Baayen Haath ka Khel

The inexcusable delay in commencing Maxime Zecchini’s piano recital did not eventually detract from what he had to offer.

Works for the left hand featured prominently in his recital programme. This is perhaps not surprising, if one realises that Zecchini has released no less than five CDs devoted solely to works for the left hand (‘Oeuvres pour la main gauche’).

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It is telling that the word for ‘left’ in French is ‘gauche’, which can also be taken to mean ‘unsophisticated’, ‘awkward’. The Italian word ‘sinistra’ for left can also mean ‘sinister’. Conversely the word for right, ‘droit’ in French can also mean ‘straight’, or ‘law’; ‘destra’ in Italian also means skilful, from the Latin ‘dexter’ which also has both meanings.

In Hindi, ‘baayen haath ka khel’ is an idiom used to describe something ridiculously easy. All these historical and linguistic biases are certainly not applicable when it comes to piano compositions for the left hand.

What led Zecchini on this journey? He explains on his website: “I had the idea of exploring the left hand repertoire a few years ago when I first studied Ravel’s Concerto pour la main gauche. The idea that the playing of just five fingers could sound like two hands seemed like an extraordinary wonder to me. But a number of composers have managed to take up the challenge with exceptional talent. These works display the left hand’s vast capacities. At its best, it can make the piano sound like a full orchestra, by using the positioning of its fingers, its natural flexibility, and its powerful range in the keyboard’s low notes. I am delighted to be able to introduce the poetic breadth of this unusual repertoire, which is in equal parts technically challenging and spectacular.”

But why would composers even bother with such a nice repertoire in the first place? Keith Porter-Snell, pianist, piano teacher, and writer of educational music for piano students, lists four reasons: 1. technical 2. injury or disability 3. virtuosic display and 4. compositional challenge.

Hans Brofeldt, an expert on piano music for the left hand, in his website www.lefthand-brofeldt.dk which has a comprehensive catalogue of all the known piano music for the left hand alone, divides this piano literature into two broad categories, the first being injury/disability (the “tragic background”, as he calls it), and the other he calls “musical-intellectual gymnastics” (reasons 1, 3 and 4 listed by Porter-Snell fall into this category).

Porter-Snell explains that his own “particular interest in piano music for the left hand alone began with the onset of focal dystonia in my right hand; but my passion for left hand alone music grew from my need for self-expression through music.”

The work that began Zecchini’s exploration of left-hand repertoire, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major, also came to fruition due to injury: it was commissioned from the composer by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), who lost his right arm during World War I.

Wittgenstein’s steely determination to pursue an international career as a concert pianist despite having only one arm enriched the piano literature with many great works and has been an inspiration for later pianists who suffered similar disability. Other famous composers such as Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, Erich Korngold, Sergei Prokofiev and Richard Strauss also wrote works especially for Wittgenstein. And Wittgenstein paid handsomely for these commissions.

I picked up volume 3 of Zecchini’s anthology (“the first one ever realized”, according to the liner notes), of works for the left hand, and his CDs span an eclectic mix as well. Some are bespoke works for the left hand, while others are transcriptions from the mainstream repertoire for the left hand. I was pleased to find such a transcription by Wittgenstein himself (Liszt’s operatic transcription of Wagner’s ‘Death of Isolde’ from Tristan and Isolde) in the CD.

Works for the left hand use the aural equivalent of “smoke and mirrors” to conjure up the illusion that the music is being performed the “regular” way, by both hands. Ravel said as much, when elaborating on his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand: “The listener must never feel that more could be accomplished with two hands”. It is this that makes the performance of such works so challenging. “The point where true art and the illusion begins, is when you can make the melody sound as one long smooth phrase and at the same time make the impression that the accompaniment is played by the other hand”, says Brofeldt. 

One might be tempted to ask: why not works for the right hand as well? I think the reasons for this again, could be many. For one, living as we do in a right-handed world, accidents and injuries are more prone to occur to the dominant hand. There is actually some repertoire for right hand alone, but not as much as there is for the left.

Secondly, when seated at the piano, it would be awkward to try and play the lower register with the right hand, while still having the ‘leading’ finger (in the case of the right hand, this would be the little finger) picking out the melodic line. Far easier for the left hand to stray into the upper reaches than vice versa with the right hand.

And Brofeldt further explains in his website: “The left hand is just better ‘built’ for playing alone – especially when you consider the way traditional classic or romantic music is constructed. In its simplest form there is a melody with an accompaniment some tones lower. This is in fact just as if it were created for the left hand: the thumb of the left hand takes care of the melody, and the other four fingers take care of the accompaniment.”

