Forty years ago, the Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble shifted base from its origins in Chennai to take root in Mumbai, bringing with it, ‘The Festival of Festive Music’ which is not only the most eagerly awaited event of the December festive season, but the longest running event at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai. This endeavour has gone on to support various charitable causes and establish a choir that would lead to opportunities for international recognition, putting India firmly on the global map of choral music, bringing laurels and much acclaim for the country.
The Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy has forged on, over the past 39 years in Mumbai to produce musical events of the highest quality. Its ‘Young Talent’ and ‘Budding Brigade’ concerts and the annual Children’s Choir Festival ‘Younger Than Springtime’, have spurred on the dedication and drive in young artistes to reach high professional standards and go further on in their careers.
Having established its credentials on the Mumbai music scene, The Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble went on to enthral audiences in various parts of the world including France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Northern Ireland – representing India at international choir festivals and competitions, besides prestigious events which included singing at the Vatican for the late Pope John Paul II, participating as India’s representatives at the closing celebrations of Israel’s Independence in December 1998 and performing as well at Manger Square in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, and is the first Indian choir to have sung in China. Through international exposure, The Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble has truly lived up to its motto of “BRIDGING THE WORLD WITH SONG”.
Celebrating this milestone in musical excellence, the 40th year of ‘The Festival of Festive Music’ at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai marks an illustrious chapter in the legacy of the Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy. In an exclusive conversation, Alfred J. D’Souza, the esteemed Chairman and Music Director of the academy, provides profound insights. His leadership has not only navigated the ensemble through international acclaim and charitable endeavours but has also shaped a musical repertoire that transcends borders.
Serenade Team: Congratulations on the 40th year of the Festival of Festive Music at NCPA. Can you share some highlights and special moments that you’re looking forward to during this milestone celebration?
Alfred J. D’Souza: It’s wonderful to have these choirs who have participated with us over the years, to be performing in this Christmas festival once again – some have returned after a long hiatus and there are some new choirs to look out for in 2023. And it’s so good to see that many of them, are now performing their own original compositions. The Prelude to the Festival this year is very special to me, as it highlights the grim condition our world is in, with war and communal discord, and yet how Christmas brings about a spirit of peace and joy, especially for those who are still children at-heart. This prelude will be performed by actor-singer Asif Ali Beg, along with The Stop-Gaps Junior Choral Ensemble and the dancers from the ICMD. This is going to be a beautiful collaborative effort, from Talent in the Performing Arts.
ST: Your upcoming book of Christmas songs sounds fascinating. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your original compositions and the process of having the Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble bring them to life in various concerts?
AJD: These original compositions have been written over the years, exclusively for the Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble and have been inspired by various experiences of Christmas for me. Christmas has, and always will be for me – the most wonderful time of the year, made very special by my family, who were particularly musical. When I formed The Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble in 1972, and was looking for new music at Christmas time, I was inspired to write some of these compositions which I kept exclusively for the choir. When I strung these pieces together in a narrative last year, it was so appreciated that it gave me the inspiration to bring out this book. Over 50 years of the Choir performing them, and these pieces having gained much popularity, I thought it was time now to share these, with those who would like to perform them.
ST: Over the years, the Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble has gained international recognition, representing India at various choir festivals and competitions. How has this global exposure influenced the choir’s identity?
AJD: Our exposure, globally, has gained recognition of a Choir of remarkable standing and quality presentation despite being an amateur choir. The Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble has gained much from interacting with other global choirs and has shown the rest of the world what India is capable of – since we sing in several foreign languages and have a vast repertoire of our own compositions. Besides this, the costumes, the choreography and stage sets, make our Choir and our concerts, unique and sets it aside from other stereotypes.
ST: The Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble has a rich history of supporting charitable causes. Can you share some memorable experiences or impact stories related to the social causes and charities that the ensemble has been involved with?
AJD: The very formation of the Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy was to support victims of the Tsunami floods in Chennai 50 years ago and that has been the unwavering focus of our institution. Year after year, we visit the Home for the Aged and entertain their inmates at Christmas time while making a donation to their institute, from our concert collections.
Among the various charities we supported, have been Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, The Army Central Welfare Fund for victims of the Kargil conflict, St. Vincent de Paul’s AIDS hospice, the DCW’s Seniors Citizens Home, the Welfare of Stray Dogs (W.S.D.) and in 2019 in aid of Children with Cancer at Tata Memorial Centre.
The COVID pandemic did not deter the Academy from continuing its musical endeavours and though theatres were shut, digital media was employed to reach out to an even wider audience. Proceeds from these virtual shows went towards providing for the needs of Migrant workers during the lockdown, an Environmental Sustainability project in Goa, a Home for the Aged and another for orphaned & destitute children.
ST: What can the audience anticipate in terms of repertoire during the Festival of Festive Music 2023? Are there any particular pieces or musical styles that you are excited to showcase with the Stop-Gaps Choral Ensemble?
(AJD): The repertoire of the FOFM is basically Christmas music so the audience is treated to a variety of the songs of the Season, both traditional and contemporary. We also plan to showcase songs from across the world – in particular, we try to make Christmas a little more Indian with compositions weaving in traditional Indian themes. Every year the Festival has a specific theme and this being our Ruby Anniversary concert at NCPA, we want to reflect on all that has happened over the past 40 years.
The Finale Song for this year’s FOFM Concert is called REFLECTIONS, sharing the lyrics with you:
Words and music: Alfred J. D’Souza, Arr. Leon de Souza
When you look into the mirror, is the image that you see,
One with lines of worry or just sweet serenity?
Does contentment gaze back at you or uncertainty?
Do you feel rest assured of all that you could be?
Reflections of the past, let you clearly know,
And tell a tale quite simply, of how you come and go.
So when you stand before the throne of judgement high above
May you justly be rewarded, because you learned to love.
It does not really matter how high you may ascend,
People will remember if you were foe or friend,
And the medals you wear round your neck or jewels in your crown,
Will be times you up-lifted someone who was down.
We believe that we have brought a lot of joy to the people who have heard, seen and supported us, and to ourselves in making music together and reaching out to others in our endeavour to keeping to our motto of “Bridging the World with Song.”
The ‘Festival of Festive Music 2023’ is hosted by The Stop-Gaps Cultural Academy with over 12 choirs from across India, performing at the Tata Theatre, in their 40th Anniversary Concert with the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) Mumbai, on the 16th & 17th of December 2023.
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