Mumbai's choral life: Choirs get into top gear to welcome Christmas

Updated: 05 January, 2017 13:53 IST | Joanna Lobo & Suprita Mitter |

Come Christmas time, and the city's choirs get into top gear with their heady mix of traditional and contemporary choral singing

Last year's Festival of Sacred Choral Music at St Peter’s Church, Bandra

The melodic strains of O Holy Night, the mellow Santa Baby or the peppier beat of Rocking Around the Christmas Tree: there's something magical about Christmas carols and songs. Every year, choral groups and choirs gear up to welcome Christmas season with musical performances, complete with decorations and festive gear, at churches and auditoriums across the city. We listen in.

Pop goes the choir

Singspirators at a concert in NCPA

Started in 2000, Singspirators sings ABBA, Queen and Michael Jackson too. "We started out with singing carols at the Catholic Gymkhana as part of their Carol Nights," says founder member, Kevin D'Souza. "We are in our 16th year now, and have performed at multiple venues 

including the NCPA. We also partner with The Stop-Gaps," he adds. The 35-member group that includes singers aged between 20 to 55, performs with a pianist, recorded music and A Capella too, and is gearing up for three performances in the coming week. "Apart from the traditional melodies we perform many modern compositions. We do the not-so-traditional carols like Birthday of the King too," says D'Souza.

ON: December 17, 6.30 pm onwards
AT: Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Call: 66223737
Log on to
COST: Rs 500 to Rs 1,200

ON: December 18, 6.30 pm onwards
AT: Our Lady of Health, Cavel, Chira Bazaar.

ON: December 19 AT Willingdon Gymkhana, Church Ave, Willingdon, Santacruz (W).
ENTRY: Free for members

Desi arrangements for Western harmony

In 2004, a group of spirited youngsters from India participated in the Chorfestival 2004, the international festival of sacred music in Cologne, Germany. They were led by musician, performer and teacher, Celeste Cordo. The youth were the senior-most members of the children’s choir she started called The Gleehive; they were banded under the choir Cadenza Kantori. The choir consists of people in the age group of 15 to 25. "We perform A cappella. We don’t have a melody instrument backing us but instead use Indian percussions instruments," says Ronaan Roy, choir member.

The choir has 20 members, eight boys and 12 girls. Over the years, their singing has matured and their melody lines have become even more complicated. The choir borrows from the musical influences of each Indian state and sings in different languages, even getting in people outside the team to help get the pronunciation right. "We are known mostly for our Indian classical arrangements using western classical harmonies but we also perform Latin, Western Classical and Jazz music."

This year, they will be participating in the 13th edition of their annual Christmas concert, Festival of Sacred Choral Music. The theme is love and the concert is titled Mark of Love. It will feature seven-minute performances by 12 children’s choirs. "Given this year’s theme, we want to discuss how a misunderstanding between two people can be resolved with open dialogue, engagement and understanding," says Roy.

ON: December 11, 7.30 pm onwards
AT: St Peters Church, Hill Road, Ranwar, Bandra (W). 
Call: 26431200

Adding a contemporary twist

Members of Stop Gaps rehearsing in Bandra. Pic/SHADAB KHAN 

The origin of their Christmas concerts goes back to the 1972 floods in Chennai, when Alfred J D'Souza, conductor of the Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble, decided to organise a Christmas concert to raise funds. And 33 years later, the Christmas tradition of hosting a concert continues. The Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy, the city-based offshoot of the Choral Ensemble, is a performance choir known for their spiffy costumes, dance movements and innovative compositions. The choir is versatile, having done everything from Classical to modern Pop. The members cut across age groups and professions; some singers have been there for over two decades. They perform A cappella, sometimes  accompanied by a piano; instruments change according to the song and they've used the harp, flute, drums, guitar and saxophone.

This year the Stop-Gaps are completing 25 years and celebrations will be big. The Festival of Festive Music is an annual celebration that invites choirs from across the country to come together and participate in a themed concert; this year will see 15 choirs, from Mumbai, Bengaluru and Pune. "Our theme is communication. The finale will feature all the choirs singing an original composition of mine titled Stamp of love. It talks about reaching out to people, healing wounds, bridging gaps and fostering a sense of togetherness; all of which this season is known for," says D'Souza.

ON: December 17, 18; 6.30 onwards 
AT: Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point. 
Call: 66223737
COST: Rs 500 to Rs 1,200

Singing the classic A Cappella

Paranjoti choir at an earlier concert

The chorus, founded in 1956, is a dedicated group of amateurs from a mix of religions and professions — ranging from students to doctors and housewives, from the age of 17 to 70. Conducted by maestra Coomi Wadia, the 43-member Paranjoti Choir has been recognised in festivals across the world for their outstanding A cappella. The group has sung in over 22 languages and has performed choral masterpieces including Bach’s Mass in B minor and St John Passion, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Because of a majority of members being working professionals, the group has been finding it increasingly difficult to rehearse together. "There are no nine-to-five jobs anymore. Earlier, we would rehearse twice a week. Now we do once a week, on Saturday afternoons for three to four hours. Just before a concert we try to include Sundays too," shares Wadia.
The group considers their Christmas concerts special. "We love to perform in churches during Christmas. It brings so much more to a performance as opposed to a hall. Christmas is not just about tinsel and cake. There is sanctity about the birth of Christ. Some carols that we perform including Silent Night are ones that stay in the mind forever. It also helps that the audience is a diverse mix," says Wadia. "The good thing is that many new people are writing carols too. One of our ex-members wrote a beautiful lullaby for Christ in Hindi, which we always perform," she adds.

ON: December 16, 7 pm AT Afghan Church, Navy Nagar Colaba. 
Call: 22020420 ON December 18, 7 pm
AT: Scots Kirk Church, opposite Lion Gate, €ˆFort.

First Published: 10 December, 2016 08:54 IST

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