It is quite marvellous that at the first hint of winter in Calcutta, 84 students of St Paulís School in Darjeeling, the schoolís administrator, Reverend Joy Halder, the choir-master, Sudeep Pande, and teachers should visit the city to entertain and delight audiences here with an outpouring of song, as they did on the evening of November 9 at St Paulís Cathedral. The programme, if not scintillating, was still interesting and carefully prepared.
Taking their places with sedate and military precision, the students commenced with Speak Lord in the Stillness. Quite often the difference in altitude and the distinct change in climate can cause problems with tonality and pitch; this was very slightly noticeable from time to time. There were some remarkable arrangements, as in the second item, Drink to Me Only, harmonized with Ye Banks and Braes; and later the sombre I Believe by Sir Arthur Sulliven, surprisingly, if not hugely successfully, juxtaposed with Charles Gounodís famous Ave Maria, with the Bach prelude significantly missing. Take heed boys!
Andrew Lloyd Webberís Music of the Night, sung by Urgen T. Sherpa, displayed a fine vocal range and excellent phrasing and intonation while the guitar boomed too loudly and overpowered the weakly wailing violin, for which one might question the poor acoustics of the church and inexpertly handled amplification or the wisdom of add-ons to the piano accompaniment.
Brahmís beautiful Lullaby, to which we have all been lulled to sleep as infants, was a great wake up call, sung by the surprising sopranos of the younger segment from the main choir. Their control, intonation and timing were admirable, considering their youth. One cannot but mention the sensitive rendition of the old favourite, My Funny Valentine, by Khenrap Tenzing. Dangerous footing though, in the Ave Maria by Franz Schubert, sung by the Senior Consorts. The long sustained notes came perilously close to losing intonation, due, perhaps, to inexperienced breathing; but they nailed it. A tip to the tenors who must learn to Ďbendí into the high notes with more flexibility: a rigid neck may well result in frigid tones.
Much admired was the excellent regimental discipline of the well choreographed entries, exits and reshuffles of 84 impeccably uniformed school boys ranging in age from around eight to 16 years. The evening reached its highest point with a sprightly and musical a capella rendition of Ding Dong Merrily on High. Crisp and Christmassy, it was soon followed by the beautiful and traditional God So Loved the World.