India ⁄ Bombay Chamber Orchestra
“The Fascinating Life of BCO Founder”
The following story is dedicated to our founder and mentor, Ms. Jini Dinshaw, who will be turning 90 this August.
Born to Mr. Dinshaw Dhunjibhoy and Mrs. Piroja Dinshaw in 1930, Ms. Jini was one of eight children. Her father had hoped she would study medicine, but Ms. Jini’s heart lay elsewhere: in Music.
After a year of studying BSc at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, she left for England in 1947, where she began learning the violin, at the age of 17. In London, she lived with her private violin teacher, Ms. Gladys Noon, whose home she would dust for pocket money. Despite picking up a difficult instrument at an older age, Ms. Jini completed all the ABRSM violin exams within three-and-a-half years.
In 1952, however, she had to return to India, because her mother felt she had been gone for far too long. It was a two-week journey back home, by ship, and her mother did not want her to go back to England. But Ms. Jini could not be kept away from music too long…
A year later, she decided to go back to London, where her teacher, Ms. Noon, put her on to other teachers (like Antonio Brosa). All this while, Ms. Jini knew that she would have to return to India at some point, because her mother wanted her home.
After 7 more years of study, Ms Jini returned to Mumbai in 1960. Her mother passed away in 1962. “Once people got to know that I had returned from England, I got one student,” says Ms. Jini, who soon began teaching violin in Mumbai.
By that time, the only two Western classical orchestras in the city — the Bombay Symphony and The Bombay Philharmonic — had faded away. “In the mid-60s, when I had a few students, I was invited to see an Evening of Musical Talent, a show with lots of young talent,” says Ms. Jini. “I realized the need to restart an orchestra, so I formed the Bombay Chamber Orchestra!”
Ms. Jini founded the Bombay Chamber Orchestra in 1962, with head conductor Dr. Koellreutter from the Max Mueller institute. “He would come from Delhi for the concerts!” she remembers. For a variety of reasons, the BCO was inactive from 1975 to 1978. Ms. Jini restarted it with young children who she trained with the help of Josic Menezes, a music teacher from Bandra. Ms. Jini’s passion for building up the orchestra from scratch was evident in the steps she took to set up entire missing sections. There was, for instance, no cello section when she restarted the orchestra.
“In 1978, I went to Switzerland for a month to study the basics of cello, so that I could train children here in Bombay,” she said.
In fact, many of the BCO’s current members have been trained by Ms. Jini when they were children.
Ms. Jini also brought on board Dr. Charles Darden, a conductor from New York, whose visits to Mumbai were sponsored by a British cellist who wanted to help the BCO. “For 9 months, Darden trained the orchestra. Under him, young BCO gave 3 successful concerts.”
The BCO was also the orchestra for an opera at the Tata Theatre – Marriage of Figaro by the Milan Opera Company. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi herself attended the last show, 10 days before she was killed in 1984.
In 1985, the BCO was the orchestra for the first live ballet in India – Giselle by the Royal Ballet Co. of UK. The show ran for a week. “It was televised all over India, on Doordarshan,” Ms. Jini says. After that, Ms. Jini was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) by the Queen of England.
“All this while, I played lead violin in the BCO. Then I went into the cello section for a while. At any point, BCO had 45-50 members. It was and still is like a training space – young musicians get exposed to conductors from around the world,” she says. “BCO lives on regular donors and we have always done four concerts a year.”
Parallelly, Ms. Jini continued teaching music. “When I first started as a teacher, I charged Rs 80 per month, then Rs 100, and more recently, I raised it to Rs 500,” she says. “I have been married to my music. It is the greatest thing for the mind to develop memory and to remain young and active.”
The story of Western Classical Music in India would be incomplete without the immense contribution and efforts of Ms. Jini. For that, we are forever grateful. Thank you, fellow music lovers, for being a part of this beautiful journey. Join us in wishing our beloved Ms Jini a very happy and blissful 90th birthday!
Bombay Chamber Orchestra