition echoed the lofty ideals of JFK – universal love, peace, brotherhood, courage and unity with lyrics by the great poets of India, its traditions and ending with Martin Luther King’s famous song “ We Shall  Overcome’.

The grand finale on the 3rd of July at the Concert Hall in Kennedy Center was an unforgettable experience. This evening was the culmination of the Serenade festival and began with the different choir groups presenting a piece each. MYC showcased Mazhai the Rain Song, a 6 part harmony, and arguably one of the most complex pieces in our repertoire. This piece, composed by our founder Late MB Srinivasan has lyrics penned by the great Subramania Bharathi.

After the end of the last piece, all the choral groups proceeded down the aisles , waving glow sticks and took the stage for the Mass Choir. Started with Greensleeves, Kennedy’s favorite song, as it gradually coalesced a range of voices 375 strong and the audience joining with clapping and ending with a loud cheer. The song touched an emotional chord with the audience and got its message across. The grand finale of the evening was the world premiere of the spirited ‘ Ansanm Ansanm” a French song, (All together we sing)  by the Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume and conducted by the maestro Joshua Habermann. As we took a bow, the packed audience of 2400 + gave us a standing ovation – a moment that will be embedded in our minds for a long long time. 

Come Let’s Sing Together is the motto of MYC and we experienced how the joy of singing together with other choral groups transcends cultures  

As Serenade vocal ensemble showcased the sounds of the world, the Washington Post aptly hailed it as ‘ True harmonic convergence

During the trip, Madras Youth Choir also performed at the Murugan Temple of North America in Maryland., a 75 minute concert all in Tamil with a specially harmonized choral piece Kaavadi Chindhu dedicated to Lord Muruga

The Serenade! Washington DC Choral Festival is the brainchild of Neeta Helms, president of Classical Movements, a company that runs international tours for major music ensembles.

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