Asian Music and Dance

Aarambh – a new beginning 

Grandly titled the National Choir for Indian Music in Britain, it may, more accurately, be described as a welcome, indeed commendable, experiment in taking Indian classical vocal into a choral setting. 

The choir consisted of about forty mostly young singers, some of them perhaps younger than ten, alongside professional and semi-professional musicians on mridangam, violin, flute, tabla and keyboards. Most of the compositions were largely composed, arranged and conducted by Manorama Prasad. She was assisted with some of the arrangements and conducting by Alok Prasad, who has a background in Western singing. 

The evening began with the Gayatri Mantra, the vedic Sanskrit verse, and ended, with singers on stage and audience standing up to sing Jana Gana Mana, the Indian national anthem. In between there were six varied pieces, only some of which had the full choir on stage and brought in soprano, alto and bass voices in harmony, counter-harmony and varied textures. These, more experimental and more interesting pieces, appeared to have the influence of Alok Prasad who, overall, seemed much more comfortable conducting on stage. 

The other pieces, including the Ragam Tanam Pallavi, presented fewer layers and textures and were closer to more traditional carnatic performances. Sometimes, there appeared to be too much time given to the musical accompaniment and interplay between the instrumentalists. 

Two passing thoughts: there could have been more adventure, experimentation and exploration of the harmonic variations between different voices and we could have done without the rather self-indulgent public eulogising of the conductor from the stage. 

Overall, while the evening didn’t have the emotional charge that you might get from high quality Western choral singing and no one outstanding voice stood out, it was enjoyable and had enough variation to keep the audience interested. It was a successful, if qualified, first step towards venturing into a territory that has been well trodden by `western music but needs to be explored by musicians and composers from the Indian tradition. 



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