BY J. LOIOLA PEREIRA [THE NAVHIND TIMES * JAN 23, 1998]
HE STOOD TALL. Six feet plus. He walked tall, as if busy with lofty things. He lived tall. Above daily trifles. Finally, on January 24, 1997, at the age of 58, he succumbed. And he was lowered into a grave. In the process, Goa — nay, India — was bereft of some ‘tallness’. For Lourdino Barreto towered above the rest. Particularly, in the arena which brought him so much acclaim: western music.
“What good can come from Galgibaga, a forgotten, woody hamlet in South Goa,” a city-bred Panjimite might ask. The answer is Lourdino Barreto. Without any noteworthy musical traditions in his ancestry, Barreto rose like a royal lotus blossoming in marshy waters.
This Galgibaga lad soon became a familiar sight in the corridors and auditoriums of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music and the National Conservatoire in Rome, in the late ‘sixties. Having graduated with distinction in Gregorian Chant, Piano and Composition, he defended his doctoral thesis (titled ‘Aesthetic Indian Music as a bridge between Christian and Indian Religious Music’) with such aplomb that his guide, Prof Giuseppe Cianfriglia, coaxed him to top his brilliant academic career with a further two-year course of Virtuoso.
But Lourdino, the priest, turned down the invitation, as he considered that to be of little practical use to his priestly ministry after he would return to Goa.
His works, some of them based on Indian ‘Ragas’, have been performed by various orchestras and musical ensembles in cities like Rome, Lisbon, Baltimore, Buenos Aires, to mention but a few. A couple of these performances were beamed onto our television screens, thanks to the Star TV network. He himself was invited to give violin, piano or organ recitals in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, England the the United States of America.
Back in India, after having taught music in the minor and major seminaries of Archdiocese of Goa, he held till his premature death the prestigious post of director of the western music department of Goa’s Kala Academy.
It is interesting to note that his appointment to that government post did not involve any of the cumbersome procedures usually connected with such events. Not for him the interview, the godfather. Fr Lourdino did not even apply for the job. It was the government that sought him out, requesting the bishop of Goa to “permit Fr Barreto to accept the said post”, because the authorities concerned felt that “Fr Barreto’s service in the field of western music will be very beneficial to Goans and he will certainly create a good name for the Academia in the cultural map of India…” (excerpts from the letter addressed in 1977 to Bishop Raul Gonsalves by Ms Shashikala Kakodkar, the then chief minister of Goa and chairperson of the Kala Academy).
Barreto’s multi-faceted musical talent took him from one field of action to another. Besides coordinating the musical education given by his department, he formed the Goa Philharmonic Choir, which gave recitals regularly over the years, accompanied by the Goa Symphony Orchestra, also directed by him.
His choir interpreted western, Indian and Goan choral music, besides staging a few operettas, broadway musicals and a full- length opera, Verdi’s Il Trovatore. This musical ensemble had also the privilege of being invited to participate in international choir festivals in Rome and other capitals of Europe, having won accolades from audiences world wide.
This is not to speak of the highly successful tours the group made in our own country, covering Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram. After a performance of the Goa Symphony Orchestra in Mumbai, back in 1985, the music critic of the *Sunday Observer* then remarked: “In having its own wind and percussion sections, the orchestra has done better than our Bombay ones.” (SO, Sept 22, 1985.) Some of the unforgettable stage performances under Barreto’s musical direction were: Mikado, Wizard of Oz, Oliver Twist, Fiddler on the Roof, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady and Orphaeus in the Underworld.
At the time of his death — after a brief illness, following renal failure — his heart and mind were set on his choir’s impending visit to Vienna, later in the month of May. They had been invited to represent India at the Franz Schubert International Festival, organised to commemorate the second birth centenary of the celebrated musical composer from Austria. The Goa Philharmonic Choir was to give three full recitals in Vienna. The visit had to be cancelled, for no one else, obviously, could replace the maestro.
For some time, Fr Barreto was the president of Goa’s Diocesan Commission for Sacred Music, having himself helped bring Konkani sacred music to international standards, through his outstanding compositions and choral arrangements. A similar contribution he made to Goan folk music, while, thanks to his expertise in contrapuntual and chromatic harmony, underwent new and revolutionary forms and execution, causing international contemporary composers to sit up and take note.
To listen to his imaginative *Salve Regina* or *Sam Fransisku Xaviera*, or to his Debussy-like treatment of *Dogi Tegi Beatini* (a Konkani ‘dulpod’) or again to his highly intricate *Raghupati Raghava Rajaram* just to mention a few of his inimitable creations was to experience the indescribable and the sublime.
In the academic field, Fr Barreto was also the chairman of the board of studies for western music of the Goa University and an adviser to the central government for the musical formation of the army, navy and air force bands across the country. To him goes the credit of getting the Goa Board for Secondary and Higher Secondary Education to include music as an operational subject from Std VII to XII. He himself prepared the text-books and undertook the training of music teachers in schools, something for which he will be long remembered. At a world congress for choir conductors held in Rome, Fr Barreto was described as “the best musicologist East of Suez”.
Besides his countless musical compositions and arrangements for choir or orchestra, Fr Barreto published several articles and books. They were most studies and anthologies of Goan folk music in its various forms. And, as if it were his swansong, he left us one month before he died an audio cassette of his music, interpreted under his baton, but the Goa, by the Goa Philharmonic Choir, the first and the list of its kind.
Someone once remarked to him that he was cut for higher things and that he would do better if he settled abroad, like Zubin Mehta. Fr Barreto is said to have answered, in his typical laconic way: “Bloom where you are planted”.
And this is a tribute to the ‘tallness’ that Fr Barreto was in our midst, where he was planted. By remaining in this low-land, as far as western music is concerned, he gave it height. And the world took notice.
May Goans and Indians in general continue to draw inspiration from this unrepeatable phenomenon called Lourdino Barreto. And grow tall. Even as the great maestro is now absorbed in the eternal heights, swelling a perennial Hallelujah chorus.