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Old 06-10-14, 09:08 AM
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Default Organist from nowhere who became everybody's accompanist

From: Lalith Dassenaike <lalithdassenaike@gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Oct 5, 2014 at 8:21 PM
Subject: Organist from nowhere who became everybody's accompanist

His talent and gift first nurtured at S. Thomas’………


Organist from nowhere who became everybody’s accompanist

By Namali Premawardhana

Neranjan de Silva celebrates a hard-won musical journey of 30 years

Becoming Sri Lanka’s best known organist and keyboard accompanist wasn’t handed to Neranjan de Silva on a silver platter. And having had to work hard to get where he is today, he is determined to make it easier for the generations that come after him.

Neither Neranjan’s mother nor his sister is musically inclined, though his father did some recording, but he himself has been playing by ear since he was five years old. He doesn’t know where he got his gift from, but it was first nurtured at St. Thomas’s Prep School, he says. They had what he calls an “insignificant” choir, which he was part of, and a “small band” in which he played the glockenspiel. But he clearly remembers the inexplicable awe he experienced on first hearing the organ at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia.

“That was what really got me,” he smiles.

He had already joined the choir, and so he approached the choirmaster about learning to play the organ. But nobody except the choirmaster was allowed to play the Hammond. Later he was told he needed at least a Grade 5 pass in piano performance to be able to handle an organ so he quit the choir and started taking piano lessons with Mrs. Vilma Varnakulasinghe. Within six months, he had passed Grade 4 piano performance exams, and in 12 months, Grade 5. Then he took his certificates to his choir master and told him “now I’m going to become an organist”.
Within six years, he was a fellow of the Trinity College of Music, and a Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music. Riding purely – it seems – on musical genius.

But as well as he was doing with the piano, things weren’t going so well as far as organ was concerned. Neranjan kept pursuing the dream, but hardly got anywhere for a long time. Nobody would teach him because he had no instrument to practise on.

“The result was that I had no organ education,” he says, “and I’m not the only one who has had this experience.” He rattles off the names of well-known musicians (organists in particular) who have had to fight to get where they are, musically. “It’s just the determination to become organists that saw us through.”

He wants to change things for the next generation. “I’m just willing to help anyone if I can,” he says.

Through his affiliation with Johannus Church Organs, as their Sri Lanka coordinator for instrument maintenance, in the last 20 years, he has facilitated the installation of 11 church organs to spread the love of organ music, and to help give young enthusiasts access to good instruments.
For Neranjan himself, things changed towards the end of 1983, and it began with Mary Anne David.

“I was desperately looking for an accompanist,” Mary Anne starts the story, describing how her friend Vilma Varnakulasinghe introduced them and recognizing his talent, she signed him on.

Around the same time, Neranjan’s friend and mentor, Gautier Willm, then director of the Alliance Francaise in Sri Lanka and occasional accompanist at St. Mary’s Church, Bambalapitiya, who was leaving the country, introduced him to Fr. Claver Pereira – parish priest at St. Mary’s – as the organist who would replace him as the accompanist for what was then the church’s Youth Choir. In 1984, Neranjan started his career as official accompanist for St. Mary’s Choral Group as well as the Mary Anne David Chorale.

He had no direction, but that quickly changed. “I had just wanted to play the organ. But it was people like Mary Anne and Fr. Claver who showed me what I could do. I never thought of becoming an accompanist, but then it became a passion.”

Those two first commitments as an accompanist have since grown into strong and beautiful musical partnerships, and through them, he has achieved what he never dreamt of. Thirty years later, today, he is unquestionably Sri Lanka’s best known and loved organist.
“He is so unassuming and sits quietly in a corner, but he’s like a walking encyclopedia! People don’t realize the talent this man has,” Mary Anne says.

But his music is not all he is known for. Neranjan has gained a reputation as sound master, recording guru, the (literal) builder of nearly his whole home, and occasional off-road racer. He has story upon story to tell of last-minute mishaps at shows, burnt fingers, carpentry tools gone out of control and how he “set fire” to the hood of his trusty Nissan in the biting cold at the top of Pidurutalagala – all in good fun.
Unlike most musicians, he is not hung up on his music-making. This is why he takes risks with his hands and pursues his other interests with equal enthusiasm.

“I’m actually looking forward to retirement,” he says, describing plans being made to start teaching, determined to keep using his gifts and talents to meet a need he has recognized.

“It’s not like a mission that I’m on,” Neranjan says. “I get a lot of pleasure in seeing people coming up with my help. You don’t get any thanks, but you know you’ve been able to help. That is good enough.”

Celebration in Song – Neranjan de Silva celebrates 30 years as an accompanist with 300 voices in harmony under the musical direction of Mary Anne David on Wednesday, October 8 at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Bauddhaloka Mawatha at 7.30 p.m. Participating choirs include Choro Benedicte, the Merry-An Singers, Soul Sounds, St. Mary’s Choral Group, the Choir of the Cathedral, the Colombo Philharmonic Choir, the Mary Anne David Chorale, the Peradeniya Singers, the Peterite Chorale, the Revelations and Vox One.

Tokens for admission, priced at Rs. 500 are available at the Commons, Park Street Mews and Colombo Fort Café. Call Eshantha 0777750832 or Suki 0787980663 for more info.
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