Ganesh Chaturthi

Christmas song sung blue

22 December,2010 09:14 AM IST |   |  Sudeshna Chowdhury

Christmas is here but the singin' ain't easy. With a fast-paced lifestyle and crippling time constraints, city parishes are struggling to keep the choir tradition alive

Christmas is here but the singin' ain't easy. With a fast-paced lifestyle and crippling time constraints, city parishes are struggling to keep the choir tradition alive
With Christmas around the corner, 'tis the time to be jolly and all that but even the most optimistic would find it hard to say ho ho ho to Mumbai's choir culture that seems to be losing its sheen. A fast-paced life, new money and a time crunch have taken their toll.

Catherine D'Souzau00a0 (42), choir conductor for nearly 20 years, laments the decline saying,u00a0 "Fifteen years ago, we would have had 100 people in a choir group but now we just have 12-15 people. Earlier, bigger choirs would even have 200 to 300 people. Numbers have reduced tremendously due to time constraints."


Crompton Texeira from Our Lady of Egypt Church, Kalina, has been a choir singer for the past 20 years. He regrets the choir's slow death saying,u00a0 "A few years ago, there were 40-50 members in our choir, but now we have just 10-20 people."
Unlike pop singing or carol singing, choir singing is more specialised and involves regular and rigorous practice in order to attain a certain level of perfection.

"People do not have enough time to come for choir practice. At least 2-3 hours of practice twice a week, over two months, before Christmas is necessary to become a good choir singer. Rigorous practice is paramount to put up a good show," Crompton says.


Like many youngsters, Kevin D'Souza (28) too dropped out of the choir a few years ago due to his work and family commitments.

Every time he sees a choir performing though, it brings back memories of what he considers the best days of his life.

D'Souza admits that he sometimes gets nostalgic but had to forego one of his, "passions" to keep pace with the competitive world. "I have to travel a lot to meet clients and it becomes very difficult for me to do both things.

Many of my friends have also dropped out of the choir after they started working," says D'Souza. "Choir practice usually takes place in the evenings. Many youngsters who are part of the choir groups work in call centres.
So, it is all the more difficult for them to make it. Sometimes singers are already trained so they just have to come one month before Christmas to brush up on the hymns but even that is getting difficult due to work pressure," adds D'Souza.


Samantha Fernandes (28) who has been singing for the choir at St Paul's Church, Dadar (E) might have to give singing a miss this year due to family commitments.u00a0

"I used to do it quite regularly but this year I may not be able to do it due to family commitments." Vijay Abraham (16), a school student from Borivali, might drop out of the choir too, "I used to look forward to it. But due to my exams I won't be participating this year."


Cassandra Mendonca (23), who works in a law firm, believes that choirs are not about serious singing anymore. "Many people get together for choir practice but more than singing they end up having fun.u00a0 I don't want to be involved in so many things.

Earlier, there was study and now work and too many things on my mind. I would only want to join a choir if I can be absolutely sure that I will not miss out on any of the practice sessions. It is better than a half-hearted effort," adds Mendonca.u00a0

Ingrid Mazarello (23), who has been regularly singing for, Our Lady of Egypt choir in Kalina for years, says laconically, "If you like to do something then you make time for it."u00a0


A time crunch is not the sole reason why people are dropping out of choirs. People are seeking out other avenues for monetary benefits. "During Christmas, various hotels call us to sing and entertain guests.
Event managers too call us and we perform for such events. It takes away members from choir groups, who, for money prefer to sing in hotels. Even I did it for a few years. They pay you really well too," elaborates Crompton.


Many parents believe that a lot has to do with the right motivation given to children and youngsters, which can encourage them to continue singing.

Says Abraham Ooman, Vijay's father, "It depends a lot on the teacher. The teacher should be good and should be able to motivate children to sing enthusiastically. The teacher has to be like a pied piper," he says.

Crompton recollects an incident, which motivated him to sing for the rest of his life. "I went for a singing competition and was very young then.
I noticed that all the participants there were singing so well. I almost panicked but thenu00a0 it was my teacher, Ivan Arthur, who came to my rescue. He held my hand and taught me the most important lesson of my life.
He told me that confidence, passion and dedication are the three most important things that will take you through life.

I played the piano, I sang and I won. That is how I embarked on this path," he adds. "Nowadays, youngsters are keener on pop singing. What would Christmas be without tradition and tradition is something that is to be enjoyed and followed," asks a concerned Crompton.


All, though is not lost yet, as some parishes still have vibrant choirs who continue to enthrall the crowds with their rendition. Celine Alwares, co-ordinator for the Immaculate Conception church in Borivili says, "We have more youngsters participating in choirs. We have 13 choirs in total."

A choir group can cut across all age groups. The singers can be as young as 15 years to 75-year-olds. This also gives more variety to the singing. In fact children's choirs in the city are seeing a lot of participation but the enthusiasm fades as they grow up.

Singspirators performing at the National Centre for the Performing Arts

Vian (who uses her first name only) a teacher and a pianist of the Sunday School Children's Choir, from St Blaise Amboli, says, "There is a lot of enthusiasm amongst the kids and sometimes accommodating them becomes very difficult.
So we have our choir on rotation basis so that everybody gets an opportunity to showcase their talent. Kids know that if they discontinue their practice then they will not be allowed to sing.

We have practice on Sundays and Thursdays and accordingly the kids have to adjust. But sometimes tuitions and academics do take up their time and prevent participation."u00a0 She also laments the fact that kids are increasingly getting into Bollywood singing and dancing and choir singing has now taken a back seat.


Kevin Jude D'Souza (40), conductor for the last 15 years and currently part of a choir group called Singspirators believes that getting people to sing for the choir is not a problem but making them come for the practice sessions is a mammoth task.

"To make choir singers come consistently for practice is a problem. We have to send them lot of reminders like SMSes to remind them of the practice hours. We often give motivational speeches to make them realise the importance of choir singing," explains Kevin.
Many parishes in Mumbai have now made provisions for having larger choir groups to compensate for dropouts. "We have started having larger groups so that even if people drop out we can manage. A larger group can still put up a show if one or two people are missing because there are more people to sort of compensate for their absence," explains Kevin.


But, like poet P B Shelley has said, "music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory." With church music dying, the hymns and their words can now only be remembered largely in memory. Catherine believes that the overall standard of church music is deteriorating.

"Those who want to join the choir don't know the kind of rigorous practice it requires to master techniques. Moreover, everybody now wants those peppy numbers. They don't want to get into proper choir music. There is no level of commitment. It has become more of an obligation now than anything else. They don't realise that when you sing you pray twice," says a frustrated Catherine. "The solemnity of the music is lost," she ends.

Winter Wonderland
Frosty the Snowman
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
Christmas Polka
Rockin' around the Christmas tree

Silent Night
Angels we have heard on high
O holy Night
Long time ago in Bethlehem
O Come all ye faithful
Christmas tradition alive Mumbai choir live music