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From the hills, with a song on their lips
- CHILDREN’S CITY CHOIR READY FOR CONCERT

One, two, three. One two… Zane Raberts breaks into Phil Collins' Can’t Stop Loving You with rare gusto as the guitar and keyboard lick around the steady drone of the bass drum. The choir picks up the thread and joins in full-throated unison. Fadeout and a brief interlude later, Stephanie Miller wades into Atomic Kitten's The Tide is High, adroitly moving on to the groovy Tera Mera Pyar by Bombay Vikings next up.

The third edition of The Children’s City in Concert is only four days away (on the CC&FC lawns, December 6, 6.30 pm), and choir members of Dr Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong, are brushing up their act inside the huge hall of the Birkmyre Hostel ahead of the big evening. “Last year, they played to a sell-out audience of 3,500 at the same venue, but the butterflies still refuse to settle. After all, many of them come from very difficult backgrounds and are not used to the bustle of metro life,” observes choirmaster Shane Saviel.

To calm their nerves and help the kids click swiftly into gear, Saviel and arranger K. Upasak have programmed the two-hour show to kick off with Circle of Life from Lion King, which has become “kind of our signature tune”. Once warmed up, the 63-member ensemble — including 12 alumni — will belt out a magic mélange, ranging from Sukiyaki by 4PM to Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Pharaoh's Dream.

These concerts have opened up a whole new vista for these gifted kids from the hills. "Earlier, they would only play before sparse local churches back in Kalimpong, till we realised they were too talented to sing without support. Thus, the choir was born and the initiative to get them down to Calcutta was started. Now, they are proud to perform for the school as the show raises invaluable funds, and go back with a lot of self-belief," says Michael Robertson, president and chairman of the board of management, Dr Graham’s Homes.

Saviel feels the likes of Zane, Stephanie, Mark Barker and Ralph Wanniang — all frontline singers in the Children's City choir — “are naturals and don’t need too much coaching”. The rostrum, which throws up such natural ability in abundance, is the singing competition featuring the various cottages back at the Homes. There’s “fierce rivalry” as the boys from Assam, Calcutta, Scottish, Canadian, Heathland and Fraser and the girls from Woodburn, Thorburn, McGregor, Bene and Mansfield pit their crooning competence against one another to determine the best singing cottage.

“Zane, for instance, wants to pursue music as a career and he has it in him to make it big. Then, there are others like Lindsay Cantopher and Tsheten Y. Lama, a Kalimpong girl with quicksilver fingers on the fretboard. Many of them have amazing range and can sing anything, from pop to classical. The beauty of their singing is that they have never had any formal training. I just pick up a song I feel would suit them and Upasak arranges the music. The children simply pick up the reins from there on and give it shape,” explains Saviel, whose daughter Nicole is the choir’s youngest member at eight.

Robertson believes the city concerts — “supported by corporate houses and well-wishers” — have given the children a new identity and the courage to experiment with their repertoire. “While last year, they did six shows in Delhi coordinated by a benefactor, invitations have come for concerts in Sikkim and Bhutan too,” he proudly announces.

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