Dec 26, 2001, 10.21 PM IST
The Deccan Herald covers Canta Libre
They strike the right chord to spread good cheer
(At the Army Hospital’s auditorium)
A group of 10 people take to the stage inside the auditorium of Army Research and Referral Hospital to sing carols. The audience, a select gathering comprising the who’s who of the Services, spouses of Air Chief Marshal and Defence Minister and other defence personnel can’t stop applauding their effort. Is it the Capital City Minstrels or the Delhi Chamber Choir? No, this is Cantalibre! Somebody whispers in the ear, overwhelmed and hugely impressed by the dulcet notes of the singers who keep the listeners riveted.
Derived from the Latin word ‘canta libre’ – meaning ‘to sing free’, the group’s name defines its binding factor. Most of the choir members have been part of prominent carol groups in the City previously, but some have come together at Cantalibre purely for a noble cause.
“We wanted to make music available to those who cannot afford it,” says Giti Chandra, the conductor of the group. She tells Metrolife that half of the members are non-Christians and “some are not even trained musicians, but all of us used to meet often and decided to follow someone’s suggestion to sing carols at a particular place. After one of our concerts at Epicentre, in December 2009, this has became a regular phenomenon,” says Giti, a professor of English Literature at St Stephen’s College. Her close friend and co-singer, Lola Mathai, also a teacher (in spoken English and Hindi) initiated and organised the group to sing for the old and ill. “My mother used to go to old age homes with gifts for Christmas and sing carols for the elderly. That was more of a friends and family affair, but this I thought should be a little organised so that we can bring joy to those who live away from their families. We don’t realise how lonely it can be for these people on festive occasions,” says Lola.
Although the group members vary in age and belong to varied professions, the spark in their singing comes from the strong ties of friendship and bonhomie between them. They love singing with each other and feel that “This brings a special warmth and depth to their music, apart from the cause which is of course important,” says Nigel Eccleston who works in IT department of a media company.
“I knew how to play the guitar but didn’t receive any formal training. I had performed in school and college years ago but performing with trained singers did give me jitters,” he says recalling his first performance. But the delight to sing for the old and infirm made him let go of his busy work schedule and be part of the group.
“If I had to sing professionally, it wouldn’t have been possible for me since it would have required many more practice hours. Also, doing it for a good cause boosts me to continue with this. It is also something alternative to my regular routine,” which keeps Nigel attached to the group.
While Cantalibre’s performances for this year are over and they have gone their different ways to celebrate Christmas, they plan to congregate for a peace concert for Gandhi Jayanti next year. Till then, hope the bells keep tolling for them to return.
(Post concert celebrations at the 10th Anniversary Concert of the Capital City Mistrels – with Suman Dubey and Maxwell Pereira)
A brief introduction about yourself and what you do
I am an Associate Professor at the Dept. of English at St Stephen’s College, Delhi. I have taught in and been a fellow at Rutgers University, New Jersey from where I did my Doctoral work. I am also the author of “Narrating Violence, Constructing Collective Identities: To witness these wrongs unspeakable” (MacMillan UK/US: 2009). I also write fiction and am the author of a Trilogy of Young Adult fantasy novel called The Book of Guardians. The first in the trilogy is “The Fang of Summoning” (Hachette: 2010); the second, “The Bones of Stars” which just came out in November 2013.
I am a trained Soprano, Violinist and Conductor. I have been conducting for over 25 years, now, and am most proud of my association with the St Stephen’s College Choir and singer and Conductor, and the Rutgers University as Soprano. I am also a founding member of the Capital City Minstrels which I conducted for over 5 years. As a violinist I played with the Delhi Symphony Orchestra for over a decade. Currently I am the Director of Incidental Art, a group of artists, theatre people and musicians, and Canta Libre – a small choir of highly trained and experienced friends who sing for good causes and people who don’t have access to concerts.
Who or what inspired you to become a part of the music industry?
I don’t know if I would describe myself as being part of the music industry, but I am certainly part of various organizations that promote and produce music in this city. I began singing with the St. Stephen’s College Choir where its Conductor, AJ James, taught and inspired us to sing from our hearts, sing well, and sing for others.
I trained as a soprano with Situ Singh Buehler, perhaps the best known Soprano and music educator in the city. Zohra Shaw first inducted me into a small, specialized choir, made me a Founding Member of it as it went on to become a large and flourishing choir called the Capital City Minstrels. My choir skills were honed while at the Rutgers University Choir, one of the best in the US. Conducting and singing for the last 25 odd years have been an inspiring and fascinating journey.
