‘Tribute’: Vinodh Senadheera: the voice that breathed over STC | Sunday Observer

‘Tribute’: Vinodh Senadheera: the voice that breathed over STC

Vinodh Senadheera-talented stage director and musician
Vinodh Senadheera-talented stage director and musician

‘O proud death, what feast is toward in thine eternal cell, that thou so many princes at a shot, so bloodily has struck?’- Hamlet (Act V).

The Thomian community was plunged into deep sorrow, as we heard of the death of Vinodh Senadheera on January 16. He was one of her great sons, and yet maintained a low profile, though he was often in the limelight. His sudden demise comes as a surprise to me as I met him exactly 50 days ago, in the Chapel of the Transfiguration - which has been a radiant beacon of hope to thousands of students. We were having a discussion on the forthcoming carol service on December 2, 2018, for a newspaper feature article (our first was done in 2016). A hallmark of this talented stage director and musician was his punctuality. I recall we were to meet at 5pm, and in adhering to the fine discipline inculcated at College he ‘appeared’ at 4.45 pm from the right side of the chapel, as the Warden Rev. Marc Billimoria mounted the steps from the front end.

Vinodh was perhaps like the young David who composed the psalms, playing his tunes on the harp. For Vinodh music was an extension of his very life. Having been trained by another stalwart of STC Russell Bartholomeusz, Vinodh would surprise his choirmaster when he would one day take up the very title and train the choristers. All Thomians past and present would readily agree that vibrant Senadheera did more than being a choirmaster. He was spirited and innovative. He created platforms for the students to display their prowess in song and drama. He contributed immensely to train the boys for the Shakespeare Drama competitions.

Vinodh was able to identify the dormant talent in youth and channel that gift to award winning perfection. Indeed he was a strict master like a Regimental Sergeant Major but he was also understanding and kind, full of humour.

Returning to the carol service rehearsals he once told me, ‘We are not singing to impress a congregation, we are singing to glorify God’. The Thomian choir has a proud heritage within the broader Anglican community, and the efforts of Senadheera were duly appreciated by the church. For many years as the choir master he was always felt but not seen at the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, modelled on the worship service of Kings College, London.

Vinodh was quite familiar with the arrangements of yuletide hymns, and was not a man looking for praise or mortal felicitation. He never wanted his photograph published in the newspaper articles on the carol service. At the end of the carol service he would silently disappear into the crowds. It must be said that he was one of the handful of church musicians who could play the magnificent pipe organ, an instrument that is a neglected relic in many old churches today. He often lamented that the younger generation was not keen to learn and master the pipe organ.

In 2007 along with Dayan Fernando and Rumesh Fonseka, he formed a choir of past Thomian choristers and called the group Nuova Vitae - meaning new life. The three men trained this choir which rendered a stellar performance. In 2018 Vinodh directed another amazing drama titled Lord of the Flies (written by William Golding) and showcased the talent of the young students. He also faithfully served the Colombo International School, where he will surely be missed. Vinodh Senadheera captured the true essence of Christian service, which can be summed up in Latin” Ad Maiorem, Dei Glorium” for the Greater Glory of God.

This was how he did everything during his mortal existence, until he was promoted to glory. In the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare said ‘With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come’- but for dear Vinodh death was thrust upon his young life, like a tragic chapter in literature.

Commenting on the demise of this astute Thomian, Warden S. Thomas’ College, Rev. Marc Billimoria said, “Vinodh Senadheera was a multi faceted individual. A loyal Thomian. A devoted servant of the College Chapel. A faithful friend, a fantastic teacher and mentor. His death has robbed the College of one of her great sons and Choir Master/Organist. On January 13 this year he was appointed Precentor, in recognition of 15 years of service to the Chapel.

Sri Lanka has lost one of its leading Directors of Drama and Theatre. The void his death has created will be hard to fill. He will be missed by his mother and brothers. Also by hundreds of students who passed through his care and tutelage as a teacher of English Literature, Music and Drama. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest”.

The Thomian fraternity will remain comforted in the words of Roman philosopher Marcus Cicero who said, ‘The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living’. He will be remembered.

As we parted our ways that Friday evening as the sun receded behind the shores of Mount Lavinia, 50 days ago Vinodh’s last words to me were, ‘Come back next December, I will be waiting for you on the chapel steps my friend’. I will honour your request Vinodh, but you will not be there to greet me. I remain confident that we will meet again on that glorious shore, where you would already be singing with the celestial choir in the realms of divine glory.

‘The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes’- Julius Caesar (Act 11). Your voice will continue to echo in the College Chapel. May your soul find eternal rest in our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Esto Perpetua!