Since time immemorial, sacred music has always been a part and parcel of the Catholic Church. Its existence in the church has helped the entire Catholic congregation grow in deep faith with God and in love with His fellowmen.
In Goa, during yesteryears, there existed parochial schools (escola parochial) within the church premises and the tutors were the mestris (choir masters), who would lead the choir in the church for daily eucharistic services.
In the mornings, after the Eucharistic celebration, the parish priest would give tutorials to all those willing to learn the Portuguese language. And, in the evenings, the mestri was readily available to give training in music and solfam (notations), particularly to children and young minds.
As years rolled by, the demise of the mestris resulted in the drastic end of regular music classes, and the tutorials vanished into thin air. However, all those who had received a good foundation in music with the instruments, and solfam in particular, back then, turned out to be good musicians, who could carry the baton of the ancestors further.
CHANGES IN THE MUSIC SCENE
In the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, there used to be only one mestri in each parish church across Goa. And, with the age-old violin in hand, he would play and sing simultaneously, thus leading the faithful to soulful singing.
During that period, all the religious services in the church, from eucharistic celebrations to the Holy Hour, feasts, funerals and others, would be led by the individual choir master, as far as the renditions were concerned. The priest would be totally dependent on him to begin and conclude any liturgical service.
Today, the phase of individual leadership of the one-man choir has vanished. The existence of one mestri may continue in many churches and chapels, but when it comes to festive occasions, there are several musicians, singers and instruments, including electronic gadgets, being introduced in the church choir group.
Fr Agnelo D’Souza, a priest and a musician from the Society of Pilar, shares his rich experience of the past and the present scenario in local churches as far as sacred music is concerned.
“In the past,” Fr D’Souza says, “more stress was laid on learning the music and the solfeggio. The sacred music was followed strictly by notations.”
“But today, with the introduction of the keyboard, guitar and the bass in some churches, the spirituality of sacred music has been lost forever. It’s more of sheer sound and noise now, which does not help the congregation to raise their voices and hearts to God. It is more of a presentation and performance of the band,” he grieves.
“Probably, because those dedicated mestris passed away,” Fr D’Souza continues, “there was no one, thereafter, to continue their immense and selfless services in the church.”
“With modernisation stepping in, electronic instruments slowly paved the way in churches. And, it definitely is not a good trend as their presence does not help the faithful to get into a prayerful mood,” he opines.
“In some parishes, there are choir groups engaged in soulful singing and they are a pleasure to listen to,” the Pilar priest shares.
“There must always be some control in the music accompaniment. Singing in different voices definitely helps the congregation pray more devoutly. But, minus the electronic instruments introduced in many choir groups today, the music will help elevate one’s heart and soul to God,” he quips.
MOVING WITH THE TIMES
Fr Peter Cardozo, sfx, who is closely associated with sacred music and is a tutor and conductor of orchestras, carries a different opinion.
“In recent times, sacred music has witnessed a sea change. We cannot restrict ourselves only to the accompaniment of the violin when it comes to sacred music in the church today,” he says. “Instead, we need to move with the times. And, accompaniments with more instruments only enrich the music and the singing. But, everything has to be under the control of the choirmaster.”
Another young musician from Goa Velha, Nevil Cardozo, is of the opinion that along with the violin, other instruments help the choir members sing gracefully.
“The period when sacred music was restricted to the violin has gone. Some faithful prefer good music and singing by the choir during the services. Or else, they will refrain from participating in the services and may even move elsewhere for the celebrations,” added Nevil.