A project that started with me trying to get an amateur college choir a chance to perform with an orchestra turned into a life changing experience. In 2010, while still in college, I set up the Xavier College Chorus to provide a platform for amateur singers. My mission of getting them the experience of singing with an orchestra was impossible without funds. During the same year, I was hooked onto an orchestral album gifted to me by a friend who had just returned from his internship with the German Jesuits. One day, I noticed the cover was, in fact, part of a booklet. The picture of a young Indian girl playing the violin caught my eye and forced me to translate the German description. Internet searches and an email to the German Jesuits led me to the Director of Gandhi Ashram School, Kalimpong. The rest is history.
Gandhi Ashram School is a Jesuit mission school with a musical twist. It offers non-formal education, free of cost, admitting only the poorest of the poor from the villages surrounding Kalimpong Town. Music is at the centre of its activities; they provide instruction in western music instruments. The string orchestra of the school has played not only locally, but also nationally and internationally. It was founded in 1993 by Fr. Edward McGuire, a Canadian Jesuit priest, and has now become integral to the identity of Kalimpong.
Bringing together my passion for music, social concern and culture, I set up the Strings Concert Tour Project with a few friends. It was quick – four months to go for the first concert. The aim was to raise funds for the school that was operating in unsafe buildings in a landslide prone area. The cause attracted overwhelming support from the music community in Mumbai and many individuals who offered their talent as Mentor – Fr. Lawrie Ferrao, Creative Director – Etienne Coutinho, Coordinators – Joel Rodrigues, Bernadette Mascarenhas and Venance Roche and many others who volunteered their time, effort and money to organise a 15-day tour for the 30 member orchestra in Mumbai. Schools and Colleges welcomed the orchestra to inspire their students with their story. Short performances were held in churches. Families offered homestays and caterers offered lavish meals. It was magical how the dream unfolded.
The Main Concert brought together the Xavier College Chorus of St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, the Gandhi Ashram School Orchestra, Kalimpong, classical singers like Natasha Collaco, Zarin Ghadialy-Hodivala, Kersi Gazdar and flautist Shirish Malhotra from Mumbai as well as world-renowned conductor, Maestro Luis Szaran from Paraguay and his concert master, Gustavo Barrientos to present Baroque Music from South America to a houseful concert hall in Mumbai. Mumbai was mesmerized by the sound of the Himalayan orchestra.
Strings Concert 2014 was organized in Kalimpong with the exceptional Autorickshaw Trio from Canada. Strings Concert 2015 evolved into a powerful collaboration between the best string players from Gandhi Ashram School and those from the Darjeeling district and the state of Sikkim. The focus of the project is now on building a Music Scholarship Fund for the most deserving musicians from the school to complete their music grade exams and lead the way for quality music education in the country.
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