As Christmas season approaches, the early signs are in the air that within a few weeks celebrations will get into full swing. While many will be preparing to spend time with their loved ones during the holiday season, there is a group who have already begun working hard so that they can brighten up the upcoming season.
They are the members of the blind choir of the Sri Lanka Federation for the Visually Handicapped. When entering the practice room of the SLFVH, one first encounters a group of fashionably dressed singers, wearing sunglasses, singing to their hearts’ content.
When the signing starts, the sense of upliftment one feels is hard to describe. The entire room is filled with the voices of the choir members and the perfect pitch makes one feel good and inspired at the same time. If one follows the facial expressions of the choir members and sees the way their faces light up as their voices fill the air, it is a sure sign that they are truly enjoying their activity.
This inspirational group of singers and musicians has never let their blindness become an obstacle to their musical careers. “We are all music lovers and we love practicing and performing together,” says Willie, one of the oldest members of the group. He has been around for over 40 years. Willie says members of the group are all close friends and practices sessions also mean they spend time sharing stories and bonding as a group.
The blind choir was first started in the 1940s as an all-male choir by the name ‘Male Voice Choir of the Blind – Seeduwa’ and they have performed at numerous places including the Swimming Club, convents, churches and hotels. The choir then became a mixed choir in the late ’80s with the addition of a few female members. The choir was later brought under the Federation for the Visually Handicapped and has been managed by them ever since.
The oldest member of the group is Christopher. For him, choir practice sessions provide an escape from the daily captivity of life and gets an opportunity to spend time with people who share similar interests. “The group helped me a lot during difficult times of my life,” says Christopher. But he is concerned for the future of the group as they have been unable to hire a professional trainer due to the high prices demanded.
When the choir was established, it performed 30-35 carol services per year but the numbers have dropped drastically in recent years and the some members of the choir have even dropped out due to the insufficient financial aid.
At present the choir trains by itself and is led by keyboardist Susantha Premarathne who is able to play more than 10 instruments. A self-taught musical genius, he developed his skills during his schooling days.
When learning a new carol, the choir gets together and listens to a cassette. If a carol is to their liking, Susantha learns to play it on the keyboard. Apart from traditional English and Sinhalese carols, the blind choir is able to perform a certain number of carols in Swedish and German, taught by a Swedish national who once trained them.
“There are many costs to be borne ranging from a small fee that has to be paid to the members who attend practices, costs for maintaining instruments and for uniforms for group members as well as transportation. These are essential costs and we often struggle to get sufficient funds for these basic needs,” Susantha says.
The members of the choir are hopeful that in the upcoming Christmas season, they will get an opportunity to perform at many events.
Those interested in booking the blind choir or those who would like to assist them can do so by contacting SLFVH Secretary Dinidu Suranga on 0716 875 510. Each performance lasts 30 to 45 minutes.