St. Stephen’s C S I Church Choir

“It is the CSI church that has introduced ‘Singing in Harmony’ in Kerala. Singing has enormous significance in CSI Liturgy”

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The contribution of the CSI church towards Christian music is of tremendous worth. It is the CSI church that has introduced ‘Singing in Harmony’ in Kerala. Singing has enormous significance in CSI Liturgy. The songs are of both Eastern and Western traditions. Songs of western tradition have been included on account of the remarkable influence of the missionaries. The Hymns (“Njaana Keerthananagal”) we use in the worship are the Malayalam translations of certain popular western songs. These hymns have notations arranged in precise music scores .When sung it produces harmony par excellence. By this reason church organ has more importance than any other musical instrument in our worship. In a way, eastern music is an extension of our glorious culture. The lyrics (“Kristheeya Geethangal”) we use are mostly arranged from different ‘Ragas’ of Karnatic Music. These lyrics are really rich with some famous songs composed by eminent musicians like Yusthus Yoseph (MKD), Mosavalsalam Shastrikal(SKD), etc..

In our parish, it all started in the year 1947 when a group of boys sat at the floor of the church front and sang songs and helped the presbyters in worship. T.V Kuruvilla (Rev.T.V. Kuruvilla), George K. Varkey, M.T David, George Koshy, E.T Mathai, T. Kuruvilla, P.J Mathai, Oommen Varghese were some among them. During the period of 1950-1955, a group of choristers, under the guidance of T.V. Kuruvilla (Rev.T.V. Kuruvilla), nourished the worship by singing songs with the cadence of the drum. The choristers were boys.

From 1960 to 1965 George Koshy (Thampy Sir), after having completed higher studies, had returned from England and taught the most renowned Christmas Melodies such as “O come all Ye faithful”, “Silent night, Holy night”, “Deck the Halls”, “Joy to the world”, “Jingle Bells”, and “Hallelujah Hallelujah”. Carol service was thus conducted. Besides, they used to visit houses with the undying message of Christmas through soul-stirring songs. George Koshy Sir taught a great number of songs.

From 1965 to 1980, George K. Varkey (Thankachayan) led the choir in training songs. From 1960 onwards, girls had been admitted to the choir. Boys began to put on the choir robe. A special choir stall was set up for the choir near the altar of the church. The custom of the choir to sit at the choir stall followed by the procession with the cross-bearer at the front was initiated.

We bought a key-board in the year 1968. M.G Wesley, son of Rev. M. K. George, within a short span of time learned to play the piano and started playing the organ during church services. Thomas M. David was the organist from 1975-79.

Varghese Paul (Shaji) served as the organist and trained the choir from 1980-92.During this period Raju Thomas, Varghese Kurien and George Thomas led the choir in training songs. Audition test was introduced as the yardstick to admit members to the choir. The choir got the rarest privilege to sing in the All India Radio in the year 1981. Songs had thus been broadcasted until 2001.

Then Biji Oommen Jacob, son of Rev. M.O. Jacob, became the organist. He was keen to systematically train the choristers from1990-1999. Aji Sam Mathew (Roshan) served as the assistant organist until 1996.Contributions of John Thomas during this period in training the choir is remarkable. Proper voice training was given in a disciplined way for all those who wished to join the choir under the leadership of Biji Oommen Jacob. He started piano classes from 1995 onwards. This was a decisive phase in the sense that seeds were sown during this period to accomplish the label of a class choir in the following years. Shibin Varghese, Gibu George Jacob and Sheby Elizabeth George who later became the organists are the pupils of Biji.

Shibin Varghese who started as the assistant organist in 1996 served as the organist from 2000 to 2003. During this period he led the practice sessions and started organ classes. Having benefitted from these classes, Wesley P. Kuruvilla, Rini Ann Varghese, and Rebin Kuruvilla Varghese became the organists later on. Our choir was specially noted in the Diocesan level and in the Jubilee celebrations of other churches during this phase. It was the very first endeavor of the choir in its history when the musical album named “En Priya Rakshakan” was released in the year 2001.

Sheby Elizabeth George was appointed as the organist and leader of the choir in 2003. She served as the leader of the choir until 2013. She worked hard to sustain the acquired fame of the choir. The choir under her leadership was able to present a Handel Recital hallmarked by certain eternal pieces from The Messiah of George Frederic Handel which was the most renowned in the traditional classical hymns but the hardest one to be performed. In connection with the Diamond Jubilee of the choir, a musical album titled Tehlem was released in 2008. Besides, a great number of performances were staged as per the invitation from various churches and organizations. The choir was subsequently advanced to a height with tremendous potential to compete the best choirs in Kerala. The choir has performed in channels like Power vision and Athmeeya Yathra. The choir was one of the best among those participated in “Pulkoottil Pookkalam”, a Christmas programme initiated by the DSMC.

Rini Ann Varghese supported the choir to move forward with her contributions as organist from 2003 onwards. The leadership of Arun Thomas, son of Rev. C.Y Thomas, as trainer during the period of 2010-11, too, is commendable. The untiring efforts and selfless service of a group of youngsters who are committed to the church and choir has been the foundation of the growth and progress of the choir as we see today.

Rebin Kuruvilla Varghese who served as the assistant organist from 2007 onwards and Rinchu Mariam Varkey who served as the assistant organist from 2010 are the organists and the leaders at present. They are identifying new dimensions in singing apart from their keenness to maintain the established standard of the choir.

A set of children who have been trained in Piano from this generation are the hope of the choir. They are Neil Kuruvilla Abraham, Nevin Kuruvilla Thomas and Neeva Achu Thomas who serve as the assistant organists.