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Indian Choir from Cincinnati Wins Big at the World Choir Games

CINCINNATI, Ohio: The Greater Cincinnati Indian Community Choir founded and led by visionary composer Kanniks Kannikeswaran (Mason OH) won two silver medals in the prestigious Champions category in the just concluded World Choir Games that brought over 360 choirs (about 15000 singers) from about 48 countries to Cincinnati – in what is the Olympics of choral music – the largest international choral competition in the world, held every two years.

The Games were held in the United States for the first time from July 4-14 in Cincinnati. ‘The World Choir Games’ is the signature event of Interkultur, Germany-based organization that produces choral events all over the world.

Of the 48 countries participating in the games, the United States fielded the largest number of choirs. The next largest contingent was from China with more than 55 choirs. There were only three choirs from India (The Akshayam Choir from Chennai and the Cambridge school choir from Mumbai who both competed in the Open category and the well known Shillong Chamber Choir).

Conductor Kanniks Kannikeswaran who led the Greater Cincinnati Indian community choir to victory is hailed as a pioneer of the Indian American choral movement. He first started creating raga based choral music in 1994 and has gone on to expand his repertoire. His first choral production ‘Basant – A musical celebration of Spring’ and his 1996 collaboration ‘The Blue Jewel’ are still remembered in Cincinnati. Of course, Kanniks is remembered most for his magnum opus ‘Shanti – A Journey of Peace’ – the first ever oratorio in Sanskrit in Indian ragas cloaked in choral and orchestral harmony that has been performed in three different cities.

Shanti was performed by an all Houston cast in 2010 as a fund raiser for AIM for Seva and was the talk of the city for months. “I am grateful for the support and encouragement of the Houston community that cheered this choral work. Even as the audience cheered us in Cincinnati at the World Choir Games, I was flooded with memories from our Houston performance in collaboration with the United Nations Association International Choir”, says Kanniks.

The Cincinnati choir’s participation in the Games has one more connection with Houston. The choir performed a rhythmically complex chaturang in raga kiravani with 7 different vocal parts that was accompanied on the tabla by Houston’s own Anuraag Shah,son and leading disciple ofeminent tabla exponent and Guru Pandit Shantilal Shah. The 17 year old Houstonian describes it as an unforgettable performing experience.

The Greater Cincinnati Indian community choir that Kanniks founded in Cincinnati is a diverse mix of professionals and students speaking over 8 languages spanning a range of professions. Kanniks has also founded similar choral work in Houton, Allentown, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Minneapolis and more. Kanniks also competed in the World Choir Games in Shaoxing China in 2010 along with his daughter Vidita Kanniks where they sang as part of ‘Singcinnati’ a diverse choir that walked home with silver medals in the Spirituals and Pops categories.

In the ‘Music of the Religions’ category, the 36 member choir with cello, tabla and piano accompaniment showcased ancient Sanskrit chants for peace (including a ghanam chant) from the 1st millennium CE as well as contemporary compositions written by Kannikeswaran. Vidita Kanniks (17) sang the lead vocals. In the ‘Scenic Folklore’ category Kanniks included choreography in his choral arrangement of verses from the Sangita Ratnakara, Gita Govindam and his own chaturang in raga charukeshi. The 54 member team of singers and dancers aroused the 2600 member audience at the packed Aronoff Center to a spontaneous standing ovation on Friday, July 13.

To many in the cast, “.. much work went into this effort. Our life was all about the games in the weeks that led to the final moment. That moment was worth it.. when the audience just kept standing and clapping on and cheering us when we just concluded our performance.. In terms of audience reaction we were on par with some of the best choirs from around the world..”

“It is a matter of great pride to have won two silver medals in the prestigious champions category at the games. It is a celebration of world music on a global platform. It is a celebration of the Indian diaspora in the United States. I am grateful to all of the singers that have worked with me during the last 18 years’, says Kanniks as he reflects on all the choral work that he has done in various cities across North America.

Kanniks is also known for his award winning research on the Indo-Colonial music of Muthusvami Dikshitar and for his collaboration with the Gundecha Brothers. He presents his work regularly during the Music Season in Chennai. He also teaches Indian Music Theory and History at the University of Cincinnati in the capacity of an Adjunct Faculty. He is the recipient of the prestigious McKnight Fellowship and the Ohio Heritage Fellowship.

Kanniks and theGreater Cincinnati Indian Community Choir delivered a stellar performance and left their friends, families and fellow Cincinnatians and a global audience elated. They have also left a firm imprint of Indian American choral music on the World Choir Games.


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