Goa's Musical Past and Present
The sobriquet 'Italians of the East' does not apply to Goans any more
By Gerald A de Souza
The affinity of Goans for the performing arts, and their love of music in particular, goes back many centuries long before the advent of the Portuguese. There were Goan folk songs and dances expressing the entire gamut of emotions: joys and sorrows, affection and love, dignity and loftiness, faith and freedom, as well as, slavery, frustration, misery and agony. There were songs encompassing the human condition from womb to tomb.
Some of the ancient forms that have survived to the present time are: Zoti- songs welcoming the bride to her new home - and a variety of nuptial songs (appropriate to each caste), Duvallo for pregnancy, Palnnam - lullabies, Dhalo - a festive dance, Khell and Zagor - popular theatre songs, Fughadi - religious dance, Launnim - based on legendary themes and work songs of separate occupations. The songs and dances were accompanied by a variety of string instruments like the veena, sarangi and tanpura, woodwinds like the dholak (mridanga), ghumot, madlem, kasalem, bansari and zanj (cymbals). The programs were performed in every village usually in a sacred spot called devaston or in a mand (circle.)
As with other traditional arts and crafts the requisite skills and finer points of aesthetics were passed down from one generation to the next in home or in special devashalas or gurukuls where religion was taught through the chanting of puranas, bhajans and kirtans. All poetry was sung rather than recited. Some of the modern day avatars of this long and illustrious tradition have become household names in India and the Indian diaspora: Dinanath Mangueshkar and his children, Lata, Asha and Usha, Dr, Kishori Amonkar, Anuradha Padwal, Suresh Wadkar, Jitendra Abhisheki etc.
When the Christian missionaries came to Goa in the wake of the Portuguese conquest in 1510, they adopted the same method of teaching. Newly converted native children were taught their daily prayers and fundamental tenets (Our Father, Hail Mary, the Creed and Ten Commandments) in song, initially in Portuguese and subsequently in Konkani from around 1544 - the year that marked the opening of the first parochial schools. Here young boys and girls were taught Christian doctrine and sacred music along with the above languages on a formal basis. In course of time, the students were introduced to the rudiments of music and the art of solfegio to enable them to fluently sight-read and sing the hymns from western musical notation. Talented children were also taught to play the violin, the mandolin, the vihuela (forerunner of the modern guitar), the harp and the organ. These instruments were then used to accompany the singers.
The Jesuits, Dominicans and Augustinians, among the several religious orders who came to undertake evangelical work and higher education, conducted advanced music classes in their colleges as did the Royal Convent of St. Monica for girls. Choirs of students, novices and seminarians were taught to perform more elaborate polyphonic music in four voices like Latin motets (doleful renderings of the Biblical texts on the Passion of Jesus Christ) to be sung during Lenten services and processions. The Jesuits even took a Goan choir all the way to Agra to celebrate the feast of a chapel they had built there.
This choral music percolated down gradually to all the parishes. To the repertoire of motets were later added Ters in Latin as well as in Konkani, Litanies and Salves (where the choristers were dressed as angels). It became a common practice to sing litanies, accompanied by one or more violin, in homes and at roadside crosses.
Woodwind and brass instruments (flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, euphonium, tuba) and percussion devices like the bass and snare drum, tympani, cymbals, xylophone, gongs and triangle) were added in the early nineteenth century. These instruments began to be used outdoors in the churchyard as well to play the reveille (alvorada) in the grey light of dawn on feast days or after Sunday Mass and Vespers. They also came to be used for funeral and other pompous marches, processions, pageants and later for public entertainment in bandstands set up in city gardens. The Dutch traveller, Johann Albretch Mandelslo, who witnessed one such performance during a visit to Goa has recorded his amazement at the proficiency of the native musicians playing twelve different instruments.
