Interview with Sophie Miriel

We are doing a series called ‘100 Ways to Travel’, where we learn from people who have combined their passion with travel. For instance, a musician who performs gigs at theatres around the world, an athlete who climbs mountains in various continents, or a singer who performs live on cruises.

This month, “A 100 ways to travel” features Sophie Miriel, singer and choir conductor from France, who enjoys bringing choirs to life, wherever she travelṣ. Her move to India started the musical journey and she plans to continue it, in Thailand, where she has moved recently.

Please tell us a little bit about what gave you the idea and avenues to combine travel with music?

Some experiences are unforgettable. The Bangalore Whitefield Vista Choir came about serendipitously evolving into something much bigger than our imagination, impacting all of us irrevocably, and changing us forever!! For four years, a group of French Expats started the choir and hosted various performances on a smaller scale with about 12 singers. When I moved to Bangalore, I worked on increasing outreach to enhance the choir size and experience, and that is how the group grew three times over, bringing a range of diverse nationalities.

Why do you like to travel? How do you think it’s different when you pursue music along with travel, compared to visiting a place as a tourist or in your case, an expat?

For expats, the choir is a home away from home, providing that comforting feeling of being with like-minded people. As a foreigner in a country you need to find activities which will give you opportunities to meet people and make new friends. Singing in a choir is definitely a great way to share a common passion. No language barrier, no physical challenges and a real feeling of accomplishment in a group. Also, the pace of life in India is high with noise and agitation everywhere, so singing can work as a great relaxation tool similar to Yoga. All of us can sing, and the choir helped get locals and expats from US, Europe, Australia together for regular practice, I have wonderful memories!!

You’ve conducted choirs in France and then abroad, how was the experience different?

Of course very different!! I did choirs for college students or special occasions like weddings and with children. But nothing compared to the Bangalore choir where the level of diversity was amazing. We had participants trained in Indian classical music, Qawwali and also western classical, so we gained from interaction. Also, we had people from every continent I think. That was amazing too and we picked songs in Italian, French, German, Bengali and English while also singing Haydn, Mozart, Bach and some Gospel and Canon. In Thailand, the choir is largely a church experience.

How do you think travel and an exchange of culture through music enriches our lives?

Music is a fundamental expression in all cultures. It can be an individual or collective language to show emotions in stories. And it helps a lot to express oneself! Our pianist was extremely accomplished and from Japan, the choristers were all different culturally and in terms of experience (a few had never sung in harmony or the four voices ( soprano, alto, tenor and bass) or read sheet music even though they knew another form of classical music. I tried to instill confidence and to trust and listen to others to create harmony and unison. That was a unique experience. Truly, that could not have happened if I had stayed in France, for example.