Soul Stirring! | Daily News

Soul Stirring!

 

On an alley off of Kassapa Road, the Soul Sounds Academy is home to one of the most vivacious, precocious children’s groups in Sri Lanka: the Soul Sounds Children’s Choir. The Choir, which recently participated in the World Choir Games for the first time, won silver and bronze in the categories of Children’s Choir and Scenic Folklore.

However, after winning their medals, the choir described their experience in terms other than victory. The children and their teachers said the process leading up to and participating in the Games was an opportunity for personal and professional growth.

The Soul Sounds Academy Children’s Choir was one of two choirs to represent Sri Lanka at the World Choir Games in Tshwane, South Africa, along with the Royal College Choir. The Soul Sounds Children’s Choir was directed by Amandhi Caldera, Dinushka Jayawickreme, and Soundarie David Rodrigo, Music Director of Soul Sounds Academy.

Rodrigo, who stayed for the full duration of the Games from July 4 to 14 as a judge, said that she was happy with the results, “because the standards were really high. I think the South Africans have music in their body, soul, and blood. We were competing with a lot of South Africans, the Russians, and Chinese. Everybody was of a really high standard, so I think whatever Sri Lanka achieved was great in comparison.”

Rodrigo said that, “just to listen to them-I think it was a great learning experience.”

The children regarded their time as a learning experience as well, “we got a lot of experiences!” they exclaimed in unison. The choir remarked upon the music they heard, the food they ate, and the friends they made.

16-year-old Hashinee Antonio said, “The food was so good!” and 13-year-old Khiara Premaratne said, “I really like the food over there, especially the mushrooms and the hash browns.”

“My favourite memory of the Games,” said 15-year-old Priyanka Amalean “was making friends with other choirs.”

Twelve-year-old Taalya Ramanayake remembers how “After we did one of our songs, these kids from the other choir were smiling at us and waving.”

The choristers were ebullient, remembering singing in South Africa. The group sang, not only during competitions, but on their journey, when their flight’s cabin crew found out that they were a choir, and again in a mall in South Africa. Another time after the Friendship Concert, they held a practice in the middle of the night, just because they were so energised by the performances they had heard.

The Soul Sounds Children’s Choir is a relatively new addition to the Soul Sounds Academy, and was formed only last year. The Academy held auditions for the Children’s Choir and picked the 33 most promising young vocalists. While the choir is open to everybody, it primarily consists of female members, and only four of the members of the children’s choir are boys. Members range from 9 to 17-years-old.

In 2017, the Children’s Choir won two golds in the Asia Pacific Games, which qualified them to compete in the World Choir Games. After the Asia Pacific Games, said 29-year-old choir director Amandhi Caldera,“I was really really impressed, I heard some of them singing alone and I thought, wow, I didn’t know they could sing like that.”

The age difference amongst choristers can prove challenging from a teaching perspective, said Caldera.

“Nine-year-olds tended to sing melodies, and older kids tended to sing parts. Generally, its the older ones who are better at holding parts.” 17-year-old Sashya Abeyratne said that though “it was hard to coordinate with them,” the younger choristers, “age never mattered to us, we are all one family.”

Directing children, says Caldera, “is a lot of ‘stop talking,’ and ‘be quiet.’ There’s a lot of forgetting sometimes. But in general, it’s really fun to work with kids also, and I think kids are very forgiving. They don’t hold any grudges.”

In addition to directing the Soul Sounds Children’s Choir, Caldera and co-directer Dinushka Jayawickreme work full-time jobs. Caldera is a psychologist, and commuted from Ragama to lead the choir’s practices. At first, practices were no more than three hours, for once or twice a week. Occasionally, they would have a full-day practice on Sunday. But just before the competition, they held practice everyday. Despite the commitment it took from coaches and kids alike, “it was really nice to work with the kids. I really enjoyed it,” said Caldera.

“You could see how much they improved over the six months that they practiced.”

For the children, practice was always a delight, and they regarded their teachers as family members.

“Aunty Soundarie is the best! Learning from her is just a gift that we’ve got from god. We are so proud to be her students,” said 17-year-old Uvini Sirisena.

“Amandhi,” she continued “is more like a mother, a sister, and a guardian angel at the same time. Dinushka-she is so sassy we love her.”

Thirteen-year-old Akasha Abeyratne explained that, “Here, in school, it’s more like family. You feel energy. Nobody judges you. You can be who you want to be.”

 


 

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