It was during this time that there emerged in the intimate association with music the genre of tragicomedies, which the Jesuits fondly patronised. It was a type of religious opera that was to engage the creative talents of eminent Italian and Iberian composers for two hundred years, notably Domenico Scarlatti, Jose da Silva, Souza Carvalho, Antonio Fonseca and Domingo Bonitempo. The tradition continued in the Rachol seminary even after it was taken over from the Jesuits. Archbishop Patriarch Dom Antonio Sebastiao founded a new choir in 1897 initially named 'Palestrinian Orpheon' to promote sacred polyphonic music according to the method of the famous Italian composer, Giovanni Perluigi da Palestrina - a trend setter in the sacred music of his age. In 1905, it was renamed the Choir of St. Cecilia (the patroness of music and musicians) in order to venture into other forms in addition to the Palestrinian.
This choir is still in existence having performed uninterrupted for over a century under the direction of noted musicians who were appointed Professors of Music at the Seminary such as Frs. Agostinho de Rocha, Luis Bruno Menezes, Sebastiao Luis, Francisco Domingo Luis, Lelis de Souza, Maestro Camillo Xavier, Maestro Dr. Lourdinho Barreto and Fr. Bernado Cotta. Besides setting a high standard of excellence in choral music, the seminary also produced a strong cadre of future priests well trained in music and capable of disseminating the art to the parish youth. The current choir is proud of the repertoire - backed by its own string quintet - encompassing both religious and secular works of Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi, Schubert, Palestrina and Praglia as well as of contemporary indigenous composers like Michael Martins, Camilo Xavier, Lourdinho Barreto and Victor Paranjoti. It continues to perform each year a solemn polyphonic mass for the 31st July feast of St. Ignatius Loyola and on other festive occasions at the seminary, which are open to the public.
Meanwhile, over the same period, folk music of various kinds continued to have a life of its own. Among the Portuguese residents, their descendants and lusitanized urban Goans, the fado, modinha, corridinho, vira and serenates were very popular. There also emerged folk songs and dances like the mando, dulpod and dekhnni through a blending of intrinsically native melodies with western (mainly Italian and Iberian) harmonic devices. The indigenous folk songs continued to thrive particularly among the Hindus residing in Goa and those who had fled to neighbouring states during Portuguese rule. A uniquely Goan vaudeville theatre (tiatr) consisting of plays and songs, generally satirical and humorous, based upon current affairs, mores and foibles also evolved. The imperative of having to compose new plays and songs however militated against high artistic quality of this genre; nevertheless, it continued to attract and entertain huge audiences of all communities.
From the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Goan musicians began to be recruited in military bands in the Portuguese colonies from East Africa to Timor, in the British South Asian Empire (India, Burma, Ceylon, the Straits Settlements, and also in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). They even appeared as bandsmen in the independent Indian principalities. Soon, Goans were inducted in increasing numbers into the orchestras playing classical and light classical music, dance bands in elite ballrooms, hotels, gymkhanas and clubs. During the days of the silent movies, they became the chief providers of background music played in theatres, and when the movies became talkies, they became the mainstay of the orchestras in the film recording studios not only as sidemen and soloists, but as arrangers, composers and conductors, albeit under famous Indian music directors.
From the roaring twenties to the cool sixties of the 20th century, Goans took to jazz like ducks to water. Their solfegio trained ears, sound instrumental technique, fluency with scales, modes, arpeggios and cadences (the building blocks of improvisation) along with inborn creativity gave them an edge throughout the period of the evolution of jazz: from ballads to blues, Dixieland to swing and the exiting variety of Latin American music from tango to bolero, beguine, rhumba, conga, samba, mambo, calypso, cha-cha and bossa nova. The two hundred or so musicians manning the leading big bands and the several nightclub combos in Bombay alone during the late sixties were almost exclusively Goans.
By then, however, jazz music had begun to evolve new forms like progressive jazz, bebop and free forms using complex polyrhythms, dissonant harmonies, jagged and atonal melodic structures. One could neither dance to it nor hum it. It became an esoteric music for appreciation by other musicians. Though Goan jazzmen quickly got into the groove, the music itself had lost its large young audiences to newly emergent rock and roll, pop and reggae, which marked a return to simpler rhythm and blues idioms and which reduced popular music to the lowest common denominators in terms of melody, rhythm and harmony as well as in orchestration. The new 'beat group' consisted of three or more electrified guitars, with keyboards, drums and a host of 'techno' electronic gadgetry, attachments and devices like synthesisers with a multi- toned palette, auto-rhythms, auto-vamp, drum machines, strobe lights etc.
