Fiona Fernandez: Mumbai's cool choir quotient

With the vibrancy of youth, city choirs are experimenting, fusing and raising the right notes to draw in crowds

If Whoopi Goldberg was a part of the congregation, she would’ve applauded this rendition of Hail Holy Queen. Highly improbable we know, to imagine the talented American actress in our midst at yesterday’s Easter service in Mumbai. Still, our (fleetingly) wandering mind couldn’t resist a rollback of the years.

Back in the early ’90s, when VHS was cool, and we would watch the ‘latest’ (or at least, we were made to believe) Hollywood films on rented video cassettes, the talented Ms Goldberg took our worlds by storm as Sister Mary Clarence, the undercover nun at a convent in a notorious, dangerous neighbourhood of San Francisco. Not only was the film a total entertainer, especially with the backroom antics and going-on of the nuns making for a laugh riot, but the turnaround of their deadpan choir into a national rage was what we’d silently wished for Mumbai’s counterparts. What was particularly interesting was how the lively choral singing was able to draw in crowds into the church. Eventually, and as with such feel-good flicks go, the choir won a championship, and were invited to play for Pope John Paul II!

Over the years, our choirs began to take up the experimental notes. Across Mumbai’s parishes, traditional tunes blended with the new, as guitar riffs and piano keys infused vigour to hymns. Without taking away the soul of a hymn, we were hearing livelier renditions. Soon, priests serving mass were thanking the choir for making the service upbeat. So the congregation could join in full force, screens were set up to project hymn lyrics. It was inspiring, and made it more inclusive. In fact, many Mumbai parishes boast of not just one or two, but four or more choirs, including teenage, and at the other end, senior citizen choirs. The energy of the youth, in particular, needs to be heard to be believed.

All in all, the multitude of genres – from gospel rock to soul, pop and rock n’ roll, are adding up to immersive celebrations, as we were reminded of during yesterday’s service. And as one attempted to sing along (not lip sync!) with the choir on some seriously heady notes, the musicality that pervaded the stained-glass-lit interiors made for a memorable hour. Now, all we need is for Pope Francis to make that historic trip to India, for our talented choirs to show off their altos from their sopranos, and soul. On that hopeful note, here’s wishing mid-day’s readers a joyous and blessed Easter.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones... wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag @mid-day.com

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