At what age did you start singing?
My musical training began with the piano at age 10, went on to the violin from the age of 15 and my vocal training continued under Situ Singh Buehler and Zohra Shaw.
According to you, what venue in Delhi has been the most conducive to your performances?
The Habitat Centre and the IIC have hosted most of my concerts, but I have also loved singing in the churches of Delhi.
How receptive is Delhi as an audience?
Very. When I played the violin with the Delhi Symphony, we began with tiny audiences of less than 50, back in the late 1980s. Within 5 years we were playing to packed audiences at the Siri Fort Auditorium over two nights. People learned to not clap in between movements and some of our most thunderous applauses have been for classical requiems and masses. Recently, the Verdi Concert at the Kamani Auditorium was so packed that you couldn’t open the doors. We sang to thunderous standing ovations.
Where plans do the future hold for you? What would you like to achieve in the realm of music?
I’ve achieved all I needed to in this city. Now i want to devote my time to singing in a few select concerts and conducting our new choir, Canta Libre, to sing for those who do not have access to concerts and performances, to make music a more giving and inclusive art.
What characteristic according to you is unique to Delhi (What makes Delhi, ‘So Delhi’!)
Delhi may look crass and materialistic but its heart is refined, sensitive and warm. Delhiites may push each other to get into the hall, but they sit in the aisles and applaud their hearts out. That’s the Delhi I know and love!
One misconception about Delhi?
That it is crass and ‘Punjabi’. Delhi is the melting pot of India, much like New York, and if its ‘Punjabi’ then it must be in the way it knows how to have fun!
A Hidden gem of the city everyone must know about?
That would not be so hidden, then, would it?!
Top 5 places to eat out in Delhi?
The Jalebi wallah near Old Delhi Railway Station
Gung The Palace (any branch)
The Gol Guppas at Bengali Market
What piece of advice do you have for budding musicians?
Make music for the joy of it. Practice hard. Don’t let any group diminish the rock star in you!
What makes being a conductor of choirs (that’s me in black, with my back to the audience, thank god!) such a fabulous experience: listen to this piece by my uber talented friend and fellow chorister, Sawan Datta –
CCM’s current President Dr. Giti Chandra says, “People think legacies are things that can be accounted for on paper and stored in vaults: in fact, a legacy is very hard to define”. In her tribute to CCM’s foundress, Chandra writes: “For us at CCM, Zohra’s legacy is a strong foundation in Western Classical music, an abiding love for sacred music and a commitment to versatility. It lies in the nature of an amateur choir which thinks of itself as a community but pursues its ambition for excellence in performing difficult and challenging music that would do credit to a professional choir. It shines in the vast repertoire which the changing membership of the choir nevertheless keeps fresh, updates constantly and builds upon”.
Incidental Art, an informal group of musicians and theatre artistes led by Giti Chandra, sang its way into people’s hearts
For the parents and children gathered at Gurgaon’s Epicentre, the night was one of music and poetry, bright lights and prayer, as Incidental Art, a group of 16 singers and five theatre actors, got together to present Prayer Before Birth.
Incidental Art, formed last December by 45-year-old Giti Chandra, who teaches English at St Stephen’s College, turned T.S. Eliot’s poem, Journey of the Magi, into a performance act, with theatre actors Sunit Tandon and Ramesh Thakur. Ahead of Christmas, the singers praised the Lord with the carol We Three Kings. And if Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven complemented Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, Cry of the Children, 11-year-old Ananya Pandey’s poem, Santa’s Workplace, found a place alongside the happy carol Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. The group also skimmed over the issues of security plaguing the world.
Professor Chandra, who formed the group, says, “Usually, concerts are bound by themes and poetry readings may extend to enactments. I wanted to put the two forms together and do something fun. The members of the group are all very talented singers and actors who usually don’t have time for attending regular rehearsals.”
Chandra, an accomplished violinist who had played with the Delhi Symphony Orchestra and was associated with the college choir, also conducted the Capital City Minstrels choir for five years. Not surprisingly, Incidental Art includes ex-cop Maxwell Pereira who sang with the Capital City Minstrels and Chandra’s student Nigel Eccleston. Also part of the group are Sabina Mehta Jaitley, who has a theatre group of her own called Dramebaaz, and singer Reuben Israel, who has a band called Impromptu. The pianist, A.J. James, is an economist. “Most of the artistes live in Gurgaon, but some drove all the way from Faridabad for practice sessions. My husband, who is also a pianist, made audio files they could listen to while driving,” says Chandra. The informal group is now planning an evening of love songs for the spring.