The Capital City Minstrels
By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

Come the festive seasons every year, music lovers in Delhi get to hear the Capital City Minstrels! CCM as the choral group is known, believes that there is more to singing in harmony than simply hitting the right notes at the right time. This notion of harmony is evident in the coming together of people of different ages, from different parts of the country and, indeed, from different countries. Various professionals from different walks of life are part of CCM, with sundry races and religions coming together to blend their voices in song, in many languages.

Zohra Shaw, Fellow of Trinity College of Music, London, founded this choir eleven years ago - in 1994. She put together a small chamber ensemble of twelve singers and in that very first Christmas season had no less than twelve performances. Today there are more than forty members with strong voices; many of them accomplished musicians, music professionals and teachers of music.

For six years from 1994 to 1999, Zohra nurtured this rather large CCM baby, saw it through its teething phase and helped it find its feet. And then she took off to the USA to be with her family, but left behind a formidable legacy - one that the Minstrels have been trying to live up to, and live by, ever since. Zohra now enriches the musical life of the community there, and works for the Newton School's Music Extension Programme, also actively involved with high-school, middle-school and Madrigal choirs.in Boston.

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".

CCM's repertoire stretches from Masses and Requiems to Opera and Madrigals, Broadway and Pop to Jazz and Blues; a repertoire not only in English, but also in languages spoken around the world. Thanks to Zohra's legacy the Minstrels today have among them those performing their own musical arrangements and compositions and showcasing their own soloists and chamber groups. It is a legacy of goodwill and hard work, of time and enthusiasm that CCMers give to their choir freely and gladly. Chandra sums up: "Zohra's legacy is all this but not merely the sum of all this. Perhaps it reverberates most movingly in our music".

In the last four years, CCM have performed extracts from Vivaldi's Gloria, Handel's Messiah, Schubert's Mass in C, Rutter's Magnificat and Durufle's Requiem; Opera choruses including Verdi's Anvil Chorus and Va Pensiero, Offenbach's Barcarole, the Priest's Chorus from Mozart's The Magic Flute, the Humming Chorus, and O Fortuna from the Carmina Buranaa.

Delhi audiences so used to CCM's excellence in classical choral music, today consider pieces like Va Pensiero, Laudate Dominum, Panis Angelicus, the Hallelujah chorus, O Fortuna and the Ave Verum as almost the Group's signature tunes. Yet, as the Tenth Anniversary Repertoire Concert showcased last year, the Minstrels exhibited their versatility by singing Gospel and Jesus Christ Superstar, Spirituals and Elvis in (literally) the same breath.

CCM is proud when today an organisation as resourceful and ambitious as the Neemrana Foundation performs The Fakir of Benares or The Pearl Fishers, takes from CCM the vast majority that constitue its chorus. When the prestigious India Habitat Centre wants an annual Peace Concert, it is CCM that has performed for the past two years on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. When TV channels want a definitive rendition of Raghupati Raghava or Abide With Me, they come to CCM. When the Apostolic Nunciature in Delhi inaugurated their new chapel, a performance by the Capital City Minstrels did the honours.

The Hungarian Cultural Centre on Janpath has been a home to the Minstrels for practice sessions on its premises. With Zohra's departure to the US, the Conductor's baton for a while went to Nauser Daruwalla - a music man from Delhi's St. Stephen's College; before it went to Dr. Giti Chandra - who otherwise teaches English also at St. Stephen's. Dr Chandra took over as its Resident Conductor since 2001. When other duties called her away, conductor and soloist par excellence Hur Chul Young has graced the Conductor's podium. And currently it is the energetic Dr. Diane Tueller Pritchett of the American Embassy School who has been the Guest Conductor for the fall and winter seasons of 2005.

To reputed Concert Pianist Justin McCarthy has gone the major share of CCM's Concerts as an accompanist. Currently the versatile Nise Meruno adorns this seat and plays the CCM's keyboard. Also assisting as accompanists, have been Usha Srivastava, Ronald Laloo, Pearl Drego and Athing Thingngamchon (..who by the way will accompany for the Habitat Concert this year). CCM has also had the privilege of hosting and presenting soloists of international repute, like Situ Singh Buhler, Hur Chul Young, Sharmila Livingston and Anando Mukherjee.

To celebrate the joy & peace of Christmas, the Capital City Minstrels have already presented their annual Christmas Concert this year, titled - An Ode To Joy - at The Sacred Heart Cathedral and at the Hungarian Cultural Centre. Their much awaited next performance is at 7.30pm on Wednesday the December 14, at the India Habitat Centre - a venue for a niche audience of music lovers who look forward to this annual feature.

900words:13.12.2005:Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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