NalandaWay children's choir performed in Washington

By Bhavani Prabhakar Published on Jul 23, 2018 01:37 PM IST

Chennai: The kids in the room burst out laughing when one among them said he was kissed by his newfound friend back in Washington. He shies away and blushes momentarily, but comes back centrestage and continues to narrate tales from his first-ever trip to the United States.

‘I made lot of friends who hail from different countries, and the best part was that they enjoyed our company and were emotional when we departed,' he adds.

Never in their wildest dreams did the kids imagine crossing Chennai’ borders and couldn't contain themselves from sharing their experiences. The 23 children flew all the way to the US to satisfy their dream of singing to a global audience.

The children who are associated with the Chennai Children Choir (CCC), an initiative of NalandaWay Foundation, had represented the country at the Serenade! Choral Festival. The 2018 edition of the music festival was organised by Classical Movements at Washington DC between 25 June and 2 July this year that showcased 70-plus choirs from some 30 countries across six continents.

Talking about their flight journey, Nithyashree, another singer, narrates, "For the very first time in my life, I saw an aircraft directly and was excited to cross the oceans. What seemed to be hours was just a few minutes as we were traversing different time zones. Since we were bored, and were teaching Tamil to the air hostess and roaming hither and thither, befriending strangers and calling each other with the in-flight intercoms. It was fun throughout."

However, going beyond satisfying the simple pleasures, the trip did teach them to live independently and it also provided an opportunity to understand each other.

While it was too young for their age, Rakshitha says, "For the very first time I was away from home and parents. Though I was homesick initially, being with my friends made me forget my parents. I enjoyed being with my choral family throughout. This festival got everyone of us together and I realised how much effort Sriram sir, the founder, had taken to give this once-in-a-lifetime experience."

It has been just a few weeks since the kids flew back to India and their joy knew no bounds.

The Children's Club in Mylapore, where the choir regularly practice, did not wear the usual look but was rather noisy with the children sharing their memories of the fun they had back in the US.

This year, the festival was held to celebrate the centennial anniversary of President Nelson Mandela and his values of truth, reconciliation, justice and equality. In line with the theme, the children of CCC wrote and composed a song on their own that happened to be the unique performance of the crew.

Manjula Ponnapalli, trainer of the choir, says, "We have been training them for six months on Sundays. Since one day per week was not enough, the practice was rigorous in May."

While it was a great deal to take all the 23 children to the US, the organisers did not feel the pinch even a bit during their hardest times.

"It gave us a great sense of pride in taking these children and making them sing Indian songs. And it so happened that we did not face any hardships when it came to parents permitting their children although their only concern was about the kids being disciplined and independent without causing any trouble to us," added Manjula.

The children, all hailing from disadvantaged background, were handpicked after conducting auditions across the city and are trained to sing a wide range of songs in Tamil, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Bengali and Urdu.

"The students absolutely don't have any problem in singing any language songs. They would just need 30 minutes to learn a song. The only problem or rather challenge that we face is we constantly need to inspire them, they are so enthused," says Vedanth Bharadwaj, choir trainer.

In addition, there were also workshops and other sessions that were part of the festival.  "The workshops provided great insights about music in other parts of the world and our children even learned a few foreign songs," adds Vedanth with a smile about their singing at the John F. Kennedy Center.

Muthu says, "When I said I wanted to learn music, my parents objected to it as it wouldn't fetch money like other professions. Now that I've performed amid 3,000-odd people, it has made my parents proud and they are willing to let me pursue even PhD in music."

Though the kids have risen to fame, it was not an easy affair. Nalandaway founder, Sriram Ayer, had registered way back in August 2017 and spent three months in crowd sourcing the funds and getting the children's passports ready.

NalandaWay Foundation was founded by Sriram Ayer and uses visual and performing arts to help underprivileged children. The objective is to help kids achieve through arts. Chennai Children’s Choir is a cherished initiative of NalandaWay. It has helped children from disadvantaged homes in Chennai form a world-class choir. Sixty kids are part of this choir. Six are visually challenged and two are special needs children.