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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

OMG! It’s the Queen

Mumbai-based Oscar Castellino talks about serenading Queen Elizabeth II during the recent Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant.

Written by Dipanita Nath |
June 27, 2012 3:39:41 am

In London,where the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II started this month,vocalist Oscar Castellino is packing his bags for a short trip home to India. The 26-year-old undergrad at the Royal College of Music (RCM) has become something of a star to his family and friends,and he’s ready for the inevitable question — “How was it to sing for the Queen?” The Mumbai-born western classical vocalist was a part of the choir from RCM,who performed at the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant earlier this month.

One thousand boats had sailed down the river as part of the pageant and his “was going to be just one of them”. When their vessel floated towards the Tower Bridge,Castellino recalls the shock of seeing that “all the other boats were arranged near the royal barge and an empty space had been left in the centre for us. In front,stood the Queen,waiting for us to begin. That’s when it hit me that we were performing for the Queen. It was a powerful moment,” he says.

Drenched to the bone,their hair dripping rainwater and their music sheets flying in the breeze,the choir broke into Britain’s favourite odes to royalty,including Rule Britannia and God Save the Queen. “It had been raining so heavily that,a day before the pageant,we added another song to the list,Singing in the Rain,” says Castellino,with a laugh.

Most of the songs in the selection were familiar to the British members of the choir,so the Indian Castellino made up by putting in extra hours. “I worked on my own and learned all the songs before rehearsals. It’s always helpful when one does one’s homework,” he says. The meticulousness can be traced to his schoolteacher parents,his education at St George’s College,Mussoorie,his achievements as a marathon runner and the fact that he had no training in music until three years ago.

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Until 2009,Castellino was an amateur baritone with a secular choir in Mumbai,performing jazz numbers and a few western classical pieces. A Physics graduate from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai,he was satisfied with his job of four years in analytical software. By all accounts,his life was set. Credit for “finding” him goes to London-based Patricia Rozario,who returns to India every few months to train students in western classical music. In 2010,Castellino applied to RCM,one of the 600 hopefuls from all over the world vying for the 10 places in the college. He made the cut.

One of the first things he saw on entering the RCM campus was an image of King George V,a coincidence. “In 1905-06,my grandmother’s grandfather was a bandmaster for the Indian Army,and he had played for King George V,then the Prince of Wales,” says Castellino. In India,where western classical music is in a nascent phase,the musician realises that “the best way to encourage others to take up western classical music is to do well myself”. “Only when Indians do well will the industry look at us as potential performers,” he says,adding that he often counsels individual performers from states such as Andhra Pradesh through his artistes page on Facebook.

On July 15,Castellino will perform for a concert for Con Brio,a national-level piano contest,in Mumbai. Expect compositions by George Frideric Handel “which are challenging because there’s a lot of ornamentation”. Will he accept a request for God Save the Queen?

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