The rock revolution had been preceded by mass production of transistor-radios, record players and amplifiers to reproduce, enhance and project the catchier tunes and throbbing pulsating beats of the new music - all of which sounded the death knell of the conventionally trained bandsmen, who could not adapt to the changes.
Like all crazes, however, it is just a matter of time before the trend in the evolution of music will pass. Fashions in the arts, as in dress, tend to swing between extremes in progressive dialectic spirals. The need for accomplished 'acoustic' musicianship will come back with a vengeance but at a still more challenging and higher plane of proficiency than existed in the past. Is the emerging new generation of Goans ready for it? To answer this question, let's have a look at our music schools.
Situated at Campal in Panjim, this school, founded in 1971 and financed entirely by Government of Goa grants, has two sections: Western and Indian.
The Department of Western Music (currently directed by Mrs. Margarida Miranda) is the successor to the former Academia de Musica established at Fontainhas (Panjim) in 1952. It conducts classes in theory and appreciation of music, solfegio (sight-singing), voice training, stringed instruments, keyboard and woodwinds. Currently there are 272 students in the department learning voice (19), violin (100), guitar (45), piano (92), flute and recorder (10). Minimum age for enrolment is 8 years and maximum 10, except for voice and guitar. The courses are arranged in various grades: Lower Elementary (3 years), Upper Elementary, Intermediate and Lower Advanced (2 years each), providing an aggregate of 9 years training to a level of proficiency required for fluent performance of the standard repertoire, as well as for the Trinity College of Music (London) examinations, which some students opt for.
The Department of Indian Music is currently directed by Mrs. Alka Deo Marulkar. There are 381 students now learning vocal (76), sitar (19), harmonium (32) and tabla (71), Bharat Natyam (109) and Kathak (74). Each course has an orientation program of one year followed by three progressive grades (Madyama, Kushal and Paranjeet) of three years each giving the student 10 years aggregate tutoring.
Students of the Academy in both departments, who have the desired level of proficiency are encouraged to join the student choirs and orchestras and to perform solo at monthly concerts as well as on special occasions open to the public during the year. The Academy maintains an extensive record library (discotheque) to expose the students to the very best of classical and contemporary music, apart from organising live concerts by visiting artists from within Goa, India and abroad.
GOA COLLEGE OF MUSIC
This is another Government-sponsored institution, founded in 1987, located at Dr. T.B. Cunha Education Complex, Altinho, Panjim. Headed by Kamlakar Naik (Principal) and a senior vocalist, this school is meant for older students, who has passed S.S.C. (10th std.) and desire to make Indian music their career. Admission is restricted to 30 students in a year. Over a course that lasts 5 years they are taught voice, tabla, harmonium and sitar. Successful students are awarded a degree of Bachelor of Music (B.Mus) by the Goa University to which the school is affiliated.
PILAR MUSIC SCHOOL
Situated on the road to the Monastery of the Society of Pilar, this school founded in 1972 by Fr. Peter Cardozo (its present director) was awarded Government recognition in 1983. It has about 200 students learning music theory, solfegio, voice, violin, guitar, piano, organ, drums, clarinet and flute, and brass instruments like trumpet and saxophone. The school has evolved its own basic curriculum for each instrument with a special syllabus for students opting for the Trinity College of Music grade examinations. It also conducts a very popular summer orientation course each year, which includes additional subjects like Bharat Natyam and Dramatics.
The Pilar Choir and School Orchestra are particularly admired for their wonderful repertoire of Konkani music. They are regular participants in various cultural activities such as the All-Goa Mando Festival, the Vocal Harmonisation Inter-State Competition organised by the All India Radio, New Delhi, and the All-Goa Singing Competitions and concerts etc. The musicians of the school formed the core of the ensemble that raised the curtain for the recently held, highly acclaimed, Konkani Sangeet Sammelan on 9/10 February this year. One particularly good Pilar School production is entitled "Agnel - Onod Goycho". It is an opera in Konkani on the life of the founder of the Society of Pilar, told in beautiful mando-flavoured choral music, composed, arranged and conducted by Fr. Cardozo.
