Choral music is a symbol of harmony and unity: Delhi-based choir Capital City Minstrels

People learn that they have a voice because every voice counts in a choir. Since one voice does not stand out above other voices, there’s a sense of respect, and there’s a sense of harmony

author_img Trisha Mukherjee Published :  10th July 2022 07:09 PM   |   Published :   |  10th July 2022 07:09 PM
Capital City Minstrels during a performance

Capital City Minstrels during a performance

Music is a great unifier. Even an inconspicuous melody has the power to make people from different communities, nationalities, ethnicities and age groups sway to its rhythm alike. But it is the choir that epitomises this idea of unity like no other ––an ensemble of singers from varied backgrounds and equally varied voices that come together to create the perfect symphony.

“Choral music is very different from solo singing. In choral music, you kind of have to agree that you’re going to work together,” says Sharmila B Livingston, the conductor of Delhi-based choir Capital City Minstrels (CCM), adding, “People learn that they have a voice because every voice counts in a choir every voice is important. Since one voice does not stand out above other voices, there’s a sense of respect, and there’s a sense of learning to work with harmony.”

The nearly three-decade-old group has been keeping alive choral music, the audience for which, unlike many other musical traditions, is expanding. According to Sharmila, when CCM came into existence in 1994, its only patrons comprised expats and diplomats in Delhi. “There wasn’t a very large audience for choral music then. We had a lot of expats and diplomats participating in those days because they were used to this type of singing,” she says.

Flipping through the origin story of choral music will reveal that a large part of it is rooted in sacred music since most traditional choirs in the West were affiliated with churches. While CCM is not associated with any religious body, it did play a lot of sacred music in the beginning. It also went beyond the genre to include Western classical pieces by iconic composers like Schubert and Mozart.

Sharmila, who joined the choir as a vocalist, in the beginning, shares that members of CCM picked up the intricacies of Western classical music from the founder and the first conductor of the choir Zohra Shaw. The choir that began as a group of 10 has now expanded to 70 members who come from diverse professional backgrounds. Their one common love? Music. 

“We’ve had everyone from doctors, lawyers, teachers and students. There are also journalists, diplomats, and varieties of every possible imaginable profession. They do what they do during the day, but the common factor is that they really enjoy music,” Sharmila says, adding that the choir meets every week for two hours for rehearsals. As CCM’s member strength increased, so did its audience, and over the years the choir has consciously diversified its repertoire to cater to the varied musical tastes of its listeners.

“In those days, we used to do four pieces of music, from one large body of work by Schubert, or Mozart. But as different conductors came in, and Delhi audiences grew to like choral music, we started expanding our repertoire,” she says adding, “Now we are not restricted only to classical or sacred pieces; we do Jazz, Broadway, Pop and we even sing in different languages. Now that Delhi has grown to enjoy choral music, the audiences have grown both in numbers as well as their capacity to appreciate our efforts.” CCM, over the last couple of decades, has had conductors from Germany, France, Hungary, America, Korea, England, Russia, and of course India.

At their recent performance at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, one of their first concerts after the pandemic, they sang Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’, and Ben E King’s ‘Stand by Me’ among others. In the pre-Covid world, CCM would host two seasons of concerts throughout the year––from January to May, and July to December respectively.

“This year, because of uncertainty in January, we couldn’t stick to our usual schedule. So instead of two seasons, we only have one,” says Sharmila. The Capital City Minstrels will close their season this year with a concert at the Kamani auditorium in Delhi in November.