A Year with The Bangalore Men

As 2016 leaves us and 2017 has just begun, I realise that it is now one year since we had our first rehearsal with The Bangalore Men – and what a year it has been!

On 10th of January 2016, a group of nine eager singers, who had all sung with each other in one or the other constellation met in the library at The Bangalore School of Music for a first practice. On the schedule was renaissance music as well as some pieces from the early baroque, cornerstones in what was to be the first concert programme of the group  – A cappella through the Ages. The rehearsal (as I remember it now) went well, focus was on getting to know the music and also to getting to know each other and how we best could make our voices blend together. Singing in choir, especially in small ensembles, not only take a good voice and ability to read music, but also to understand how voices relate to each other, which voice is “most important” for specific parts of the music and of course also how to coach and feedback your fellow musicians in a supportive and non-competitive way.

A cappella through the Ages was a successful first programme, which we performed at St Andrew’s Church, Bangalore, and at Notre Dame des Anges in Pondicherry. Both churches with a good acoustics, where the natural voice easily resounds and gets amplified – so, no need for microphones, amplifiers etc etc! With sadness I see how many (all?) choirs these days tend to use microphones at performances. I can understand this is called for in acoustics which are not built for the natural voice singing (as so many unfortunately are in India) but when we do have access to churches, halls and art galleries etc with good acoustics – please stay far away from microphones! Not only will it sound much more rich and natural, it will also challenge the choir singers to use their support, and also the conductor to work with teaching proper vocal technique. Shouting “You are flat!” or “Sing sharper!” without being able to actually TELL the choir how to do so is never acceptable behaviour from a choir conductor!

The next project we initiated was one of very different character. For some time I had been fascinated with the choir pieces for male choir by the Austrian composer Franz Schubert, and on 12th of May, we took the first steps towards what was to be named Simply Schubert. The programme consisted of choir pieces, solo Lieder and piano solos. For the choir, the main challenge were perhaps not in the musical language, Schubert being fairly easy to learn with melodious harmonies and moderately challenging from a rhythmical perspective, but did we struggle with the German language! Many sounds in German are quite alien to English, so we spent a fair amount of time getting our u, ü, s, l, etc right. I always keep telling my guys that you can tell a great choir from a good choir the way they treat the texts and the language.

Simply Schubert, which we performed together with Pune-based soprano Payal John, and pianist extraordinaire Natallia Kapylova of Bangalore, was performed to rave reviews and full houses in Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad and Goa. It also gave us good opportunities to bond as a team, something you really do when spending 15 hours in a bus from Bangalore to Panjim on the eve before Diwali or when you have to change into concert wear in a rather cramped men’s room in an ancient palace. Never underestimate the importance of creating a social context for the choir singers, the choir is more than just a group of people singing together. Our Schubert programme will be repeated in Bangalore on February 11th, with mezzo-soprano Maria Forsström (Sweden) who is also our supportive and encouraging vocal coach, as well as with Natallia Kapylova at the piano.

Most recent in mind is the Christmas repertoire. When planning for Christmas, I wanted to try to replicate an event that happens in the cathedral of my home town, Gothenburg, Sweden, named Carols in the City, where choir sing, but where also the congregation and audience are invited to take part in certain songs and hymns.  Choosing repertoire for Christmas turned out to be a challenge! I wanted a programme that was traditional in nature, but also introducing some new pieces and at the same time offered some challenges to the choir. Christmas is the time for tradition, and certain songs you just HAVE to have in the programme. Looking back, I think we achieved a good mix and have a solid foundation for next year to build on. When singing Christmas songs, it is of course important they are treated with the same respect as a madrigal by Monteverdi or a cantata by Bach. Yes, simpler in nature, known by everyone, but that doesn’t mean we do a shabby job with them, musically. The Men did four Christmas concerts this year, all very different in nature. The benefit of this is to make the choir able to sing under various conditions, to make sure that even though noise and external factors may be disturbing, we are able to retain top focus and concentration and delivery high quality music.

With 2016 done, The Bangalore Men now look forward to 2017. On the agenda stands voice development, increased knowledge of music theory and of course concerts. In February The Bangalore School of Music celebrates its 30th anniversary, and we will repeat Simply Schubert as well as be the male voices in a performance of Vivaldi’s Gloria. Later in the year awaits participation in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Vienna University Choir and Orchestra and the Indian National Youth Orchestra, that too in Bangalore. After that the choir will start to work on the autumn concert season, which will offer a programme of English composers of various eras and styles.

The Bangalore Men wishes you all the best for 2017 and hope to see you at one of our concerts!