It’s nearing 6.15 on Wednesday evening at the Hungarian Cultural Centre auditorium and a dozen or so members of the Capital City Minstrels (CCM), New Delhi’s well-known amateur choral group, are sitting scattered, some chatting quietly in pairs, some bantering loudly.
It’s a relaxed atmosphere, punctuated by the occasional loud laughter of bonhomie. There’s still some time before the CCM conductor, Gabrielle Boda-Rechner, comes in to begin rehearsals, and those who’ve reached early are goofying around — just as in a classroom before the teacher walks in.
“So what is Roce? R-O-C-E? I thought it was like the roka — you know, engagement,” someone asks animatedly.
“That’s Maxwell Pereira,” Usha Shrivastava, CCM president, points to one of the interlocutors.
“We were discussing his daughter’s wedding which took place in Kolkata recently and at which all of us were invited,” she continues, her tone indicating a camaraderie among CCM members that goes far beyond these two-hour, once-a-week rehearsals.
CCM is quite a pot pourri of people from different ages, professions, nationalities. There’s Pereira, who’s a former joint commissioner of police and been part of the bass chorus for many years now; Reuben Israel, a publisher; Suman Dubey, a senior journalist; Ashok Bhatia, a former chairman of ITC Welcomegroup; Nandini Sra, a radio professional; Dr J.S. Rana, a radiologist; and Tapas Bharadwaj, a visually-challenged class VII student, to name just a few of the around 80 members.
“Around 30-40 per cent are expats,” informs Sanaja Varma, CCM’s secretary.
But despite all the differences there seems to be absolute harmony — a perfect metaphor for a choir where singers with very different pitches and tones need to harmonise.
Founded in 1994 with just 12 singers by Zohra Shaw, a fellow of the Trinity College of Music, CCM today has about 60 members and has widened its repertoire from choral music and to ballads, folk songs, rock, jazz and even some Indian songs. It toured Europe last year, performing in France, Germany and Hungary.
“The best thing about this choir, and something that sets it apart, is that it’s a diverse group and very easy to integrate into,” says Varma.
In his early sixties, Varma has been with the choir for two years now. “Everyone’s on a first name basis. No one is going to call me uncle here. I feel young and am having a ball,” he laughs.
Hungarian-born Boda-Rechner, who’s breathed life into the Delhi Western classical music scene in the three years or so she’s lived here, is clearly the lynchpin here.
All flailing arms and Gaelic effusion, she’s like the favourite teacher whom everyone looks up to and seeks approval of. An exacting taskmaster, Boda-Rechner has had long experience teaching and conducting music in Europe, China and Morocco.
“One of the pieces we’re doing this time is Haydn’s Nelson’s Mass, since this is the 200th year of his death. But it’s very tough and challenging, and along with the music score, which many people here cannot read, I’ve also given them CDs with a recording of the piece in my voice.”
Along with music, food, the mid-rehearsal tea break actually, is taken equally seriously. It is something everyone hugely looks forward to. “We joke that CCM should actually be called the ‘Capital City Munchers,” laughs Rachna Kohli Sandhu, from the soprano chorus.