Settled on the floor of the Soul Sounds Academy (SSA) in Thimbirigasyaya, three dozen children are getting a pep talk on discipline, teamwork and competition. In a few days, the 33-strong group will leave for South Africa to represent Sri Lanka at the World Choir Games (WCG). And training has entered its last gruelling week.
“It’s not just about singing,” SSA Directress Soundarie David Rodrigo tells them. “You have to work together as a group; to help each other and look out for each other. You must be disciplined. You can have fun but don’t lose focus on the competition. Whether it is winning a gold or showing you are from this tiny little country called Sri Lanka, do your best.”
Pep talk before departure
WCG is the largest choral event in the world. It is organised by the Interkultur Foundation on the principle: “Singing together brings nations together.” The 10th edition takes place from July 4 to 14 at Tshwane in South Africa
When it comes to our rhythms and beats, I don’t think any other music has emphasis on drum beats as much as Sri Lankan music does. Our choice of music in the other category is also very good with very intricate harmonies
WCG is the largest choral event in the world. It is organised by the Interkultur Foundation on the principle: “Singing together brings nations together.” The 10th edition takes place from July 4 to 14 at Tshwane in South Africa. There will be two choirs from Sri Lanka. One is the Royal College Choir, conducted by Sureka Amerasinghe, which will compete in the mixed youth choirs, pop and folklore categories.
And the other is the SSA Children’s Choir, conducted by Dinushka Jayawickreme and Amandhi Caldera. They will compete in the children’s choir and scenic folklore categories. After several months of intense practices, the kids -- aged between eight and 15 -- are revving to go. “What unites them is their passion for music and love for singing,” reflected Soundarie.
Accompanying them to South Africa will be Dinushka and Amandhi, renowned pianist Ramya De Livera, traditional drummer Ravibandu Vidyapathi and artistic director Jerome de Silva who had travelled with the Soul Sounds Choir on all international tours.
The focus of WCG, the organisers say, is on participation above winning. But the SSA team is setting its sights high. Some of the competition judges this year were in Sri Lanka for the Asia Pacific Choir Games in 2017 and are aware that the country has immense talent. The SSA singers -- having worked with the respected Ravibandu and drawn from his knowledge of traditional music and dancing -- are particularly optimistic about their skills in the folklore category.
“When it comes to our rhythms and beats, I don’t think any other music has emphasis on drum beats as much as Sri Lankan music does,” said Amandhi. “Our choice of music in the other category is also very good with very intricate harmonies.”
While they have previously competed as singers in competitions abroad, this is Amandhi’s and Dinushka’s first experience as conductors on tour. “It is a different experience, one of transferring our experience and knowledge to the next generation of singers,” said Dinushka.
The kids will also have to acclimatise quickly and focus on the competition. “It is a completely new country and setting and they will be dealing with things like jetlag,” she explained. “And it is very personal, not like an instrument. Voices can get affected by external factors. That will be the biggest challenge.”
Royal College Choir, conducted by Sureka Amerasinghe,will compete in the mixed youth choirs, pop and folklore categories. While the SSA Children’s Choir, conducted by Dinushka Jayawickreme and Amandhi Caldera, will compete in the children’s choir and scenic folklore categories
But there is no substitute for the musical experience and exposure the singers will get at the WCG. “We live in a bubble here,” Dinushka said. “Granted, it has developed a lot since the first time we toured abroad and realised we could do things like that with our voices. We learned so much from international choirs and that learning experience was what we cherished the most. I hope these kids will also benefit from it because they are getting it at such a young age.”
The SSA Children’s Choir will also perform in a friendship concert with other choirs in public venues in and around the city of Tshwane. These free public concerts provide opportunities to choirs to showcase their musical traditions and costumes of their native land.