Singing in one voice

Ambika Shaligram
Wednesday, 8 August 2018

In conversation with Annette Philip and Ayumi Ueda, who are a part of the vocal ensemble Women of the World. They were in Pune to conduct a workshop as part of the Berklee India Exchange initiative

The Berklee India Exchange (BIX), a campus initiative by Berklee College of Music, Boston, USA, is a platform for cultural conversation about Indian music. It has been organising music workshops in different parts of India and in its third year, the group was in Pune to conduct a day-long session here. 

The workshop was conducted by award-winning vocal ensemble Women of the World, featuring Berklee alumni — vocalists Annette Philip (India), Ayumi Ueda (Japan), Giorgia Renosto (Italy), Debo Ray (Haiti/USA), along with drummer/percussionist Patrick 
Simard (Canada).  

We chatted with Philip and Ueda to know their thoughts on music and music education. Excerpts: 

Tell us about your workshop in Pune and the background for starting them in India.
Annette Philip:
In 2013, we formed Berklee India Exchange which is a platform to spread Indian culture, art and music to the world and which also takes an opportunity of taking the world to India. Initially, we started with performances and residencies and tours. Later we felt that we should conduct workshops on myriad subjects in India. So this is our third year of conducting workshops and our first visit to Pune and also Kolkata, besides Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. Our workshop in Pune was very well attended, with about 200 participants. 
Ayumi Ueda: We had sessions on stretching exercises, vocal warm-up, vocal technique, breathing exercises. We are a group of musicians and since we sing folk songs in 32 different languages, all over the world, we talked about the technique in singing folk songs. We shared some of the songs from Italy, Japan and from our repertoire as well. 

Can you tell us about your thoughts on Indian music? What have you listened to so far? 
I have been exposed to lots of A R Rahman songs like Jiya Jale! A friend of mine told me to listen to Aika Dajiba (by Vaishali Samant).  I loved the rhythm.

Are you planning to attend any music concerts in India, especially Pune? 
We would have loved to, but we are on an extremely tight schedule. In Kolkata, we met a couple of artists and we heard them. In Pune, we have been interacting with the musicians who attended our workshop. They are going to send us their music. 

We also have two Berklee alumni, who are from Pune originally. One of them is Bhrigu Sahni, guitarist, song writer. He was in Boston and New York and now he is back in Pune. 

Karan Pandav is a current student and is a part of the Indian Ensemble and a wonderful guitarist. Thanks to his and Bhrigu’s help, we visited Pune. We have connected with music club and have had some conversation about the newer ways to share music education, beyond the traditional pathways that India is still unexposed to, and what are some innovative ways to inspire students to think for themselves, instead of just preparing for exams. So more than going to shows, we have had an opportunity to talk with artists here. 

How did you meet and how was Women of the World band formed?
Before joining Berklee, I was in Japan. Since I was a kid, I had the passion to meet and work with people all over the world. Also, my mother is from Hiroshima and I have been to the Hiroshima memorial quite often. The experience of being there and learning about the bombings inspired me to be a pacifist. I wanted to make this world a kind and loving place. The idea for forming Women of the World band was to connect together beyond the cultural and language differences. 

All the members of the band have gone to Berklee at some point of time. That was the place where we all met. Berklee has students from more than 100 countries and it was here that I could listen to all kinds of songs, learn about the history, the background of people who came there. 

Ayumi, you are a vocalist and a sound healer. What does it mean to be a sound healer? 
I have an instrument called crystal singing bowl and it has beautiful sound. I have been teaching how sound/s can affect our mind, body and spirit. Human body has 70 per cent of water and we are constantly vibrating. The idea of sound healing is like tuning your body with the sound waves. It’s like tuning your guitar or violin before you start a great song. When you are feeling sad or low, or your heart is beating fast, the slow sound vibrations will help you to relax, to breathe better and breathe slowly. 

Annette, you are judging a TV choral show in US, Sing that Thing. How would you compare that with the reality music shows in India? 
That’s an interesting question. The show that I am a part of is the Public National Television and is a part of WBGH station in Boston. The idea of Sing that Thing is to encourage people — school, college students and adults — to sing in groups. It’s not a very competitive show, even though the names of winners are announced etc. 

Singing in groups can be a very joyous activity.  It means that you have to listen to each other, to understand individual needs and collectives and have united goals. That is a very powerful exercise for any community. That is what we are trying to encourage through this show. 

I have seen Indian Idol, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. A lot of these shows are beneficial for young people. But at the same time, speaking from a professional musician’s perspective, reality TV shows create an impression that you can only be a performer in music industry. 

But there’s so much in the music industry that you can do as a musician — festival curation, sound engineering, production for mass scale stadium shows, orchestration and composing music for documentaries, serials, jingles etc. Besides you can do arrangement for choirs. You can do music therapy and music education. The list is endless for the beautiful things that people can do in music industry. And that is what we would like to highlight through our workshops in India. 

Ayumi, can you tell us about your new project, 100 Voices, One Song?
I have been working on it early this year. The idea is to create choir or bring together people from 100 different countries, sing or compose and share our stories. We just recorded a song from Japan, Wings to Fly, and made a music video. It will be released on September 21, the International Day of Peace. I want to tell everyone that it is more fun if we are open to comment and share, forgetting politics. That’s the project that I would like to continue, maybe as a collaboration with Women of the World. 

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