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Reena Esmail’s egalitarian songs

The composer, who brings Hindustani and Western classical music together, will be a part of Yale Schola Cantorum's India tour

Reena Esmail.
Reena Esmail.

Reena Esmail’s musical work couldn’t have been more in alignment with her identity. Born to a Catholic mother and Muslim father in Chicago, US, she composes pieces that unite Western classical and Hindustani classical music. While the latter’s essence is improvisation, the former’s is clockwork precision. Esmail specializes in finding the sweet spot between these two. You can see glimpses of this—the way the cello in her quartet evokes the mood of a raga—in the performance videos available on YouTube. But it is perhaps best enjoyed live, and Indians will get the chance when her compositions are performed in the multi-instrumental glory of a full-blown chamber choir.

Esmail will be part of the Yale Schola Cantorum’s tour of India. They will be performing in Delhi’s Bahá’í House of Worship on 12 March, and at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts on 16 March. In Chennai, before they take the stage at the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall on 19 March, they will participate in the Sunday morning service at St Mary’s Church. Esmail, roped in by the group for the India tour, hopes her new piece, This Love Between Us: Prayers For Unity, will act as a healer in these times of religious divide and hate.

“While writing this composition I spent a lot of time with the text from the different religions in India, like Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Islam. And it was comforting to realize that this strife does not come from the religious teachings themselves. Coming from a multi-religious household, I am constantly aware that there are many paths to spirituality," she says on email. Scored for the Baroque orchestra, choir, sitar and tabla, her composition will be sung in eight languages.

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