A first-of-its-kind Indian music choir performance brought some inspirational and soulful melodies to Manchester.
‘Sur Madhur’ was part of the ‘Bharatiya Vrung Gaan’ and ‘SHIVA – the Youth Choir’ projects, conceived by artistic director, composer and musician Rakesh Joshi. Selected through formal auditions, the choirs brought together some of the best talents in Indian music from across the UK.
The musical evening over the weekend – which was also attended by Dr Shashank Vikram, Consul General of India, Birmingham – started with Ganesh Vandana and built on the spiritual elements of Indian music. One of the songs, titled ‘The Rewa Geet’, was dedicated to the infinite forms of women and womanhood as symbolised through Goddess Durga. The echoes rising from the collective singing bounced off the high ceilings of the beautiful Hallé St. Peters’ church building in Ancoats, and the apt lighting added to the grandness of the event.
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Each song was introduced with details on the origins, poets and meaning of the lyric or the Raag. Choirs find their origins in sacred singing in India as well as the western world; the chants of Vedas and Shlokas in the ancient times were often collective, rhythmic and transforming.
Rakesh Joshi’s efforts to offer the audience as many genres of Indian music as possible could be seen when the choir turned to a traditional Hindi Church song, which was dedicated to the Late Queen Elizabeth II. The performances ranged from Shiva Ling Ashtakam (composed by Adi Shankaracharya in 8th century India) to a rendition of Raag Malhar (composed by Tansen in 16th century India) to songs written by Indian freedom fighters like Rabindranath Tagore, bringing out emotions of nostalgia, unity and pride within the diaspora audience.
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The melodies carried on, changing genres, beats and musical styles along the way. The most memorable part of the evening, however, was the contagious energy, vibrancy and joy the event passed on to its listeners.
“Choirs bring relaxation, happiness and peace, not only to the listeners but the singers too,” said Rakesh Joshi.
Joshi – currently pursuing a PhD in Indian Choir, Indian Ensemble and Vedic Tradition himself – started the BVG Choir in 2014 with around 20 members. As the journey progressed, he also started ‘SHIVA The Youth Choir’ in 2016 for talented young singers between ages eight and 18. Together, the two choirs now have more than 100 members and are more successful than ever before.
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Asked about what inspired him to start the UK’s first Indian choir, Joshi reminisced about listening to Akashvani (formerly known as All India Radio) growing up in India and participating in ‘Samuh Gaan’ (group singing) in school and college. More than that, however, he remembered witnessing the success enjoyed by choirs like the BBC Symphony Chorus or the Hallé Orchestra after moving to the UK and wondering why Indian music couldn’t be showcased in a similar manner.
Over the years, Joshi’s choirs have performed at some of the most high-profile venues and events both in the UK and India. In 2016, the choirs were part of a huge welcoming ceremony for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Wembley stadium in London, marking his first UK visit as PM.