“The singers are wonderful,” says Branko Stark, the director of the Kochi-based ‘Rock of Ages’ choral group, which comprises 25 participants. “There is a nice mix of young and old, but their spirit is young.”
However, by nature, Malayalis are reserved and conservative in their singing. “The Germans are also reserved, while the British sound so upper-class,” says the Zagreb-based Branko. “On the other hand, the Italians, as well as those who live in the Slavic countries, like Croatia and Serbia, sing with a lot of passion.”
The presence of a voice is unique among homo-sapiens. Sounds are created by using the larynx, vocal chords, the abdominal and respiratory muscles. “The instrument is under the skin,” says Branko. “You cannot see it. It is the only organ in the world which has a soul and a spirit. The instrument is at the same time the instrumentalist.”
The voice has bio-mechanical attributes. “You can shout very loud, upto 130 decibels, which is the equivalent of the sound of a jet,” says Branko. “If a child shouts very close to the ear, you can become deaf. However, in singing, there is a physical limit. You only have 12 different notes in music. And each person uses these notes in his own unique way, just as we use the 26 alphabets of the English language in our own style.”
Incidentally, in a choir there are only four voices: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.
The best singers are those who infuse emotion in their voices. “We have to colour our songs with emotion,” says Branko. “In other words, you have to sing in a way that reflects happiness, joy, despair or sadness.”
Branko teaches all types of Western classical songs, from the Renaissance era, in the 15th and 16 centuries, to contemporary music. “I like to perform the works of composers who have been creative and inventive, like Beethoven, Bach, Chopin and Mozart,” says Branko. “All these genius composers were inspired. The word, ‘inspired’ comes from ‘Inspirare’ (inhale). In the olden times, people said that gifted composers had inhaled something from God and then they gave it to us.”
To put it another way, musicians like Bach and Beethoven are the medium. “It is God who writes through them,” says Branko. “Of course, they have to be craftsmen. But they had a direct link to God, with millions of bytes coming into them from above.”
Not surprisingly, for Branko, music is spiritual. “If you listen with concentration, you can feel the presence of God in a piece of music,” says Branko. “I always tell my students to search for the truth in a song.”
Branko has been searching for the truth since his childhood. His life changed, when his mother, a professional singer, presented him with a piano when he was 12 years old. “I immediately felt a deep passion for music,” says Branko. He wanted to write a composition as a child but it took him years to get the knowledge. Today, he has over 200 compositions under his name.
And composing is only one aspect of this multi-faceted personality. A teacher at the Arts Academy, (University of Split-Croatia), Branko also imparts lessons to singers, actors, choral directors, speech therapists, phoneticians and speakers. He holds seminars and workshops on vocal art, pedagogy and musical aesthetics. Branko has published scientific papers on voice theory and been the adjudicator for international choral competitions in China, Japan, Korea, Germany, Austria, Indonesia, Malaysia and Italy. Branko has also won numerous awards for composing, conducting and music.
Finally, he is the President of the Croatian Choral Directors Association, as well as the head of the Vocal Academy. Asked how he manages to cram in so many activities, Branko smiles and says, “Anything is possible with the help of God.”
Go Rocking with ‘Rock of Ages’
Rock of Ages, Kochi’s only non-religious choral group that sings in 4 part harmony will present its song festival, ‘Choral Night, Songs to the World’ at the Fine Arts Hall at 6.30 pm on Saturday, 25th January 2014. It will be conducted by famed Croatian composer and conductor Branko Stark. He will lead the choir through the following songs arranged by him for choral harmony:
Burt Bacharach’s ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’ /‘Hello Dolly’, the title song from the musical of the same name /‘Smile’, from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’/John Lennon’s ‘Let it be’/Elvis Presley’s ‘Love me tender’. Branko will also conduct Michael Jackson’s and Lionel Richie’s ‘We are the world’.
The other songs that he will cover are his own compositions and they are ‘I believe’/‘Amen’.
The programme will feature popular Malayalam, Hindi and Tamil songs set to four-part harmony by Kochi-based composer Godwin Figueiredo who will conduct ‘Zindagi Ek Safar’/‘Obladi Oblada’/‘Country Roads’/‘Chinna china asai’/ ‘Chookar mere man ko’/‘Mele poomala’/‘Nee madhu pakaru’/Pieces from the rock musical ‘Hair’/‘We are the World’/John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’.
‘Choral Night, Songs to the World’ will also feature Jessie Hillel, the winner of New Zealand’s Got Talent 2012, who will sing a solo part in ‘I believe’ with the choir in accompaniment. It will also feature young composer and singer Gowri Lakshmi, who will sing a solo.
The choir from the Global Public School will also present songs. MAD (Make a Difference) has been actively participating in putting up ‘Choral Night, Songs to the World’ and all the proceeds from this programme will go to support MAD’s educational programmes for the underprivileged children.