06 February 2013

Miyesi Lama Tharaka a ‘different reality’ show

Two years ago, at a small house off a small lane in a relatively small town called Battaramulla three young people launched an exercise to hone musical talent and related sensitivities of little children.  Nelu Adhikari, Kapila Poogalaarachchi and Lionel Bandara were in university together.  All three are accomplished musicians.  All three shared concern over a general decline in taste and thought that instead of whining they would expose little children to the many wonders of good music, whatever the tradition.   They called their little school ‘Nelu-Kapila Miyesi Arana’ (Musical Home of Nelu and Kapila).
They organized a small ceremony to mark the event.  They invited their teachers, among them Nanda Malini and Rohana Weerasinghe, both icons in the field of music and both senior citizens revered by music lovers. 

On that occasion, Nanda Malini offered some comments: ‘I know both Nelu and Kapila. They are both wonderful people.  They are highly respectful of their teacher, seniors who came before them. 
They respectfully and despite all their accomplishment ask with utmost humility for blessings and guidance.  They listen.  At this moment I want to wish them well and I shall do it this way…’ 
Then she sang one of her all time favorites, Buddhanu Bhavena.  Those who were there, the adults, i.e. parents and well wishers, would have been taken back to their own childhood. 

Two years later, at Stein Studio, Ratmalana, all the children who came under the wings of these three exceptional teachers, put together a concert.  Following an introductory seeking of blessings from the Goddess Saraswathi and a fusion instrumental, a documentary about the school was played on the backdrop of the stage.  Footage from the ‘opening ceremony’ referred to above had been included in this presentation.  Nanda Malini, who was unable to attend, was very much present(ed) by the rendering.  It was as though Buddhanu Bhavena was the signature theme of the entire exercise of teaching and learning.  Bandula Nanayakkarawasam, friend to Nelu, Kapila and Lionel, a companion on this long journey undertaken by them, compering at the event, quoted from Goethe: ‘Teaching is about forming taste and not communicating knowledge’. 
What unfolded thereafter was a carnival of good taste in music.  It was a fusion not just of musical traditions but generations.  There were doting grandparents excitedly watching their grandchildren perform, children were excited about being on stage but dropped stage fright and inhibition the moment the first note of the particular item was played, and anxious parents who had diligently accompanied child to class and had been briefed and re-briefed by the teachers about costume and rehearsal relaxed as the teacher-student combine unleashed the full harvest of hard work and love. 

The arrangement of songs was well thought out.  The program proper began with the theme song Ira Handa Tharu Obamai (you are the sun, moon and stars, no one else).  The singers ranged from 4-5 year old kids to children in their late teens.  The entire orchestra was made of children.  They may have slipped here and there, but I wouldn’t be able to tell.  To me, it was all perfect. 
This was followed by the well known Edward Jayakody number, akuru maekee nae (the letters have not got erased) which is a nostalgic reference to childhood and in particular the first grade experience.  What was special was that Edward Jayakody himself came on stage to sing with the children.  Edward, as everyone in the field knows, is one artist within whose heart a beautiful child continues to live.  Speaking after the performance Edward said that this was the first occasion where he sang with an entire orchestra or instrumentalists and singers without a single rehearsal.  He was impressed. Immensely. 

‘The Last Waltz’ and the theme music of the award-winning film ‘Chariots of Fire’ followed, demonstrating that this was not some kind of nostalgia-driven throw-back into the past.  Nelu, being a versatile musician schooled in both North Indian classical music as well as western music, it was perhaps natural that she impressed upon her students the virtues of being similarly versatile in both appreciation and rendition.  There were no hiccups on account of language or because of genre unfamiliarity. 
Bandula prefaced the next song with an anecdote.  As a schoolboy at Richmond he was taken to Mahinda College along with some other boys. They had to dramatize the song ‘Where are you going to my pretty maid’.  He had been very small and very thin, then.  He had been perched ‘as a bird’ on the top most branch of a ‘Mango tree’ (made of a branch broken on their way to Mahinda).  Unfortunately there had been a nest of red ants and the ants, agitated had crawled up his leg.  They bit him and he reacted, resulting in the whole ‘tree’ collapsing. The boys had kept their composure and continued as though nothing had happened.  ‘Where are you going to my pretty maid’ was what inspired him to write ‘Mal pipee deneth arei’.  The tune itself was drawn from that ditty.  The children did not know any of this, but this fact did not take anything away from their performance.

Then they moved to folk songs and other old favorites. Threshing floor songs (kamath kavi) flowed into Ran Dahadiya Bindu Bindu, with Saman Lenin and Harshana Dissanayake joining the group.  This was followed by Ha Ha Balaagenai.  The original vocalist, Pradeepa Dharmadasa was due to sing a few lines with the children, but couldn’t make it due to ill health.  The children more than compensated. 
‘Top of the World’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’, favorites from the seventies, were sung with delight, as was Olu Nelum Neriya Rangala from the film ‘Rekava’.  Bandula pointed out that the film was made by a Catholic, the song was composed by Fr. Mercelline Jayakody and the music was composed by Sunil Shantha again a non-Buddhist.  He observed that this is how it was among people of different faith engaged in music and this is how it should be now and always in all things. 

An instrumental medley of ‘For a few dollars more’ and the Andean melody popularized by Simon and Garfunkle, ‘El Condo Pasa’ was followed by one of Kapila’s compositions, ‘Sarungale’.  From there, the group moved to faster numbers, those that were hits in the seventies, a decade dominated by the likes of Clarence Wijewardena, Annesley Malewana, the Dharmadasa Brothers and others. All the children, regardless of age, enjoyed Kandukare, Kale Ukule Thiyala, Udarata Menike and Gonwassa.  So too, the adult audience. 
There are no limits to music and entertainment.  Peenamuko Kalu Gange, Ho Ga Ralla Binde, and Emba Ganga saw well known artists Indika Upamali, Lakshman Wijesekera and Harshana Dissanayake performing with the children. 

A poignant moment came thereafter when the parents of the teachers were offered tokens of appreciation. The entire audience was in full agreement that the six individuals who came on stage are truly worthy of special appreciation for having gifted our society with three exceptional artists, three exceptional teachers. 
Rohana Weerasinghe, Malani Fonseka, Amarasiri Kalansuriya and Prof Carlo Fonseka, all present that evening, expressed delightful surprise at what they had just witnessed.  They said that the range of songs was truly astounding and complimented the teachers, parents and children for having offered them a wonderful evening’s entertainment. 

They had sung folk songs, pop and other ‘Western’ songs, songs from films and Sinhala pop.  They ended with nurthi gee to dramatic accompaniment.  We saw Ala Benda Mage Ramyavan, Yasa Isuru, Kumatada Sobaniye, Siri Sangabodi and Ada Vessantara.  Clearly, the children not had just voice and ear, they had movement and rhythm too. 
The show ended with Kapila, Nelu and Lionel coming together to sing the theme song, insisting that the sun, moon and start truly belong to the children and no one else.

The entire team proved that love for music and unlimited humanity and humility can yield a rich harvest that can and will nourish this and generations to follow.  They will be that much more tender, one felt. 


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written article. Reading made me presence at the event.