SOLFA MUSIC SCHOOL
This school - situated in modest premises on the 2nd floor above Mapusa Clinic Hospital - was founded and has been run by Fr. Carlos Mendes since 1984. It has 78 students today. It follows the age-old time-tested method of the traditional parochial schools where students were taught to sight-read, sing, play and write music by solfegio, besides providing instruction in piano and organ, violin, guitar and group singing. It also teaches dramatics and choreography for folk dances (mando and dekhnni) as well as Vira Portuguesa and Tango Mexicana.
Fr. Mendes is a truly remarkable person, who tries to inculcate in his students the idea that the learning of music is not acquiring a means of livelihood -though it could become one. It is a good walking stick but a poor crutch. It should be cultivated as a delightful but serious hobby that brings joy, peace and happiness not only to the performer but to the listener as well.
As to kinds of music, he has no fixations or prejudices. He believes in the universality of musical appeal in all forms, classical or folk, ancient or modern, western or eastern. Translating his conviction into practice, he has even done a course - in his mature years- in Indian vocal music and harmonium under none other than the renowned teacher, Gajanan Naik Petkar of Bicholim.
MAESTRO FR. CAMILO XAVIER SCHOOL OF MUSIC
Originally named the School of Music (Margao), this institution located in relatively spacious premises near the Holy Spirit School was founded in 1954 on the initiate of Fr. Camilo Xavier on his return after training in Church Music at the Rome Cantata. According to Mrs Eutropia Dias, the Administrator, it had reached its peak strength of 312 students in 1984, but since then, hamstrung by paucity of funds to pay remunerative salaries to teachers and lack of adequate Government support, it has gradually slipped to a current strength of 134 pupils. Of these 55 are learning the piano, 13 the violin and 8 the guitar. The school has two upright and one fine grand piano. It also has instruments like the violincello, double-bass and clarinets, but is not able to take on students for them for want of the requisite teachers.
The school had once been the launching pad of a famous choral group called "Goencho Nad" which had presented several Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and gave highly acclaimed performances in and out of Goa, including Bangalore, Pune, Bombay and Delhi. Mrs Cheryl Colaco, the current Chairperson, has made it her mission to revive the group under the baton of the renowned conductor Fr. Bernard Cotta. Though all the other school committee members (Dr. Prithi Araujo, Ms. Fatima Rebello, Adv. Walter Colaco, Adv. Philomena D'Silva, Mr. Luizinho Ataide and Joseph Carvalho) are also making zealous efforts, the intractable constraint continues to be financial. The dream of reviving "Goencho Nad" needs a generous sponsor or two for its early realisation.
Finally, coming back to broader question, it is clear that the overall scene as reflected by the enrolment in our music schools is dismal. At first glance it appears that the next generation of Western-music oriented Goan musicians will comprise mainly vocalists, violinists, guitarists and pianists but in reality most of the violinists would have switched to guitar and the pianists to electronic keyboards in their teens as being more fun and rewarding. In other words, we are producing the material for beat-groups only.
The prospects of having the requisite musicians from the next generation to stage a full ensemble jazz-band of four saxophones, two trumpets, a trombone with piano, bass and drums is bleak and the chances of putting together even modest philharmonic or symphony orchestra for classical music is very remote. If at all, the Indian music scene is somewhat better than in the past, though the spectrum of instruments being learnt are narrowly restricted to the sitar, harmonium and tabla.
It is easy to lay the blame for the sad decline in musical culture on the replacement of the old parochial schools by the English medium ones, the heavy academic syllabus, the imperative for achieving high percentages to gain a place in the professional colleges, and the post-liberation milieu of competition in the commercial and industrial arena, and the new culture of equating success in life with wealth. Let's face it. Musically, we are no longer the "Italians of the East".