Bengaluru resonates with choral music heralding the advent of Christmas in December. Given its political history as a British cantonment and summer resort, the city sees a tradition of Western music, including choral music.
Western choral music in Bangalore is over a hundred years now. The oldest choral group in the City has evolved and continues to survive. Many choral groups of the past, though have become defunct as an entity, have become the forerunners of the many choirs thriving in the City.
Civilians and military Europeans, with a common love for western music in general, both sacred and secular, led to the genesis and growth of choral groups. Churches had their choir groups.
What is today the Bangalore Music Association, took birth as the British Music Society over a hundred years ago. The British Music Society
Comprised the elite of the society and included the Governor, members of the armed forces, bankers, merchants and engineers, bound by a common love of music. The church became the nurturing ground for chorale music. During the days of World War II, the society used to meet in the house of Mr and Mrs Fewkes, who was also the organist of St Mark's Church. Later the society met at St Andrew’s Church in the Parish Hall.
The name of the Society was changed to the Bangalore Musical Association in 1930. Walter Nathaniel, an accomplished organist, was the first Indian Musical Director, taking over from Van der Holt in 1950. In 1945, he started singing tenor in the BMA- the only Indian choir member. In 1951, he was requested to conduct the BMA as its first Indian conductor. In 1964, Maestro JT William Joseph took over as the Director and Conductor of the BMA and remained so until his death in 1995.
Taking over after the death of his father, the present Director and Conductor is Ashley William Joseph, the first Indian Graduate with a degree in music from Manila, Philippines. He conducted the Asian Chorale at the Asian Composers Conference, Manila, and has performed with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philippine Madrigal Singers. He has produced and directed many Broadway Musicals, some of which are, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver Twist, and The Sound of Music.
In the 1960s there were only two major choral groups in Bangalore - the Bangalore Musical Association and the YMCA Choral Society. The 1980s saw the emergence of some more choirs. The Basel Mission
Christian Association nurtured many a fledging choir by providing a public platform during the Christmas season year after year.
The Cecilian Choir came into being when accomplished musician, the late Sister Good Shepherd persuaded the renowned Maestro, Fr Theodore Pereira to start it. The Choir had taken its name in honour of St Cecilia, the patron Saint of Music. Since its inception in 1982, the Cecilian Choir has been active on Bangalore’s music scene. Its repertoire encompasses pieces from Broadway to folk songs, jazz to classical compositions and Cantatas.
The St Mark’s Cathedral festival of music provided an annual forum for new talent to perform alongside the veterans. The Basel Mission began conducting the “Festival of Christian music” in 1981 with many city choirs participating in it. It was the brainchild of late Prof David K Sebastian, who was the organist of St Mark’s Cathedral for over 40 years.
The Bangalore Amateur Chorale conducted by Christine Colaco in 1975 which performed for nearly two decades; Symphonia, conducted by late Gladys Mohanraj were some of the popular choral groups.
Glorious, a popular choral group was formed in 1989 by Reji Chandy. The first choir group was made up of his friends comprising a motley dozen. Soon it became one of the best put together gospel choirs in the country.
“Madrigals, etc” a choir group founded in 1999 by accomplished musician Neecia Majolly is dedicated to western classical and Renaissance music.
Bengaluru is also home to some unique choirs. The Bangalore Youth Choir is today a leading group in the world of Indian Choral Music.
Founded in 1984, its Founder-Director and President is Kaveri Sridhar.
The Jyothi Seva Society which runs a school in Venkateshpura for the visually impaired children has a choir comprising visually impaired children.
What began mainly a Western choral genre in English gradually encompassed Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam, the three languages which have a significant population in the city.
What was largely sung in churches has now spread to schools and colleges, which have a choir group of their own. Some even have a full-time choirmaster.
Most prominent schools in the city have a choir group - Bishop Cotton Boy’s School, Bishop Cotton Girl’s School, Baldwin Girl’s School, Aditya Mallya School, to name a few.
Choirs are also active in many colleges. Jyoti Nivas College, Christ University, Mount Carmel College, St Joseph’s College, Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College among others have active choirs.
Above all, there is a democratic element to choral music. They are not restricted by age or gender. Tenors, bass and sopranos of all age groups form part of large choirs. Often people of different religions are found in the same group. The songs sung are not necessarily religious. Secular and popular songs, rearranged for choral singing, form part of a chorale’s repertory. There is no language barrier. Besides English, choral groups sing in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Mizo and occasionally even in a foreign language.