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X'mas season begins!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Join the city's best choirs as they sing Christmas carols that will lift your spirits, says chorister Ronita Torcato

Music is the speech of angels and  architecture is frozen music. Tomorrow,  December 1, St Thomas Cathedral, the  stately Anglican Church and the oldest British era structure in Mumbai, will resound to the sound of music when  Ravi Joshua, choirmaster  and arguably, the country's finest organist, will accompany choristers on the 120-year-old pipe organ (Mumbai has just six magnificent specimens).

The program of sacred music is a curtain-raiser to the Advent season which begins on Sunday, a time of preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus Christ, when churches, be they Anglican/ Catholic/ Methodist/ Presbyterian/ Orthodox or any other denomination, will light a candle signifying hope on the Advent Wreath (which first appeared in Germany in 1839.)  The candle is the first of five, lit each Sunday of Advent which means, in Latin, “coming,” which is, itself  a translation of the Greek word parousia. The second, third and fourth candles represent Peace, Joy and Love. The fifth, a white one, known as the Christ Candle, will be lit when Advent ends  on Christmas Eve, December 24, the  day  St Thomas Cathedral concludes its 300th anniversary celebrations with a joyous service where Mahatma Gandhi's grandson and ex-Governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, will preside.

Christmastide begins with a 12-day celebration that  lasts from the birth of Christ until Epiphany on January 6, which commemorates the coming of the Magi—the three wise men from ancient Persia (modern Iran). Almost everywhere, carollers will be singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas", a cumulative song (that is, verses  built on top of the previous verses) that enumerates a series of gifts given on each of the twelve days. Some ADC readers may know it but for those who don't, this is how it goes:

"On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me/A partridge in a pear tree. /On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, /Two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree..."And so on, until the twelfth day.

Singer-songwriter John Denver who performed at NCPA some years ago, has sung it on an album of the same name. There are countless parodies, one of which is called The Twelve Drinks of Christmas where the singer seems to be more inebriated with each successive verse. What would the Yuletide be without mulled wine? Hic.

Few know that Advent is supposed be a time of fasting. But nobody I know fasts in the run-up to Xmas! Actually, one particular carol service created by an English ecclesiast (Edward White Benson, the first Bishop of Truro)  was meant to keep people from too much of the wrong kind of Christmas spirit in pubs! 

Bp Truro’s service, properly known as the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, was first held on Christmas Eve 1918 in Cambridge University's King's College Chapel, London.  Today, it is observed in  churches the world over  and is an eagerly-anticipated  attraction for people of all faiths and persuasions at Mumbai's St Thomas as much as the Cathedral's imposing Gothic edifice with its high vaulted ceiling  and ornate stained glass windows. The service includes carols and nine passages from the Bible. The opening carol is always 'Once in Royal David's City' which for those who don't know, is Bethlehem, where this correspondent has been privileged to attend Midnight Mass and a memorable carol service in Manger Square, featuring a myriad choirs from across the world. Mumbai's Stop Gaps choir conducted by Alfred de Souza has sung in Bethlehem.

The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols also has three "anthems" from Handel's Messiah – For unto us a child is born, There were shepherds abiding in the field and the Hallelujah chorus. The iconic Messiah has been performed in Mumbai by the renowned Paranjoti Academy chorus conducted by Coomi Wadia. Recently honoured with the Laadli of the Century Award in recognition of her service to music, Wadia was chosen as conductor by Victor Paranjoti who founded the choir in 1956 and she has been been conducting it for 51 years now! Her NYC-based son Sorab sings in the choir too during short sabbaticals in Mumbai and her true love, Nariman, also sang in the choir's tenor line before his untimely demise.

Speaking of which, reminds me the "true love" gift song is an English carol first published in 1780 which isn't as old as some young people may think. Good King Wenceslas, for instance, which was composed in 1853, is based on a 13th century carol. The French version of The Friendly Beasts (about the animals surrounding baby Jesus  in the manger) can be traced back to the 12th century. But there are, others, older, much older. Among the first of these Christmas hymns is  Jesus Refulsit Omnium (Jesus, Light of All the Nations), written by St. Hilary of Poitier in the 4th century. Many other Latin hymns also date back to the 4th century and eventually evolved into the popular carols sung today.

