Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Ivor Dennis and His Master's Voice
by Cecil Perera
ersatile Singer and Music Composer Ivor Dennis will be 75 on 28th May, 2007. He was educated at Davi Samara, Seeduwa, Maris Stella College and Loyola College Negombo. Ivor is a genuine find and a disciple of maestro Sunil Santha.
In 1952, Ivor had participated in an amateur song festival of Radio Ceylon, wherein he sang Sunil Santha’s "Waren Heen Sare, Redhee Walave". Maestro Sunil Santha had heard the recital on the radio, inspite of a slight slur spotted by the maestro, he was confused, as the voice was almost identical to his own. On making inquiries the Great Maestro found out that Pasquelge Don Augustine Ivor Dennis of Seeduwa had been the singer. From that day, the relationship between the ‘Guru’ and the Disciple never wavered.
Genuine Sinhala music was first introduced to the local cinema in Dr. Lester James Peiris ‘Rekhava’ followed by ‘Sandesaya’. Sunil Santha composed the tunes for all songs in both films. Sunil did not travel to India for the recordings, instead he nominated Ivor to stand in for him. In addition to his singing, Ivor trained the playback artistes.
He was appointed an A grade singer in 1958. He won the Presidential Award for the best Playback Singer for the film ‘Hima Kathara’. He was closely associated in the productions of ‘Madhura Madhu, Pancha Madhura , Ran Walawa and Seegiri Gee’,during the second coming of Sunil Santha to Radio Ceylon or the SLBC. Ivor’s first song to be recorded was ‘Kurulu Paradiseye’ set to the music of the Maestro, and the lyrics were Thilak Sudharman Silva’s. His patriotic song, composed by him ‘Abhimananeeyavoo Navodeye Hiru’ written by Leslie Boteju is a masterpiece. His cassette ‘Abhmana Gee’ was produced in1984.
He was a consultant at the Government College of Music, and worked with W D Makuloluwa in ‘Depano and Pahanin Pahana’. He was a key singer in Premasiri Khemadasa’s operas, ‘Manasawila and Pirinivan Mangallaya’. He sang in Khemdasa Master’s cassette ‘Raja Weda’ and Ven. Rambukkana Siddartha Thero’s ‘Sansare Api and Gammane Api’. Ivor was a playback singer for many Sinhala films.
Ivor participated in song recitals in Japan, Indonesia, Italy, England and New Zealand.
After the initial breakthrough of Fr. Macelline Jayakody into local church music, the partnership of Rev. Fr. Moses Perera and his nephew Sunil Santha were almost revolutionary. The beautiful and meaningful lyrics of Fr. Moses were adorned by devotionfull and melodious tunes of Sunil Santha. The hymnal ‘Obata Pasasa Gee’ was published in 1964.
Ivor continued the good work of his Guru, and composed music for Fr. Moses in ‘Obata Pasasa Gee’ 2 and 4 in 1968 and 1973. He joined the Pubuduwa in 1974 and initiated a new trend in its musical prayers. Pubuduwa produced two cassettes ‘Ape pavulen oba mahimaya’ and ‘Obe wethi Rajindo’, wherein all the tunes were composed by Ivor. He received an OCIC award for the services rendered to Christian Literary Music.He was a pioneer of the ‘Rasanjalie Kala Kavaya’ which had a galaxy of stars. To name a few, Ralex and Tony Ranasinghe, Leslie Boteju, Jackson Anthony, Kumarie Munasinghe, Joe Dambulugala, Malkanthie Pieris, K Francis, Alexis Fernando, Francis Horana, Anthony Molligoda. Rev. Frs. Earnest Poruthota and Joe Quintus Perera were the clergy involved.
He composed music for the works of Rev. Frs. Molligoda Moses, and sang for his cassettes and that of Frs. Cyril Gamini, Cecil Joy and Anthony Hemantha. Those who were fortunate to participate at the centenary celebration of Fr. Moses at the Kuda Madhu Church, Dehiyagatha, which was presided over by Rt. Rev. Dr. Oswald Gomis and Rt. Ev. Dr. Elmo Perera still remember, how the congregation was stunned, and the deafening silence that prevailed when Ivor sang ‘Sirureni Seba Namo’ composed by him and written by Fr. Moses..
Though 75, he is very much active, being involved with his own compositions, carrying on the Sunil Gee tradition, and a live wire of the church musical activities. He has a host of competent disciples.
Ivor Dennis is a humble man not allured by gold or silver. We trust that he would produce a couple of CDs, so that the true music lovers and the future generations could appreciate and listen to his unique, melodious and powerful voice.
He was Sunil Shantha's much favoured disciple. He not only was able to follow his guru's vision and mission but replicate is voice. Veteran musician and singer Ivor Dennis has completed fifty golden years in his service to Sri Lankan music which to his master gave an identity.
Coinciding with his 75th birthday, Ivor released a compact disc with 15 of his new songs and a launch of a book titled 'Apa Dutu Ivor Dennis' edited by Chandra Keerthi Kularatne at a felicitation ceremony organised with a musical titled 'Uthurana Kiri Kalasa Vilasin' at the Elphinstone Theatre last week.
At the opening of the ceremony
Ivor's life took a , when Patrick Denipitiya brought the good news in 1951 that he is wanted by Sunil Shantha, who was a hero for him then and became this young man's mentor later. This was after the greatest musician and singer who was impressed by Ivor's voice, having heard him sing one of his songs over the radio, invited him to sing in his chorus. It was when Ivor was still schooling and took part in a programme for amateur singers on the radio. The song he sang was Sunil Santha's "Waren Heensare, Redee Walawe". If not for a slight hitch in his singing, Sunil Shantha would have had thought that he was hearing his own voice.
And he sent Patrick to Seeduwa to pick the young man who matched his voice identically. In fact, Sunil Santha who was in Ja-ela, used to pick him up and bring him for classes in Colombo. Ever since, Ivor was besides his master and has been his faithful follower,".
Starting a professional singing career in 1956, Ivor Dennis recalls 1986 as a memorable year in his life, for it was in this year that he won first place in an international singing competition organized by the Asian Broadcasting Union in New Zealand. For his service to the country and his guru, the cultural Ministry awarded Ivor with a special 'Desha Nethru' award for his contribution.
Following in the footsteps of his guru, Ivor never used his talent to profit for himself. He used it for others, for the country and to God. He was in charge of the music section of "Pubuduwa"-Catholic Renewal Movement and he was one of the leading lay artistes who changed the trend of inserting words into popular song to use in worship. Further his tunes had an eastern flavour and he played a pivotal role in localising church singing.
"Sunil Shantha was the greatest artiste born in this land and sacrificed his life for the principles he believed. By joining him in his journey, Ivor did great service to the country and its music," Rev. Fr. Oscar Abeyratne, the head of 'Pubuduwa' said. "Like his mentor, Ivor Denis never let himself be sold to wealth, money or any other worldly gain," Fr, Abeyratne said.