Having just stepped off their flight from Bengaluru, Pamela Hinchman and Harrah Friedlander are loving the weather. “It’s so pleasant and wonderful!” exclaims Pamela. For Hyderabadis, the cold winter has meant bundling up in layers and the word pleasant isn’t exactly how’d they describe. Pamela smiles and says, “Back in Chicago, we’re shovelling snow out of the driveway. This is like summer for us.”
And that is just one of the long list of differences between Pamela and Harrah and Hyderabadis. However, the soprano singers are here to perform in the city, singing Opera style at that (something quite uncommon to India), and show that at the end of the day, music is a common denomination for everyone.
“Opera actually came from countries like France and Italy. By the time it came to the US, it became music theatre with dance and dialogues. And for India, music theatre is already there in the form of Bollywood. So really, India isn’t that new to Opera,” exclaims Pamela who teaches at the Northwestern University (NU) located in Illinois. Agreeing Sandra Oberoi, a Bengalurean who is doing her master’s programme at NU and runs the Harmony Music School back at home, says, “For most people in India, when you say Opera, they’re thinking that high note that shatters glass. Really, opera is so much more than that.”
“So do people in the West,” quips Joe Koster, the director of the Hyderabad Western Music Foundation (HWMF) in collaboration with which the Harmony International Music Foundation has brought Pamela and her student Harrah to Hyderabad. However, if the audience’s response to the sopranos’ performance in Bengaluru is anything to go by, people seem to have gotten past the glass shattering.
Performing today evening along with the Deccan Voices, the concert is in fact part of a slew of musical events the HWMF has organised for the week. It is after all the season to be jolly and be merry in musical style. The festivities began on Sunday when the Sposato Brothers took to the stage at Lamakaan. Following their Blues performance, the Deccan Voices will perform their usual mix of Pop and Western classical besides Christmas carols of course, while Pamela, Sandra and Harrah will be performing a set as well.
Talking about their first Indian stage experience which was at Sandra’s school and along with a 136-strong choir, Harrah is visibly very excited at how it turned out. “It was such a wonderful experience to sing with these children. At my school, it’s been very academic and we get so caught up in trying to do things ‘right’, coming here has let me see the practical side to the theory,” she explains, adding that she’s realised she’s been in a bubble of sorts. “We’re a class of 10 at NU, and we’re all friends, so our music is secondary in how we communicate. But this was the largest stage I’ve sung at yet and just using music as the primary form of communication was a real experience.”
Pamela is smiling to herself as she listens her student gush. A professional opera singer for years, she took to teaching more than a decade ago and has continued to travel extensively, usually taking along a student with her. “I try to give them the exposure to the professional life. There are many factors that come into play if you want to be an international opera singer. Once, there was this student who got so homesick, she couldn’t stay and went back home. Which was a good thing because she realised early on what it would take and if she could handle it.”
The 58-year-old also conducts a Voice and Career seminar where experts from the industry like opera and orchestra conductors come in and interact with the students. Sandra, who’s finished three summers at the university and has one more to go, is all praise for the initiative. “It really exposes us to the industry and the pressures. In college, the kind of work required is different, but the reality is different. It has definitely helped.”
Harra also nods agreement, reminiscing this one time that the experience was really intense. “We usually take three weeks to put together a performance. We had done this one at the last minute in one week.”
“The opera industry is huge and the competition very high. There are plenty of sopranos around and talent as well. How well you package yourself matters. Companies go through as many 2,000 applicants for one opening. So you can imagine what it’s like. What I try to teach my kids is to sing from the heart. As long as they enjoy it, that’s all that matters.” To help take the edge off and help her students reconnect to their inner voice, she sends them to retirement homes (“they’re very forgiving,” she chuckles) and other such public spaces. For Harrah, the trip to India has helped with that reconnection.
The trio along with the Deccan Voices will be performing today at 7 pm at Vidyaranya High School. Entry for HWMF members is free while for others is chargeable at `100 per ticket. The HWMF will follow the concert up with a jazz spectacle on December 18 (the last in this week’s series), with two Indian jazz pianists – Sharik Hasan and Aman Mahajan. The concert will happen at the Hyderabad Public School at 7 pm. Entry is free.