Child’s Play India Foundation will enter its tenth year of existence in 2019-2020, a milestone we wish to celebrate very much.
From its inception, the strengthening of cello pedagogy has been uppermost on our mind. This is a dire need not just for Child’s Play for just for Goa, but for the whole country.
If you were to think of those in your family or your neighbourhood or in your circle of friends and acquaintances who play or are learning to play a musical instrument, chances are very high that the instrument is guitar, violin, keyboard or piano. Cello students are numerically extremely scarce, not just in Goa, but elsewhere in India as well.
This has huge repercussions when it comes to music-making. The bulk of the chamber and ensemble repertoire (certainly string chamber music and orchestral music) in western classical music necessarily requires cello. The paucity of cello pedagogy on the ground makes it difficult to have string trio (violin, viola, cello) or quartet (two violins, viola, cello), piano trio (violin, cello, piano) or piano quartet (violin, viola, cello, piano) music repertoire to even be contemplated, let alone studiously approached and performed. This deprives the music student community and the wider public of a vast chunk of the classical music oeuvre.
In ensemble playing as well, across India, upper strings (violin, viola) vastly outnumber cello, which, besides the obvious imbalance in register and harmony, limits the choice of repertoire that can be performed. In addition, a strong cello (and double-bass) line forms the firm foundation for the rest of the orchestra. One can have the most wonderful upper-string sections, but if the bass-line is weak or suffers from poor intonation, the whole musical ‘edifice’ comes crumbling down.
Although Child’s Play has had a cello project since 2013, it struggled to take root due to a lack of continuity and of a really qualified cello teacher. But in the past few months, with the arrival of Danish cello pedagogue Gry Nørby, our cello project has really begun to flourish. We currently have twenty-four cello students, drawn from the ranks of our children at two of our locations, Hamara School St. Inez and Auxilium School Caranzalem, and also from the wider community and a plucky handful of adult learners as well, all of whom just happen to be women!
So, although our upcoming Christmas concert ‘Joy to the World’ on Saturday 8 December 2018 at Menezes Braganza hall 6 pm (donation passes available at Furtados Music stores and also at the door just before the concert) rings in the Christmas season, coming as it does in the very first week of Advent with a lot of Yuletide cheer, it is also a celebration of that magnificent sonorous instrument, the cello!
We will showcase the versatility of the cello, first as a member of the orchestra, with a robust cello section (aided by a double-bass, itself a relative rarity on our concert stage!). We will also have as many of the twenty-four cellos that can possibly be crammed onto the Menezes Braganza stage playing a Nordic traditional folk song. A smaller group will also play for us ‘The Happy Cello Player’ by Adam McKenzie.
Nørby will also highlight the cello as a solo instrument when she plays for us the Swan from French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ humorous musical suite and ballet ‘Le Carnaval des Animaux’ (The Carnival of the Animals). And when it comes to unaccompanied cello, what could be a better example than a movement from one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six cello suites, considered by many as the pinnacle and most spiritual of his oeuvre.
We will also get a taste of the cello in chamber music when Trio Frangipani (Luis Dias, violin; Rasmus Nørby, viola; and Gry Nørby, cello) perform Franz Schubert’s String Trio in B flat major, D. 471.
Schubert wrote three string trios between 1814 and 1817 (around the same years he was taking composition lessons from Antonio Salieri), all of them for some reason in B flat major. D. 471 was begun in September 1816, but he completed just the first movement. This is hardly surprising, if you take into account the fact that Schubert was such a prodigious, prolific composer, that he was working on so many compositions simultaneously, that even he found it hard to keep track. In 1816 alone, he composed over two hundred works (that we know of and have survived), including at least two masses, several smaller sacred works, over a hundred songs and lieder, his Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, one overture, two concert pieces for violin and orchestra, three string quartets (one of them lost), at least four works for piano and one or more instruments, four other works for strings, winds and brass instruments, several piano sonatas (some lost) and other piano works, and God alone knows how much more that was unfinished or lost — all while working full-time as a teacher in his father’s school. Whew!
This is a youthful work (he was just nineteen!), written for home rather than for public performance. It has some similarities with his Fifth Symphony, also in the same key, and from the same year. The young Schubert was heavily influenced by Mozart, and we see it here too, with the use of three-bar and five-bar phrases and circle-of-fifth progressions, but with an early Schubertian fingerprint, what in jazz would be termed a ‘tritone substitution’ in the final cadence, possibly inspired from popular music of his time.
The concert also features the Child’s Play chorus singing an array of Christmas carols and songs, some of them in English, Konkani, Portuguese and (why not?) Danish as well. So come along to an evening of Yuletide fun to get into the Christmas spirit!
(An edited version of this article was published on 02 December 2018 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)