Songs from the soul

Songs from the soul

Songs from the soul

It is rare to see a choir accompanied by soloists, a band and some dancers whip up an audience into a frenzy of unadulterated delight.

Toccata manages to do just that. Toccata takes classic hits from popular music or theme songs from movies and musicals and completely take them apart, shake them up and make them their own.

The music is arranged by a team of award-winning composers and is devised to encompass the large canvas of musicians, vocalists and dancers. The songs end up being rendered with incredibly unique improvisations leading to some stunning sounds and insights. What actually hooks the audience however is the fact that beneath it all, they retain the soul of the piece ever so subtly. When total familiarity meets the beautiful unknown in a previously unimagined manner is precisely when the audience goes absolutely crazy.

A cause & the musical effect

Toccata was conceptualised by Sunil Paulraj, a practising neo-natal specialist with an inordinate passion for music and charity. The group features acclaimed professional musicians, dancers and semi-professionals based out of the UK and Ireland. They come together every couple of years to create some mesmerising musical productions, which they take to the remote corners of the earth.

The objective is to not just produce some fabulously listenable music, but also to generate awareness and raise funds for charities working among the deprived populations of the poorest countries in the world.

The entire group of around 70 generously donate not just their time and incredible talents, but also pay their own expenses on tour. All the money they generate through tickets and sponsorships go to local charities.

Talking about working with a large and diverse group ranging from famous musicians and soloists to enthusiastic amateurs, Judith Sheridian, the artistic director and conductor says, “It really is a privilege to work with a large group of people. The time they take to learn is different.

So we start with the choir first, but once they’ve learnt it, they are enthusiastic and sing their hearts out and you can tell that they are having a ball during the performance. The soloists, some know each other and some don’t, and I know some and not the others.

So the challenge is to get them together and getting their voices to work together. They are all talented and bring their styles to the mix and blend beautifully. The musicians — many of them I have worked with and they know me and I know them and it is a little easier, but we have a new section now and it helps because they are willing to learn and contribute.”

The group features around 10 vocalists as soloists, each of them well-known and accomplished artistes in their own right.

Creative satisfaction

Kathy McHardy, a diva in her own right, who sings with the group, describes the experience of Toccata as “a really good group of people”. She says, “Everyone is really lovely and we work well together and we want to do a good show and we work hard on what we are doing.

The repertoire is diverse and challenging. Technically, I’m the soprano but the range if music is so diverse that I have to employ the whole range of vocals. It is also a lot of fun and I get to sing the songs that I normally would not on stage because it may not suit my style. It does take a toll on my voice though.”

Gareth McGreevy, also an accomplished vocalist and award-winning choral trainer says, “I joined about a year ago, and I love the music, but what makes Toccato special is the fact that we are using our talents to provide opportunities for underprivileged people and that for me is special.

The dynamics within the group is fantastic — it’s great fun and the rehearsals are lively.” He is also appreciative of the hospitality and love extended by the people in Bangalore.

The group features about 10 dancers who add some spectacular movement to the concept. Janet-Anne Phillips, the choreographer for the group says, “The people are fantastic and I’ve loved working with them. They are committed to put on a good show and also to the charities we raise money for.

It has been hard as we have been working and performing from the minute we landed, but it is a fantastic opportunity to work with the group of great dancers who have bonded really well.” The dancers say that Janet-Anne treats them like her own children and even calls them her ‘Twirleys’.

Toccata also features a line-up of some of the best musical talents as a 11-piece band section. Alex Postlethwaite, the violinist and band leader who has been with the group for eight years says, “The group has changed a lot over the last eight years, it used to feature only the band and the soloists, but now has a choir from Northern Ireland and has the dancers involved. It has evolved a lot. It is nice to interact with people. It is different to play popular music, and working with soloists and the choir is a bit of a challenge, and is hard, but definitely worth it.”

The current concert series featured two separate sets and concerts. ‘The Nostalgia Show’ featuring classic hits across numerous genres including pop, rock and country.

These included music made famous by Elton John, Whitney Houston, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Stevie Wonder, Queen, The Eagles, Guns n’ Roses, Billy Joel and others. And the ‘The Best of West End & Broadway’ featured select music from some of the best-known ‘musicals’ from cinema and stage. It included songs from Grease, Michael Jackson One, The Abba Show, Lion King, We Will Rock You, Sound of Music and many others.

Talking about the future shows, Paulraj, who is thrilled with the response here, hints at a big project coming down to Bangalore where a famous group will perform with Toccata, but he will not let on more. Considering the fan base they have built up here, that is a piece of news that will be music to the ears of many.