A Star Performance in aid of the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind


As the opening notes of the Diamond Jubilee rang through the magnificent Victoria Hall in Geneva, we knew we were in for a special evening. This was no town hall ‘oompa’ brass band, this was the Geneva Arquebuse Brass Band under the expert direction of Jean Pierre Chevailler. The atmosphere in the hall warmed and the applause lengthened for each number, almost lifting the roof for the virtuoso performance of Variations sur Carnaval de Venise by trumpet soloist Francois Seigneur

The highpoint of the evening, however, was the guest appearance of soprano Marie-Najma Thomas, now studying at the Geneva Haute Ecole de Musique. Indian by birth, Marie-Najma was adopted from a Bombay orphanage when she was three years old by a French family and discovered her gift for music at a very early age. We invited her to visit the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind in Arni, Tamil Nadu in January this year, her very first visit to India since she left as a toddler. As she explained to the audience, she was able to introduce the children to western music, and experienced the smells and sounds of India for the first time that she could remember. It was a very special and poignant moment when she performed at the Victoria Hall, to raise funds for that same music school.

The audience was genuinely moved by Marie-Najma’s rendition of Mozart’s Hallelujah, as indeed was the band. Director Jean Pierre Chevailler commented that it was the first time the Arquebuse Band had performed with a singer who had no need of a microphone. In a very unusual move, he invited her to sing again – to the delight of the audience.

The evening was skilfully compered by Jenny Klein, who introduced Pam Walsh to explain the work of Friends of India and the needs of the Richard Walsh Music School for the Blind. Despite competition from the fabulous autumn sunshine, the audience had turned out in force. When FOI Treasurer Ted Talbot took to the stage, he was thrilled to announce that the collection had gone beyond all expectations, with 9,400 CHF donated – not just enough to pay for much-needed musical instruments and a sound system, but also to go some way to funding a school bus to take the children to concerts and other events.   Further donations have reached just over 10,000 CHF, a fantastic achievement. Enormous thanks are due to all of you who contributed.

It goes without saying that we are extremely grateful to the wonderful Geneva Arquebuse Brass Band and the Victoria Hall for choosing Friends of India as their ‘good cause’ this year. And of course to all of you who came along to enjoy the evening and reached in your pockets to support some of the most vulnerable children in Tamil Nadu. We will be bringing you updates on how the money is spent and some reactions from children and staff at the Music School in due course. Once again – Thank you!

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