The Om mantra chants marked the beginning of India’s first ever Carnatic tradition children’s choir, unfolding rhythms and songs at a concert held recently in Bangalore. The choir director was none other than Oscar nominee, world-renowned artiste and music composer Bombay Jayashri Ramnath. The chorus and the instrumentation were based on the compositions of several great Carnatic great masters.
Ramnath trained and guided the choir comprising 18 singers aged between 9 and 16 who performed a pattern of five pieces that was woven into a simple tale. The singers were exuberant, as expected. For Jayashri, directing the children’s choir has been a beautiful experience. She said, "They are a bunch of fabulous kids, full of pranks, and ready to learn at the drop of a hat. My effort has been to get the next generation sing in a choir. The kids would come for practice after a grueling day at school and would be on their feet, ready to go into action with great enthusiasm and spirit.” A bubbly, effusive Abhiram, 11, a student of National Public School said, "Singing Carnatic compositions in a group is fun. However, exploring this type of music is new to all of us.”
Jayashri (centre) surrounded with the choir kids, happiness and melody.
The choir was accompanied by artistes on violin, mrindangam and ghatam. Having learnt Carnatic music for six years now, Nishanth, 12, says it has been a great experience for him performing in the choir. For 11-year-old Neeraj of Bethany School, Jayashri Akka is a "very friendly and kind person.” The choral singing was interspersed with solo pieces and dialogues in English. The children’s dedication to Carnatic music was visible in every piece they sang. They rendered the sangatis exquisitely, be it Raga Amrit Varshini or Bilahari. "Group singing is lively while solo gets boring. Following the cue is easy. Whenever I have doubts, I look at Poornima Akka (Jayashri’s disciple) who is our conductor and knows all the cues. She is a huge support to us,” adds Abhiram. The youngest in the choir, Naga Srinidhi is sometimes restive while performing. She says, "Group singing in Carnatic music is different, but I wanted to be a part of this musical effort.”
Jayashri explained, "We have created a simple narrative. Every aspect in this choir is child-friendly. During practice sessions, the children would come up with refreshing and wonderful ideas and improvisations. Unless you encourage such interactions, it is not possible to perform holistically.” Sumesh Narayanan, a mrindagist who accompanied the choir opined that they have grown with each performance. "It is a new format but a purist’s choir that is manodharma based. Here, we don’t take turns at playing the musical instruments like in a traditional concert.” The children’s choir is raising funds for Drishti eye care, an initiative for treating the under privileged in the rural areas. A presentation of Bhoomija charitable trust of which Jayashri is a member, the choir will be going to different cities in the country every year. "We promote a worthy cause. We not only create but also grow as human beings,” she opines. The two shows in Bangalore were completely sold. The success of the choir has not only encouraged Bombay Jayashri but also the singers to take this genre of music forward. "We have kindled the interest in children and hope to continue this tradition in the days to come. This group will continue to perform in the future, however, once they cross 16, they will make way for other children,” said Jayashri.