One of the most enchanting, Silent Night  marks its 200th anniversary this year. It was conceived  in 1816 as a poem (Stille Nacht) written by an  Austrian priest called Joseph Mohr. Two years later, as the story goes, the organ  in St. Nicholas Church in the small alpine village of Oberndorf near Salzburg went kaput. Fr Mohr gave the poem  to his  friend, a teacher named Franz Xavier Gruber who composed the classic melody (for a guitar?) finishing it in time for Midnight Mass. 

It is sung today, in all churches, bar none and will doubtless be sung  on December 4 by  congregations at Our Lady of Dolours Church, Wadala,  and R C Church, Navy Nagar in harmony with the Cantata Choir conducted by Olga Collaco with Marilynne Chhabra on the pianoforte. The Cantata Choir commenced under the baton of Joachim Buehler, the former director of the Max Mueller Bhavan/Goethe Institute in Mumbai.  Since 1988, it has been steered by  Ms Collaco, whose soloists—soprano Natasha who also happens to be her daughter) and Kersi Gazdar, tenor—are  star attractions for music-lovers with regular renditions of classical works in churches and the concert halls of Mumbai, specially NCPA.

There, this year, as in the past 34 years, the  Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy’s Festival of Festive Music – a celebration of the season in  song – will usher in the Christmastide with traditional and contemporary carols in a  two-day extravaganza featuring choirs from all over Mumbai and Chennai. Saturday, December 8 features St. Thomas Marthomas Syrian Church Choir, Salvation Singers, Singspirators, Santacruz Ensemble, and Sans Nom Ensemble and The Harmonics (both from Chennai), as well as The Stop-Gaps Junior Choral Ensemble and The Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble. The line-up on Sunday, December 9 includes the Happy Home & School for the Blind, Faith & Harmony, Family Harmony, Bai Ava Bai Petit Girls’ High School Choir, Victory Chorus Line, The Harmonics (Chennai), and The Stop-Gaps Junior Choral Ensemble and The Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble.

At four churches across Mumbai (Afghan Church, Navy Nagar, Gloria Church Byculla, St John the  Evangelist Church Andheri and St Peter's Church  Bandra,  the Paranjoti Academy Chorus will sing over a dozen Christmas carols ranging from classics like Joy to the  World (check out Yesudas’s Malayalam version on Youtube)  and popular perennials like The Drummer Boy to Christmas songs from South America, Europe and the Philippines. Silent Night, that soothing song of hope and consolation, performed globally today in over 300 languages and dialects, will be sung in Hindi translation.  As far as the more familiar Christmas standards go, the Paranjoti Chorus will sing  O Come all ye faithful (the 1841 English translation of the Latin Adeste Fideles) O Tannenbaum (the German original of Oh, Christmas Tree, by Leipzig teacher/ organist Ernst Anschütz in 1824 refers to the evergreen fir tree not as a decorated gift-laden Christmas tree but as a symbol of faithfulness), Hark the Herald Angels Sing (published in 1739) and Deck the Halls  among others. To think, Oliver Cromwell and his fellow Puritans  banned Christmas (and all its festivities, including carol-singing ) in the U.K. by an Act of Parliament in 1644!

O! A carolling we will go with

The CANTATA CHOIR at Our Lady of Dolours Church Wadala ( Tuesday December 4) and St Joseph R C Church, Navy Nagar (Tuesday December 11), both concerts at 7.30 pm. Free entry

The PARANJOTI ACADEMY CHORUS at Afghan Church Navy Nagar (Friday December 14, 7 pm) Gloria Church Byculla (Saturday December 15, 8pm) St John the  Evangelist Church Andheri (Sunday December 16,7pm) and St Peter's Church Bandra (Monday December 17, 8pm) Free entry

The STOP GAPS CHORAL ENSEMBLE'S FESTIVAL OF FESTIVE MUSIC at the NCPA on Saturday, December 8 and  on Sunday, December 9, 7pm both days

Price Rs 1300, 1100, 850 & 500 (Inclusive of GST) Reservations at NCPA Box Office and and Also, call 98194 06400 or 99201 93310

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