Capital City Minstrels
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A brief history
Amin Ali, Nov 30, 2019: The Times of India
When Sharmila Livingston returned to Delhi after securing a performance degree in music from Chicago, her search for relevant projects in the city was surprisingly short. The moment she heard about Capital City Minstrels (CCM), Livingston knew that she didn’t have to look elsewhere for a choir. She joined as a chorus singer, went on to perform solo and, then, became a conductor for the group with which she has since been associated for 22 years.
CCM, which had a humble beginning with a handful of passionate music lovers, is celebrating its silver journey this year: present and past members and conductors of the choir are congregating in the city to perform on Saturday and Sunday at Kamani Auditorium. Gita Bhatia, who has been with the group through its 25-year journey, recalls being approached to be an alto — a singer with the second highest vocal range in the group — for a Christmas concert. “We would prastice together at a house in Saket and perform twice a year. The joy of singing kept us together,” she says. Bhatia is now past 80, but the pleasure of being in an ensemble where everyone is on a first-name basis has kept her glued.
For CCM itself, it’s been a memorable run. Among the most prominent choirs in the city, members — from India and abroad — have come and left. It has had 12 conductors so far, including expats from Russia, Germany, the UK, the US and South Korea. From students, journalists, doctors, businessmen and professionals across age groups to diplomats on Delhi posting, the choir has always been a diverse mix. It currently has 70 members. The music, too, has evolved: CCM started off with Western classical sacred music, but its performances are now peppered with not only jazz, pop and rock influences but also popular Indian hits and folk songs in different regional languages.
Livingston describes her 22 years with the group as “unique and interesting”, as, according to her, unlike any other music project, CCM is a collective effort where people create music together. “We are a secular choir, which is not restricted to any style of music. The focus is always on the group and not on a particular individual. Even if you have immense talent, the group takes precedence,” asserts Livingston, who is also the conductor for this year’s special performance.
For any art to thrive, patronage is vital. Livingston says people enjoy art and music, but most don’t want to pay for it. Initially, it was up to the members to sustain the choir. From sponsored concerts with small groups to ticketed performances, the journey has been anything but smooth. “Community singing is healthy for the society. The group has survived through the patronage of people willing to contribute,” she says.
For the relatively newer members, CCM is their escape from the mundane. Businessman Vikas Chhabra, who came to watch his eightyear-old son perform, was asked if he would like to join in. For Chhabra, terms like soprano, alto, tenor and base were all Greek. He, however, decided to take the plunge and six years on, he is a regular at the group’s performances and weekly practice sessions. For advertising professional Jiya Minocha, the choir helps her de-stress from her Delhi-Gurgaon commute. “Half of us can’t read the notes, but we all perform as a group out of love for music,” she says.