“Symphony for a Child” is a unique annual charitable concert that has happened in London for the past eleven years, mainly due to the warmth and generosity of spirit, boundless energy and commitment of one woman Srima Jayasekera – a former concert pianist and music teacher.
Held at Regent Hall in the heart of Central London, the concert has brought together a number of distinguished performers including most of the Sri Lankan musicians living abroad who have excelled in their art. Over the years Rohan and Druvi De Saram, Rohan de Silva, Gayathrie Pieris and Sujeeva Hapugalle have been amongst the artists who have gladly played their part in the “Symphony for a Child”.
The idea for the “Symphony” sprang from Srima’s determination to help enhance the facilities of the Children’s Unit of the Maharagama Cancer Hospital following a visit there over a decade ago. Scrupulously audited and distributed at every concert, all proceeds from the Symphony – except for the hire of the hall – go towards the improvement of the conditions and opportunities for Sri Lankan children primarily under the age of 16. Accordingly, institutions as well as individuals have benefited from the proceeds of the “Symphony for a Child”.
The first concert, attended by over 250 people raised over 4,000 pounds sterling for the Children’s Unit and since then “Symphony for a Child” has raised 2,000 pounds sterling for the Unit, annually.
The proceeds from this year’s concert will be donated to Ward No. 2 of the IDH in Gothatuwa, Angoda for children with HIV and other serious paediatric conditions. This ward was opened on May 14 in memory of Srima’s late husband Brighty a former manager of the Bank of Ceylon in London and a great source of strength and support to Srima.
She also gratefully acknowledges the support of Drs. B.J.C. Perera, D.D.A Wijewickrema and Anura Senanayake in this initiative. Amongst the children whose lives have been changed by the “Symphony for a Child” are Nuwan Maduwagaruge and Chulani Umayangana.
In 2005, Nuwan then a 13 year old, was horribly injured after falling into a pit of burning coconut shells whilst chasing a cricket ball. With the help of the “Symphony for a Child” he was warded for a year at the Apollo Hospital under the care of the Indian specialist Dr. Panesar. Having recovered reasonably well, Nuwan was able to return to school.
In 2006, Chulani aged 6 and born deaf and dumb had her first cochlear implant in an operation performed by Dr. Kaneswaran from India, at the Durdans Hospital. The operation was a major success – Chulani can hear, she attends school, is trying to talk and continues with speech therapy at Durdans.
Yet another life that has been changed, decisively and deservedly, by the “Symphony” is that of Namal Sanjeewa. Namal, a son of poor parents from Weerawila in Tissamaharama was recommended to Srima by Kushil Gunasekera. Even at 13 – his age when Srima first encountered him – Namal wanted to be an engineer. Srima concedes that she had doubts at first and cautioned him about the commitment and hard work this would entail.
Namal however dispelled all doubts, obtaining 10 Distinctions at his O/ Levels and 3 As at the A /Levels. With the help of a further years tuition in English, Namal entered the University of Moratuwa for a four year degree course ( English Medium) in Civil Engineering. As he was over 16 and Symphony Funds were restricted to essential material and equipment, Srima’s family helped with his board, lodging and daily expenses. Every year on the course, Namal obtained First Class passes and he has just completed his BSc. in Civil Engineering (First Class). He has been placed on the Dean’s List with a score of 3.99 out of a possible 4.2.
Special mention must also be made of violinist Thushani Jayawardena whose association with the “Symphony for a Child” was based on a recommendation by the well – known Sri Lankan pianist Sujeewa Hapugalle. Impressed by her talent after seeing a video of her performing at the age of 13, Srima and her husband Brighty gifted Thushani a return ticket to London and the opportunity to study in London.
Thushani stayed with Srima and Brighty and through Srima’s good friend Jonathan Hill secured an audition with Prof. Howard Davies of the Royal Academy of Music. With funds from the “Symphony for a Child” Thushani did classes with Prof. Davies, entered a number of competitions at which she won prizes accompanied by Neil Hatton, a friend of Srima’s. Unfortunately, she did not reach the standard required for a full scholarship to the Royal Academy and returned to Sri Lanka enriched by her experience in the UK.
This year’s “Symphony for a Child” will feature artistes from various backgrounds who share a common characteristic of excellent potential and accomplishment. The programme will range form Western Classical music played on the piano, flute, violin and cello to vocal duets and solo tenors to traditional Kandyan drums, the Murathangam, Jazz Piano and Rhythm and Blues.
The programme in this respect sustains the tradition of Symphony concerts of variety in the choice of the music as well as in the age of the performers.
“Symphony for a Child” is about excellence and accomplishment irrespective of age or musical discipline. Above all, this remarkable initiative that has been sustained for over a decade with love and commitment, is about opportunity and about making a difference for children, their lives and futures.