The Capital City Minstrels UK Tour – With Love, From India (June 1-15, 2018)

We were performing the last song for the evening to a packed hall at St. Mary’s Church in Haddington (Scotland). The emotion had built through the concert, and peaked with this particular song. Some swayed gently in their seats, a couple brushed stray tears away, and many had locked arms in a criss-cross fashion and were singing the last few bars with us. It is a moving song, for us and them, and singing it here in Scotland was particularly special.

Rabindranath Tagore was a great admirer of Robert Burns’ poetry and when he visited the UK, he was particularly taken by one of Burns’ creations. The spirit and tune of the song appealed to him and he wrote a Bengali adaptation of it. Burns’ version is recognised around the world as a New Year’s anthem – Auld Lang Syne. Tagore’s adaption is well known among the Bengali community, Purano Shei Diner Kotha. We sang an arrangement of the song by a former CCM conductor (Alex Heetland), which blended both sets of lyrics. It was greatly appreciated not just in Haddington, but across our two week tour where we performed six concerts in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

Our repertoire was themed, “With love, from India” and included music by Indian composers, as well as music inspired by India. The choir in brightly coloured saris and kurta pyjamas, singing in various languages from across India and the world, kept the audience surprised and engaged. One minute we were singing Bohemiam Rhapsody by Queen, while the next we launched into a South African spiritual with a Garo Christian influence, and then transitioned to an A.R. Rahman composition. Many in the audience had never have heard any sort of Indian music and some had never even been for a choir concert and did not know what to expect. But after each concert, the appreciation and kind words by people who came up to our conductor and the singers, was testament to music really having no boundaries and having the ability to move people, regardless of language or style.

As on most of these sorts of trips where one collaborates with local groups, the people-to-people connections are some of the most memorable parts of the journey. In Scotland, we had the great privilege of being hosted by and performing with The Siancio Singers from Haddington. Their conductor, Fiona Hedger-Gourlay, lived in India for a few years, singing with and later conducting CCM before she returned to Scotland. She formed The Siancio Singers a couple of years ago and this wonderful group invited us to Scotland to perform jointly with them. We stayed in their homes, shared much laughter, food and drink with them, got shown around the area and of course, made some wonderful music together. We jointly performed two concerts with them, at St. Mary’s Parish Church in Haddington, and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh. The Siancio Singers really pulled out all the stops to ensure we had the best time. They were wonderful hosts who arranged a fantastic itinerary, like a raucous Ceilidh, where we got to experience a Burns Supper, replete with bag piping, haggis, and a warm welcome by the Provost of East Lothian, John McMillan. We visited iconic attractions in the area like the National Museum of Flight, where we all sang “Can’t Help Falling in Love” under the Concorde, and the Scottish Sea Bird Centre with bobbing puffins and a sky filled with Atlantic Gannets. We were given a special tour of the very modern Scottish Parliament by the East Lothian Member of Scottish Parliament, Iain Gray, and we even got to participate in the local Haddington Festival Parade, singing some of our repertoire, walking around the town with other performers like a Samba band, bagpipers and people just dressed for fun in all sorts of costumes. It was hard to say goodbye to the wonderful friends we made there, and we are already planning a reciprocal visit for the Siancio’s to come to Delhi and perform in a couple of years.

We travelled to Northern Ireland on the magnificent Stena Line Ferry from the Scottish port of Cairnryan to Belfast. The few hours just flew by in a blur of gorgeous sunshine and translucent jellyfish floating by; and relaxing in the spacious lounge with a drink. A few of us indulged in spa treatments after our hectic first part of the trip! In Belfast, Toccata – a group of professional musicians – helped arranged our performances and took us around the area. When we weren’t in rehearsal or in concert, we spent our time sightseeing, enjoying the Titanic Experience, St. George’s Market, and some great local bands and nightlife around the area. One of the days we visited the Giant’s Causeway, taking the scenic coastal drive from Belfast along some of the most spectacular coastline we had ever seen.  Our concerts in Northern Ireland included a special show for Action Mental Health UK, and a concert at the lovely town of Carrickfergus, where we jointly performed Abide with me with some of the singers from Toccata. Our last evening in Belfast was spent with the wonderful people from Toccata, singing and sharing much laughter.

We went on for our final leg of the tour to London. The good weather kept up with us, perfect for taking in the sights and sounds of the city. Several of us spent a fabulous evening at the West End, watching the hugely popular Book of Mormon. The first of our concerts in London was at the High Commission of India’s Nehru Centre, where we had the privilege of performing for His Excellency, The Indian High Commissioner, Yash Sinha, and his wife, Girija Sinha. Our final show was at the Tara Arts Theatre in Wandsworth, an intimate and unique space with wonderful acoustics. This was a really special show with several ex-members and two of our prior conductors travelling in for the concert. In fact, throughout our tour, several friends of CCM attended our shows, showing how the CCM family stretches around the world and even members who have been with us for only a short while, are always a part of us! Having several familiar faces in the audience was a really wonderful way to end our tour.

Two weeks, three destinations and six concerts later, we were knackered to say the least and ready to get back home. This trip was also our last two weeks with our previous conductor, Lindsay Ross Boyd, who was moving on to Mumbai after the tour. It was a great way to end a wonderful year under her baton.

Much like the spirit of Purano Shei Diner Kotha, the memories and friendships we made during our time here will be something we treasure and remember for days to come.