Since the inception of Child’s Play India Foundation, there have been challenges we have had to face. But in equal measure, there have been so many spells of good fortune, serendipitous happenings; I would even term them as little miracles.
Our three young musicians–in-residence from Oberlin Conservatory Ohio USA are an embodiment of the most recent little miracle we are experiencing. When Camerata Child’s Play was invited to perform at the prestigious Monte Music Festival 2014, at that time it seemed that some of our advanced Goan musicians would not be in Goa to play the concert, and I wondered how to have a strong ensemble in their absence.
As if in answer to prayer, within weeks I got an email from these Oberlin musicians (Josie and Sophie Davis, violins; and Jaime Feldman, cello) in which they offered to volunteer with Child’s Play exactly in January- February 2014, in time for the Monte. They were able to get permission from their program head at Oberlin to extend their stay for just a few days to be able to play the concert. As if this wasn’t enough, I got another email from Lee Anderson, an extremely accomplished Canadian violist, who indicated he would be visiting Goa at this time of year, and would love to work with Child’s Play. So like a godsend, I had a fine string quartet in residence with me just in time! And our conductor Santiago Lusardi Girelli, and double-bassist Pedro Ortega from Spain. If this is not a miracle, I don’t know what is.
All of them rolled up their sleeves and got right down to work at once. The Oberlin girls have been teaching our children at Hamara School mornings and afternoons for several hours every weekday. During their sessions, they work with Syanna Fernandes, our violin teacher as well. And since they arrived just as our previous volunteer, a Suzuki violin instructor from England was leaving, it has been a seamless transition. The kids (the new batch of young children in particular) have had a fresh buzz of excitement and display a real keenness to learn new things and to practise what they have learnt. Daily practice is so important to musical development, and to see these children do this without prompting is really heartwarming.
In addition, our volunteers have been playing little concerts at the Hamara School premises. At one of these sessions, I joined Josie, Sophie, Jaime and Lee to play the first movement of a lovely composition by Mendelssohn, his String Quintet no. 2 in B flat major, Opus 87. This work has several Mendelssohnian fingerprints: the energetic sixteenth-note ‘carpet’ in the rest of the ensemble upon which the first violin presents the opening theme, and the various twists and turns and harmonic colours that call to mind his famous Octet. Before launching into the music, we introduced the instruments to the children who were seated in front of us, and in an interactive discussion, they were able to point out the differences between a violin, viola and cello, in terms of their size, range and quality of sound. A brief explanation about the music was sufficient to elicit such rapt attention and silent concentration from our children, listening in the true sense that would have been the envy of Wigmore or Carnegie Hall that morning. They sat cross-legged, open-mouthed, through the twelve or thirteen minutes of this movement. Then Vinod, one of the children wished to play his ‘Twinkle’ tune along with us, and the session ended with the whole batch of violin kids playing ‘Listen to my Busy-Busy Stop-Stop’ with us.
Our volunteers have worked really hard to rehearse and prepare the Camerata Child’s Play musicians for the challenging Monte programme, which includes excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and J.S. Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto. Each of the volunteers has been coaching their section (first and second violin, viola and cello) of the ensemble. This is the wonderful ‘fringe benefit’, if you like, of Child’s Play. Every musician that comes to work with us is able to contribute in their own way to the cultural life and the musical development of the wider community in Goa, not just our Child’s Play children.
On the first day of the Casa da Moeda festival, Josie, Sophie, Jaime and a few others (Pedro Ortega double bass, and Chernoll Mendonca and me, violin) played along with Caravan (featuring Vince Costa, vocals and cajón; and Siddharth Cota and Errol Andrade, guitars) for the final number of their fantastic concert; Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’ The musicians had only just met each other, but in the true universality of the music ‘language’, something wonderful happened that evening.
The Oberlin girls performed at the second day of the Casa da Moeda festival as well. They played a lovely trio (two violins and cello) by Alexander Borodin, and I joined them for the much-loved Mozart Divertimento in D major (KV 136). Making chamber music with these incredibly gifted musicians has been such a joy and privilege.
The Borodin work also featured at the most recent ‘mini-concert’ session at Hamara School. It is based on a Russian folk song ‘Chem tebya ya ogorchila’ (‘What have I done to upset you’). At the end, when asked how the music made them feel, one of our kids answered “Emotional!” He took the words right out of my mouth. As the time for our volunteers to depart draws near, this is exactly how I feel, with a heart full of awe and gratitude for the time, effort, and love put into our project by these wonderful human beings.
(An edited version of this article was published on 9 February 2014 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)