Austrian choir's qawwali

Updated: Oct 30, 2019, 07:36 IST | Karishma Kuenzang | Mumbai

One of the oldest boys choirs in the world, the Vienna Boys Choir, will show their historical roots with classical pieces and their diversity with qawwali and bhajan

The group performing tonight. Pics/
The group performing tonight. Pics/

These 10- to 14-year-olds from Vienna study academics and music while at a boarding school for six months, and tour the world performing their music for the rest of the year. Tonight, 23 members of the Vienna Boys Choir, one of the oldest and most prominent choirs across the globe, will take the stage at a SoBo venue to showcase their talent.

Their debut tour to the country is titled A Passage to India, and the excited bunch not only bring a fresh sound to the city, but also give us a dose of history, for it survived World War I sans any state or church affiliation. "Background or nationality does not matter as long as one wishes to learn," says Gerald Wirth, president and artistic director of the choir, who is travelling with the boys. But some of the boys leave after they turn 15. "Because their voice starts cracking at that age. But they are welcome to stay," he explains.

Gerald Writhe
Gerald Writhe

Between the four touring groups the Austrian institute houses, they perform around 300 concerts every year. "Touring is crucial as the boys are better connected to music when explore the place they are visiting. It also adds to their academic education," Wirth adds. The first few pieces of their set will be traditional Austrian music comprising middle European songs from the Renaissance and Baroque period, when most songs were composed especially for boys as only males were allowed to sing in church in central Europe. Their diverse set will also comprise compositions by Mozart and songs from different cultures including North America.

They have an Indian segment, too, where they will perform one of Mahatma Gandhi's favourite songs, Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram, where a Syrian national will accompany the choir on a string instrument from his hometown. "The boy came from Syria as a refugee, and he will be playing the local string instrument called Oud from eastern Syria. We have students from Japan and Korea, among other nationalities performing," Wirth tells us.

Wirth's arrangements of the Indian songs have been inspired by his long association with the genre when he worked in collaboration with Ustad Ravi Shankar for a music programme in the country, which brought together Indian classical and western. "We are also doing Qawwali pieces by Amir Khusrow, which the boys took to quite well, as it's quite lively. Besides, it also allows them to play percussion," he reveals. But it wasn't too much of task as the boys are trained in singing in different languages, and using varied techniques, practicing for at least two hours a day. "They weren't too familiar with the pronunciation, but we have three Indians working with us back in Vienna, who helped us. But attempting a raag would be too complicated," he adds.

On Tonight, 7 pm
At Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Log on to
Cost Rs 1,200 onwards

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