When the Choir decides to get ‘Popular’: the CCM Story

The Capital City Minstrels, a 22 year old Delhi based choir, have been crooning to audiences across cities and countries for quite some time. They have had a variety of choir conductors. Without a doubt, they have emerged as a ‘versatile and dynamic choir’ as expressed in their press note. What strikes me as the most interesting characteristic of the choir however, is the fact that they hold auditions for new members at the close of every season. Also, each season, CCM works on new song selections for their repertoire.

The season concert I witnessed on the 3rd of May, 2016, at the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, which also happens to be the Choir’s rehearsal spot for the last 15 years, was themed around popular music chosen from different places and eras. When asked about her personal favourite from the chosen repertoire, Reem Khokhar, a soprano, with whom I interacted, mentioned the 80’s popular song, ‘Sweet Dreams by Eurhythmics’. It played on her mind due to the nostalgia, more than anything else. Our conversation travelled back and forth. “This season is special for CCM”, she said. “This is Carolin Remy’s last concert with us, as she is returning to Germany this summer, with her family”. In the beginning of the year, the choir had gone for a Euro tour. They were invited and hosted by a German choir, Mixed Voice, Carolin Remy’s former choir. They performed together with the choir at Geretstreid, which is quite close to Munich. The Mixed Choir is expected to perform in Delhi in the month of November, this year. Reem also spoke of CCM’s tryst with an all Male’s choir ‘Le Beau Soleil’. The latter had come to Delhi in February 2016 and put forth a series of concerts. Finally, she mentioned a diplomatic choir from Berlin with whom they had collaborated.

I learnt that the choir usually has two to three seasons every year. Jan to May is their summer season, July to October is usually the time when they plan the peace concert, and the finale, August to December is the season during which they hold the Christmas concert. When it comes to performing in Delhi, apart from their patent Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre, the choir seems to have a fixed set of venues like the India Habitat Centre, the Cathedral Church of Redemption and Epicentre in Gurgaon, to name a few.

Now, to return to the evening! Carolin Remy, CCM’s conductor since 2012, led the choir in the first show, as a part of her last set of concerts. The group was also accompanied by some incredible musicians. They had Nise Meruno on piano, Suchet Malhotra on percussion, Martina Ketterl on recorder, and Jimmy Thang and Hannes Farrenkopf on guitar. The concert was opened by One Republic’s ‘Counting Stars’. The energy that they diffused was infectious and transported us to a frisky discotheque in an instant. It literally gave me goose bumps! I could tell by the end of the show that the feeling was unanimous. Everyone wanted ‘Counting Stars’ to be the encore. Perhaps, the audience was secretly hoping for a re-run of the entire show!

The repertoire that the CCM presented that evening was supplemented by remarkable footnotes from different choir members, who shared their journey and experience with CCM so far. It sort of helped one grasp the love, rigour and the passion which the members have acquired in the process of the choral training and performativity. Carolin Remy’s personal favourite, ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Josh Groban was punctuated with soulful anticipation and an abiding spirit. ‘Maeri’ by Euphoria and ‘Jai Ho’ by A R Rahman painted a melancholic and a vibrant imagery simultaneously. Not to forget the Korean song Arirang and Roo-Ah arranged by Sharmila B Livingston, which brought out the sense of calmness, and in turn, kept the audience guessing what could be the mood of the concert as a whole. The younger lot of the choir included songs like ‘It’s my Life’ by John Bon Jovi, ‘Some Nights’ by Fun and ‘It’s Raining Men’ by the Weather Girls to keep the foot tapping steady. Then, there was ‘Africa’ by Toto ‘Joyful Joyful’ from the movie, the Sister Act 2 and ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ by Elvis Presley which took the audience to another plane altogether! ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’, which also happened to be the theme of CCM’s concert series for the season, tried to offer us a glimpse of the choir. It sought to capture the joy that various members from different cities, in some cases, countries and definitely, different age brackets, derived from this togetherness and music.

In an attempt to sum up my experience of CCM’s recent concert, I try to draw an inference from Caroline Bithell’s (2014) fascinating study of a Choral culture spanning across the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network and the spurt of open access community choirs in the UK. She brings to the fore, the tendency noticeable in the choir groups today, to embrace the songs of the other culture, often embedded in traditional sonic patterns. This, she explains, encourages one to break away from the conventional Western Music protocols and engage with toolkits available from another culture. It even makes a strong case for unintelligibility of the texts whereby the singers feel more liberated and let the sound of the words dictate the musical expression, in a way. The new quest for eclecticism prepares the ground for blurring various categories namely, local, global, classical, popular, familiar and exotic. With members hailing from different ethnicities, in case of the CCM, the variety in terms of the eras explored and the linguistic experimentations brought together in the genre of popular music for instance, partially subscribes to what Bithell refers to as the World Songs.