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Madras Guild of Performing Arts’ debut concert in Chennai will feature festive music

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Conductor Atul Jacob Isaac with members of the MGPA choir
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Little Mount in Chennai is a leafy neighbourhood on the banks of the Adyar, with quiet alleys, half-timbered houses and a 15th Century Portuguese-built church. It was here 50 years ago that 19-year-old Alfred D’Souza founded a choral group to raise funds for those affected by floods. Some things have remained constant – the Adyar threatening to breach the banks during the monsoon and the need for fundraiser concerts, while others have changed – the group became the Madras Guild of Performing Arts (MGPA), and D’Souza moved to Mumbai to establish the Stop Gaps Choral Ensemble (SGCE) and Cultural Academy. SGCE provides a platform for budding musicians and choirs to perform at the National Centre for the Performing Arts’ Tata Theatre every December.

On December 17, the MGPA’s adult choir and its junior choir #Shortz, the Women’s Christian College choir and SGCE will perform an evening of festive music.

The music of the Christmas season has always said more than we can hear, stated more than it has suggested. It is this spirit of the season – beyond the carols, mulled wine and ho-ho-hos — that the MGPA’s debut concert in the city of its birth after five decades of its existence, hopes to bring to its audience.

Atul Jacob Isaac with the children of #Shortz, the junior choir of MGPA

Atul Jacob Isaac with the children of #Shortz, the junior choir of MGPA
| Photo Credit:
Special arrangement

“At the MGPA, we aim to produce performances that enhance the physical experience. For this concert, we didn’t want to just stop with carols or Christian music. We want to embrace the spirit of festivity from across genres, ages and languages,” says Atul Jacob Isaac, the 26-year-old music director of the MGPA and middle-school choral conductor at the American International School, Chennai.

The MGPA that registered as a society earlier this year draws from a rich tradition of choral music. With members from the ages of four to 80 and comprising students, home-makers, entrepreneurs, bankers and Customs officials, it performs choral music unfettered by traditional paradigms. “We are determined to push the envelope in terms of orchestral and instrumental music, and genres like Broadway, opera, theatre, jazz, and blues while remaining true to our roots,” adds Atul, who plays the piano and pipe organ and the odd woodwind instrument.

Atul, who first learnt the piano at age five under Alice Manuel, wife of the Padma Shri recipient Handel Manuel, says, “Mrs Manuel believed that while music exams certify your ability and are important, what is more important is the ability to play beyond the three exam pieces you are familiar with. Similarly, when we choose our choir, we want people who can not only read music to some extent but bring to the choir a passion and interest to practise on their own.”  

Besides being among the youngest choral conductors, Atul’s more recent accomplishments include a concert tour in Europe across Amsterdam, Vienna, and Paris, and credits in Conducting from the Juilliard School in New York.

The focus of the MGPA remains fundraising. “We aim at two projects annually — a fundraiser for church activity and another for those from disadvantaged sections,” says Atul.

The concert will feature Swahili, Brazilian and African-American songs by the Stop Gaps, most of them arranged by D’Souza, while the MGPA choirs will sing episodes from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, festive music in jazz and other season favourites.

Sounds of the Season will be held on December 17, 7.15pm at the Women’s Christian College, Nungambakkam. Entry is free.



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