By Bernadine Rodrigo
Rapti Fernando and Janaki Amarasuriya are two music teachers with a fervent passion for music. They are the Co-founders of Vocal Essence: School of Singing, through which they display their dedication to music with their lessons.
When curfew began, the biggest hit they had to take was to stop their classes. This was absolutely devastating for the two as they were forced to halt what meant most for them – not simply singing, but sharing the joy of it by teaching it to others who have a similar desire for it.
Rapti explains her passion to share music with others as a way of showcasing gratitude towards her own teacher. “One of my vocal teachers was the great Lylie Godrige. A Sri Lankan, world-class performer, and much-loved teacher who inculcated in us the power of community singing. I believe an individual with talent and skill must use it in various forms like Lylie Godrige did – professionally as well as for the benefit of the community.”
However, Vocal Essence was not prepared to give up. With all the boredom that followed after staying at home, both Rapti and Janaki soon came up with the idea of going online and wasted no time in putting it into action.
While they were figuring out ways through which to do this, they learned that the organisation Appé Lanka was looking for such creative and enjoyable things to be featured as part of their “Let’s Create” initiative during the curfew period to keep the spirits of the Sri Lankan people up.
Gladly, as they both have great respect for the organisation as well, they decided to get on board and conduct online sing-alongs through their Facebook page. Janaki, known lovingly by almost everyone who knows her as “nanga” was no stranger to sing-alongs and was able to prepare rather easily. She herself used to conduct sing-alongs out of the kindness of her heart for individuals with Alzheimer’s often. When looking at the feedback the online sing-alongs have been receiving, it is clear that they have a similar therapeutic effect on almost anyone.
“It brought back memories of good times with friends and family”, “I’ve just returned from the hospital after my treatment, the songs immediately lifted my spirits”, “just before we go to bed, we sing along to our favourite songs”, and “my kids are singing away…with us” are just a few of the many responses they received.
“Feedback focuses only on one thing: Wonderful memories with family and friends; reliving good times with folks no longer with us,” Rapti shared.
Initially, they had intended to conduct live sing-alongs for viewers to follow in real time. However, they had then decided that this would not be the right path if they are to fulfil their primary goal of giving people a way to have fun. “We felt our wonderful seniors may feel it wasn’t fun enough if they needed to use or get help with complicated technology. So we decided on a pre-recorded session of Lankan favourites. It also meant we could present the lyrics in karaoke style,” they said.
While we may imagine that it would be difficult to be engaging when simply recording something on a camera, Rapti’s singing makes us feel as though she is another partaker in one of our normal Sri Lankan parties when the videos are played.
“Our editor from Magnet Studios, Yaseen, who produces all material for Appé Lanka, specifically advised us to treat it as a performance,” she explained of how she remains engaging, “thus providing the opportunity to inspire viewers to join in the fun! Both janaki, aka. nanga, and myself planned to have fun with it, so it was pretty easy to be animated right through.”
Doing things this way has been extremely fun for them and resulting in great positivity so far.
“Well, one of the greatest benefits of being online is the ability to reach out to anyone who is interested in the material you put out. We never expected the huge responses we’ve received. (They) requests for more, so we produced the second medley too, to which the concept came purely from wanting to keep entertaining and engaging with our beloved senior citizens and other medically challenged groups during Covid-19 as we felt they would miss out greatly with no access to the weekly/monthly ‘sing songs’ they looked forward to,” they shared.
They went to explain why these sing-alongs are so special, specifically for the people of Sri Lanka, as they’ve even got responses from expats who cling onto Sri Lanka through the great desire we have for musical fun.
“Music is inextricably linked to events and particular incidents, people, and places in our lives; from four or five generations ago, family entertainment was centred on music and singing. Somehow in Sri Lanka, be it in the city or countryside, no event or ‘trip’ ends without a ‘sing song’, as we Sri Lankans call it,” they proclaimed the doubtless truth.
“From the songs that originated during World War I through the decades, a classic playlist has evolved. But no sing-along will end without the classic Sinhala and Tamil songs,” they noted, exciting us further and making us want to look forward to more and more with their sneak peaks by saying that they have “saved the best bit for the end”, which is their very own baila selection.
“Another key factor is that as a child, whether you like it or not, you would hear this music repeatedly, and there’s no getting away. So as a result, you find all ages joining in.”