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IIC: Shillong Choir Disappoint

For music lovers who came with great expectations to enjoy their evening, the concert fell short of the class of cadences and choice

IIC: Shillong Choir Disappoint

Expectation writ large on minds and hearts and ears as music lovers settled into their seats at the Fountain Lawns at the India International Centre for the concert of The Shillong Chamber Choir who have regaled music lovers all over the nation.

As we sat and waited it was clear that the speakers needed to be tweaked, delays seemed inevitable and finally, when they took the stage we hoped it would be an enchanted evening full of mellifluous melody. The opening song was a Khasi rendition that mirrored the essence of folk and the primordial reverberations of drums lending an acoustic flavour as you heard fewer male voices melding into overpowering sopranos. The Khasi song reinforced the beauty and ethos of the vernacular traditions in our country.

One was hoping there would be more Khasi numbers flowing into the night but the evening belonged to a Bollywood cocktail that made me wonder if Chamber Choir were scripting new tastes with Bollywood hits and superficial whimsy.

The Shillong Choir have been building their repertoire with Bollywood oldies and more contemporary numbers – indeed the harmonies have nothing to be faulted with when they lilted into the lyrical cadences of Yeh Dosti and gently scaled into Ajeeb dastaan Hai Yein there was entertainment in every step and rhythm.

The next rendition of the favourite Stand by me and Kaisi Paheli Zindagi seemed just right for the nip in the air as it gave way to the blockbuster theme from Kal ho na ho laced with Celine Dion's theme from Titanic. The soloist's rendering of Love Story made one think of the tinkle of bells and whisper soft keys in the original soundtrack.

The instruments were too loud and jarring in equaliser tones. The Shillong Choir's arrangement of Rabindranath Tagore's Ekla Cholo Re made you think of the fire of nationalism and the spirit of the very being of the Renaissance Man Tagore. When Choti Si Aasha from the film Roja pepped up the beat, it was clear that the album of memories took on a Bollywood beat and essence.

While the new composition Train Journey seemed full of noises and sounds and rhythmic resonance you wondered why the Chamber Choir that had dulcet and soprano voices with tenor and baritones were belting out so many Bollywood tracks.

The Rock n Roll number followed by Abba's Dancing Queen seemed just a sporadic throw me in the moment but it was the Assam Anthem that became the signature insignia of the evening that could have been one of the spectacular songs.

Few things came to the fore, for a group that charges as high as Rs 25 lakhs to sing to crowds one could not help feeling that they have sold their soul to the Bollywood format. While Dil Tadap Tadap ke kehra ha hai aa Bhi jaa is indeed a Mukesh gemstone what was missing in the evening were the classics, the light western classical pieces, and the short staccato opera numbers that have been part of many concerts all over the world. For a music lover who came with great expectations and wanting an evening to cherish the concert fell short of the class of cadences and choice. In terms of the balance of voices even if the male voices were less one felt that there were treated as also-rans.

The male voices were relegated to the background and the female soloists were given lion's share of the evening. When that happens to an ensemble the entire balance of echoing elegance gets tilted and you end up with only soprano voices while the males are reduced to simmering whispers. The conductor and Director of the Shillong Chamber Choir will have to decide whether he would like the choir to be recognised as a group of charismatic chorale singers or just be reduced to a Bollywood past and present group who only want to entertain. The girls' costumes too could get a fresh stroke unless you want dresses that shimmer like the scales of a serpent.

Uma Nair

Uma Nair

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