Christine Sequeira Colaco had the ability to spot talent in 'bathroom' singers and turn them into choral singers. Her musical journey began with an attraction to my brother Joe, who in his college days fancied himself a local Jim Reeves or Elvis Presley, down to the carefully groomed 'puff.'
Christine went on to marry Joe whom she turned into a talented baritone in the choir, acclaimed for his rendering of 'Panis Angelicus' and 'The Impossible Dream,' but at ‘hair letting down parties,’ Joe was also hailed for his Elvis like act, singing 'Lovin' Teddy Bear.’
A bunch of us bathroom singers found our way into the Holy Ghost Parish Youth Choir during the seventies and Christine herself, who from her schooldays, obviously realizing her own latent talent to direct a choir, slowly acquired an interest in developing this role. In 1976, she, Joe and a chorus of us, slightly groomed by now, performed our first choir backed Christmas drama, 'The Spirit of Christmas,' at the Ravindra Kalakshetra.
From this was born The Bangalore Amateur Chorale, with Christine as Director and Joe its Manager. And with the accolades won at this debut, it was only natural that we moved slowly on to more serious choral music. We aimed at an annual performance. In due course and with due recognition as a renowned choir in Bangalore, the name was changed to Bangalore Academy Chorale (BACH).
Christine had to work really hard with our thirty-strong group, as most of us were musical illiterates, and hadn’t a clue about blending our voices into four and more part harmony, without proclaiming our individuality by standing out loudly. We had also to work towards discarding scores and words a fortnight before a performance. No using them on show night. Practice sessions were serious stuff and Christine was a disciplinarian to the core. Joe ensured that punctuality standards were met.
After our regular day jobs, it was not easy to stand and sing for an hour and a half, while ensuring that tired brains assimilated all that was being taught to us. But we all knew we were there because we loved music, and could see ourselves growing and learning under Christine’s baton and teaching, acquiring a finer understanding and appreciation of choral music in particular.
We knew that she came in tired after a day’s work as well, and created BACH for the sheer love and challenge of it, and for free to us all. She had to carry on at home too, making handwritten copies of scores, as photocopying was unheard of then. She also had to transpose music and re-write arrangements to suit our varied range of voices and adapt some of the songs into a choral repertoire. Funds collected at concerts after expenses, (there were no sponsors those days), was put aside for our annual party and gifts to the Home for the Aged on Hennur Road, where we spent Christmas evening every year. This outreach continues even now, with whoever of BACH families and friends is able to join in.
Getting back to practices however, I remember a fellow music-trained alto, pointing out once, that one of us was singing a demisemiquaver flat.
What on earth is she referring to I thought, I can’t even pronounce the word.
Yet, this was the perfection in pitch that was demanded of us. And rightly so.
With 'a capella' pieces this precision was even more important, and these are not easy to sing. Pronunciation and clarity of every word sungwas another aspect to be regarded as sacrosanct. Christine would often have us in splits of laughter when she imitated the way we were singing – half heartedly slurring or whining, either dragging a song or meaninglessly racing through it. And of the way we stood and our facial expressions - these were other matters for comment and correction.
“Listen to the words” she’d say, “and your face and body will automatically convey their meaning to the audience, enhanced by your singing”. The instruction was really was so apt. In between we’d have fun among ourselves too, up on the stands, with teasing and romancing flourishing while maintaining mostly straight faces; but when giggles broke out, we knew we’d ‘get it.’
It was great fun despite the hard work and commitment, but at times we’d feel like Eliza Doolittle, fed up with Professor Higgins, and vice versa I’m sure.
As concert time drew near however, after three months of gruelling practice, the excitement would begin to build up. Tickets and brochures and publicity designing and execution was fortunately Peter Colaco’s forte, and he being a choir member too, was into assisting with the choice and arrangement of the programme from day one. Joe was an expert at organization and management, with helping hands from family and friends of choir members. It was never a problem to sell tickets as BACH had acquired its fame in Bangalore, with its excellence and range of repertoire, from the Beatles and Broadway to Spirituals, the Sacred and the Classics. Bach and Beethoven, Handel and Mozart, yes, even Dvorak were all included.
Prasad Bidapa, just breaking out into the fashion scene then, along with his wife Judith, would willingly help out to enhance our appearances, by designing our costumes, stage movements and place standees for the big day.
In the green room, nerves and last minute glitches would always surface, but none of these would show as we walked on to the stage, heads held high as we arranged ourselves – silently (hopefully) as we were taught to.
The big moment was when Christine joined us and received a thunderous applause from an enthusiastic and anticipating audience. And then, pindrop silence as lights went off and as we started the opening song. During ‘in between’ breaks we’d fortify ourselves, especially the soloists, with little shots of brandy for courage. When the performance ended with shouts for encores amidst the clapping, we were a thrilled lot.
Christine would be proud and beaming as she made her ‘bows’ in acknowledgement. And thus the years passed and BACH concerts were a part of the Bangalore culture scene, eagerly looked forward to by the city’s music lovers.
One day alas, Joe was diagnosed with kidney failure and had to have a transplant surgery in Chennai. A dejected lot though we were, we decided we were ‘Gonna Rise Up Singing’ and have a concert with this title, to show our support to Joe and Christine. This was also to be a fund raising effort towards cost of his surgery. Under the able baton of Vera Sequeira, a senior member of BACH, and Peter Colaco’s overall management, the concert was a success. Cards inscribed with these words, were passed around the audience to write their good wishes to Joe and Chris, and a basketful of these along with a cheque for Rupees One Lakh was sent to them.
In appreciation of this generous gesture from their supporters and well-wishers, the following year Christine and Joe were back at the helm, and BACH performed a concert titled ‘Thank You For The Music.’ This was our last performance unfortunately, as Joe’s health declined and he sadly passed away in 2003.
Since then, Christine has not felt it in her to revive BACH, but what she taught us has borne so much fruit. Many of her ‘singers,’ including from her Children’s Chorale which followed later, are now directing choirs themselves or have blossomed into reputed soloists and choral members.
Christine, this bunch of us ‘bathroom’ singers to whom you brought a new understanding and meaning to music, salute you in chorus with our good wishes and gratitude as we sing from around the globe – thank you for the music.