May 172020
 
Virtual celebration of Tagore’s birth anniversary for Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Together with Kaberi and the friends from Prantik with whom we have been celebrating Tagore’s birth anniversary at Shakespeare’s Birthplace each year, we were due to be there again last Sunday (10 May). Unfortunately, like many other things, the lockdown since mid-March to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic obliged the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to close the Birthplace until the end of May.

However, all of us in the team were very disappointed not to be able to get together as in previous years, both for rehearsals in the preceding weeks and for our annual excursion to Stratford for the birth anniversary. So, exchanging with them the previous weekend, and also having just organised a virtual birthday party in which relatives in India had performed dances and songs from their homes, I realised we could prepare a virtual celebration of Tagore’s birth anniversary. Given the context, the theme of Tagore’s concern for Man’s impact on Nature and the environment seemed to us to be the most appropriate.

I checked with the Birthplace if they could coordinate with us on this and Paul Taylor, their Acting Director of Cultural Engagement, kindly recorded and sent me a video of his introduction. We decided to dedicate the performance to the key workers and healthcare workers keeping us safe and well, and to those who have lost their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, most of the team had the bank holiday on 8 May to record videos of themselves singing or reciting solo. Paul Taylor provided some images of Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Supratik Basu filmed some video of the flowers in the garden of their home nearby. We also had photos from our previous anniversary celebrations.

The traditional birthday chorus “He nuthon”, which we usually sing by the bust of Tagore in the Birthplace garden was going to be more complicated, though. With any online video conferencing tool like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc, there is always a slight time lag (latency) between one person saying something and the others on the call hearing it. This is barely noticeable if you are having a conversation but, as we had already experienced from trying to rehearse remotely in the past, it is not possible to synchronise with each other like this.

So Kaberi and I recorded a base, audio track of the song with a tanpura. We used a metronome to ensure that there were no speed variations during the song. We then sent it to the rest of the team, asking them to listen to it through earphones on one device and film themselves with their phones vertically.

With all the recordings, I assembled the videos in the final video you see above and added English subtitles. I also wrote and recorded the narration, explaining how the performances illustrated Tagore’s concern for Man’s impact on Nature and the Environment.

I used Final Cut Pro X for the main edit but for He nuthon, I experimented with Da Vinci Resolve, which includes more sophisticated audio mixing possibilities, including spatial stereo. Fortunately, I had just invested in a Blackmagic Design eGPU Pro to speed up the processing time needed for my video editing!

Performers from Prantik: Anindita Sengupta Saha, Anupam Ganguli, Chhaya Biswas, Farzeen Huq, Kaberi Chatterjee (dance), Mousumi Basu (recitation), Nikhilesh Das Gupta, Obhi Chatterjee, Sudakshina Roy, Supratik Basu and Tirthankar Roy (esraj).

Morubijoyer ketona (danced by Kaberi Chatterjee) was sung by Manini Mukhopadhyay and Ritwik Bagchi, accompanied by Alok Banerjee (esraj), Asit Ghosh (tabla) and Dipak Das (sitar).

English subtitles translated from the original Bengali by Obhi Chatterjee, Kaberi Chatterjee & Prasenjit Saha.

More about virtual performances

I devised the technique to record He Nuthon after seeing other virtual performances during the lockdown around the world. Of course, the virtual choir videos composed by Eric Whitacre since 2010 were the pioneers in this field. Here was the third in his series: Water Night.

One of the first lockdown virtual performances I saw was this version of the song All I ask of you from The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber had originally tweeted a recording of him playing the song on the piano. Members of the Phantom of the Opera orchestra had then recorded their tracks.

Another was the virtual performance of Ravi Shankar’s ‘Sandhya Raga’ by Anoushka Shankar and other Indian musicians who were originally due to perform at concerts around the world to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Ravi Shankar.

From among the lockdown virtual performances, a colleague drew my attention to those from the Orchestre national de France. Here is their performance of Ravel’s Boléro.

Perhaps the most visually complex virtual performance of this lockdown period has been La valse n°2 de Chostakovitch, again performed by l’Orchestre National de France:

May 112019
 

As in previous years, Kaberi and I celebrated the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore with Prantik at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK. Our theme this year was Tagore and the seasons: Spring.

We began our performance by recreating the dance procession each year at the Spring Festival (Basanta Utsav) in Santiniketan to the song Orai grihobashi. Our procession started from the steps of the Shakespeare Centre and wound its way around the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace until we reached the performance area by the house in which Shakespeare was born.

After an introduction by Emily Ireson from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we performed various songs for Tagore’s seasonal collection (Riturongo). Kaberi also danced to the poem Shesh Modhu (Spring Finale), which Prasenjit Saha had kindly translated into rhyming English for us.

The English translations of the songs and poems were recited by Shakespeare Aloud! actor James Anderson. The singers and musicians from Prantik, apart from me, were:

  • Anindita Sengupta Saha (also on tanpura)
  • Chhaya Biswas
  • Farzeen Huq
  • Kaberi Chatterjee (who also danced)
  • Mousumi Basu (who also recited the poem Shesh Modhu)
  • Nikhilesh Das Gupta
  • Sudakshina Roy
  • Supratik Basu (also on mandira)
  • Tirthankar Roy (also on esraj)

We were honoured that Krishnendu Banerjee from the Indian High Commission and Brij Kumar Guhare, Deputy Director of The Nehru Centre in London, came to Stratford-upon-Avon to attend our performance. Both expressed their appreciation of our performance and the uniquely appropriate setting of the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

Liisa Miil kindly filmed the performance for us. You can watch the video above. My script for our performance is available as a free download but please note its Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike licence. If you wish to use the script for commercial purposes or plan to remix or reuse it, please contact me.

Earlier in the day, we had visited Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon, to see how the tree we had helped to plant in 2011 for the 150th birth anniversary. That time, Kaberi had shown students from a local drama school how to dance in the traditional tree-planting (brikkhoropon) procession established by Rabindranath Tagore.

Especially as I was going to refer to it later in my narration, I was relieved to see that the tree is doing well. You can see it in the foreground of the photo below, with Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in the background.

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