I can still hear her voice – so clear, so stern, and yet so full of love.
Ruwani Seimon came from a family of doctors, but her interest in music was hardly clinical. She had this amazing ability to take any kind of music – classical, rock, pop, Tamil, Hindi, African, Hebrew, Latin – and transform it into her own piece.
Over the years, she coached the choirs of St. Bridget’s Convent, Bishops’ College, Wycherly International School and Gateway International School. I had the honour of being in two choirs under her direction – the Bishops’ College choir and her very own choir, Voices in Harmony.
She was a perfectionist, and would settle for nothing less than the best. She would keep saying: “I don’t want anything less than 200 percent.” I remember her running about, against doctors’ orders, prodding us with her walking stick and insisting we got our notes right and our dance steps perfect.
Everyone who met her will confirm that she was a fierce fighter in every sense. She was always bursting with energy, and I had to keep reminding myself that she was ill; during her last three years she was living with cancer. With her choir, Voices in Harmony, Ruwani raised more than one million rupees for cancer patients.
As her condition worsened, she became stronger, calmer, more driven. Everything was now on fast-forward. We rehearsed for and performed our last concert in Sri Lanka in just under two weeks.
Aunty Ru was different. She involved us in everything. We were singers, choreographers, costume designers and ticket sellers. Every rehearsal was so much fun. I remember her once finishing a class with an insane baila session, with her on the piano and her little son on drums, allowing us to freak out in her studio.
I still cannot fathom how she managed to instil in us so much discipline, and at the same time encourage us to let go of ourselves. Weak as she was, she insisted on joining us for rehearsals. Gradually, however, her visits to the studio became less regular, and her visits to the hospital more frequent.
I will never forget how hard she worked to raise money for our trip to Indonesia- to compete in the World Choir Games 2007. The trip to Jakarta, Indonesia, was exhilarating, mind-blowing. All of us carried with us the words she uttered weakly to us the night before we left: “I won’t be disappointed if you fail to win an award, but if you do win, that’ll be fabulous.”
We returned from Indonesia on November 7, 2007 and made our way to the hospital. The hospital corridors, stairways and floors were filled with fellow choristers,-past and present, as we raised our voices in tribute to Aunt Ru. Tears streaming down our faces, we sang in perfect harmony. She passed away that same evening.
We never got to tell her that we had won two gold diplomas, and I never got to tell Aunty Ru what a profound influence she had been in my life, and will always be.
Hania Mariam Luthufi