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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Delhi’s oldest church choir bringing ‘joy to the world’ since 1938

Having started with a handful of British officers, today the choir has grown to become a 37-member group consisting of people from all walks of life.

delhi Updated: Dec 24, 2018 14:21 IST

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
A choir sings Christmas carols at St. James' Church, near Kashmere Gate, in Delhi on December 23.
A choir sings Christmas carols at St. James' Church, near Kashmere Gate, in Delhi on December 23.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

As ‘Joy to the World’ plays on the massive wooden organ placed in the balcony, thousands of sound pipes reverberate in the cathedral’s beautiful high arches. The group, the formal choir from the Cathedral Church of the Redemption, is rehearsing for Christmas service due on Monday.

Started in early 1930s as a small congregation, the English Choir has been playing formally since 1938. It is city’s oldest church choir.

Having started with a handful of British officers, today the choir has grown to become a 37-member group consisting of people from all walks of life.

Osmand Chakravarthy, 64, a retired government officer, who grew up singing in the choir, said, “The English Choir had its first service in 1938 with a British officer Major Blunt, as its first organist and choir master, who played till a year after independence. My father joined the choir in 1948 and we have been a part of it since.”

Chakravarthy, who joined the group in 1964 while he was in school, said they still stick to the traditional notes of four-part harmony for days like Christmas and Easter.

A four-part harmony — music written for four voices — has two female and two male voices singing bass, tenor, soprano and alto.

While soprano and alto are sung in female voices, tenor and bass are traditionally male voices.

The church, he said, has the oldest pipe organ in southeast Asia, which was assembled here and has been operational since 1936.

A choir sings Christmas carols at Cathedral Church of the Redemption, near President’s Estate, in New Delhi, India, on December 22.
A choir sings Christmas carols at Cathedral Church of the Redemption, near President’s Estate, in New Delhi, India, on December 22. ( Sanchit Khanna / HT Photo )

“The organ has 5,000 pipes with the biggest measuring 16 feet. You can play a full orchestra on this organ, which is not possible on any other organ... Also, when played, there is a delay in sound which lets the four voices blend together to create the harmony,” he said.

Changes over the years

The carols are still the same but the technicalities have changed over the years, he said.

Till the late 60s every line of the hymns sung would have a lot of punctuations to allow necessary pauses, which has mostly changed to rote singing now, he said.

“The expression of signing was different then. Also, the singers at that time could read music and would know how to play at least one musical instrument, which is not so anymore. Also, the discipline was different than now, as people would live near the periphery of the church and would not miss practice. Now most members have migrated to the suburbs and have to make time for each practice,” said Chakravarthy, who lives in Noida.

The choir has two-hour practices thrice a week around Christmas during the evenings.

The carols being prepared for the festival include all the old scores such as ‘Come Holy Faithful’, ‘Silent Night’, ‘Oh! Little Town of Bethlehem’ and ‘While Shepherd Watched’, among others.

A view of Cathedral Church of the Redemption ahead of Christmas, near President’s Estate, in New Delhi, India, on December 22.
A view of Cathedral Church of the Redemption ahead of Christmas, near President’s Estate, in New Delhi, India, on December 22. ( Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO )

The church also has Tamil and Hindi choirs now.

Verghese John, the choir director, said anyone who is willing to sing and is a member of the church can join the choir.

“We ensure that members have some basic knowledge of music. We have different hymns for different sacraments. Every service has at least five songs including contemporary carols and western classicals,” said John, who works with the Delhi government and has been the choir master for four years.

The basic difference between protestant and catholic hymns is that the former is mainly on Jesus while the latter have more mention of Mother Mary, he added.

Colonel (retd) SC Adisesihiah, 63, another member of the choir, said his parents met at the church choir in 1952 and later got married.

“The choir has shaped our lives. I have accompanied my parents to the church several times till we were posted here. I joined the choir in 2005 and have been a member since,” said Adisesihiah, who is serving as a doctor at the St Stephen’s Hospital, Gurugram.

Today, the choir has several young members including students, professionals and school children as well.

Sandeep P, a civil services aspirant studying in Delhi, said the choir brings people together and helps cleanse oneself, especially during Christmas.

“I come here for practice every Sunday. Being away from home, it’s the only place where I feel one can never be alone,” said Sandeep, 25, who hails from Andhra Pradesh.

Ashok Fenn, the church’s secretary, said that the choir continues to be fairly traditional in comparison to other congregations.

But, with the involvement of youth, some of the tunes have been made livelier than before.

First Published: Dec 24, 2018 14:15 IST

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