With the help of photographs, he shows how the ‘reach’ (ie the maximum keys on the piano spanned) between the first and second fingers (the thumb and index finger) of his left hand is so much greater than that between the fourth and fifth fingers (ring and little finger) of his right hand. The wider reach in the former case facilitates this separation by a few tones between the melody and accompaniment, which would be awkward (should we say ‘gauche’, even if it is the right hand?) with the right hand.

Brofeldt also got introduced to the left hand piano repertoire after his right hand was partially paralysed for a year and a half in the early 1970s. His catalogue of composers for this niche repertoire is surprisingly long, listing over 700 names. It opens up a whole exciting new aural world to explore.

(An edited version of this article was published on 25 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The ‘Goanese’ musician in Bombay

Those of you who came to Child’s Play India Foundation’s annual monsoon concert on 20 August 2016 at the Menezes Braganza hall will know we had visiting musicians from the Purcell School of Music and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with us for a brief stint.

Some of them (Matthew Higham and Jenny Clarke) were keen on familiarising themselves with local music during their visit. At our concert, they were introduced to ‘Sobit amchem Goem’, the much-loved paean to Goa, with lyrics penned by the famous Goan poet Manoharrai Sardessai.

I also decided to take them to a screening of Bardroy Barreto’s ‘Nachom-ia Kumpasar’, which has twenty of the legendary Chris Perry-Lorna cantaram.

Even so long after the film’s release, it still draws a near-full house each time, with many in the audience returning (as I was) to see it more than a few times. The film is not subtitled, so I sat myself between my guests and translated wherever necessary. But the songs were a different matter altogether. My guests were spell-bound through all of them; no translation required in the universal language of music. They admired the verve-filled playing and singing in the film soundtrack, but also the beautiful craftsmanship in the score-writing and orchestration of the songs. For days afterwards, I’d catch them jauntily humming to themselves a snatch of the melody from the songs.

As we walked home after the late show, they pressed me to explain portions they hadn’t fully understood. At the beginning and end of the film, as well as when Vijay Maurya’s Lawry Vaz pensively polishes off his trumpet before returning it to its case, the narrative touches upon the ubiquity of the Goan musician in Bombay’s music scene, creating history but being airbrushed out of it.

As the film’s Facebook page states, it is as much about the Goan musician in Bombay as about the protagonist couple (Lawry/Donna; Chris/Lorna): “Nachom-ia Kumpasar is a nostalgic musical tale set in the times these musicians lived and died in – unrecognized, unappreciated…and unsung.”

This month also happens to be the tenth anniversary season of the Symphony Orchestra of India in Mumbai. To mark this milestone, my friend Hannah Marsden wrote a piece titled “A Symphony Orchestra in Bombay” in Serenade, “India’s first online portal dedicated to the promotion, growth and awareness of Western classical music”.

Marsden is a PhD student from London, writing her dissertation on western classical music in Mumbai. She has spent much time collating material that produced her article. Just going by the photo credits, her sources include the Jules and Olga Craen Foundation, the Bombay Chamber Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of India archives, and the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation.

According to her research, the first orchestral venture in the “city that never sleeps” began in 1920, the initiative of Edward Behr, “a German citizen educated at the Royal College of Music London” who at the time was conductor of the Governor’s Band and leader of many light opera productions in Bombay. She quotes his June 1920 letter to the Times of India elaborating his idea of commencing a symphony orchestra: “….the orchestra would be for the people, it should be of the people also – that it should consist of Indians. Mahomedans, Hindus, Parsis, Goanese, Anglo-Indians, in short, of any musical talent to be found in this country strengthened by capable European players in different sections of the band.”

I found it interesting that the “Goanese” should find mention as an entity in their own right, and at the very birth of such an important musical endeavour in by then the most important city on India’s west coast.

Marsden points out the significance of the formation of such an eclectic ensemble: “A mixed religion, mixed ethnicity, mixed gender [Behr had also indicated in his letter that he “should take women as well as men”] orchestra would have, for its time, been a highly controversial and progressive notion. This level of cosmopolitanism was unheard of in European orchestras, and would certainly have been groundbreaking in Mumbai.” 

Behr’s initiative, the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, died out due a lack of funding in 1928, only to be revived again by virtuoso violinist Mehli Mehta (father of Maestro Zubin Mehta) and Belgian conductor Jules Craen in 1935.

Marsden’s article has a mention of the Goan contribution again in her reference to a contemporaneous local newspaper report: “The Bombay Symphony Orchestra, in which Parsis, Muslims, Hindus, Goans, Hungarians, Frenchmen, Germans, Austrians and Englishmen combine to produce harmony. Mon. J. Craen the conductor claims to lead the most cosmopolitan orchestra in the world.”

Reading both accounts (Behr’s letter and the above newspaper quote) however, I was aware of a curious pecking order, where “Goanese” or Goans feature third or fourth in line, in the description of the various groups that made up the orchestras. Could this really reflect the numerical strength of these component groups in descending order?

If the programme of the Symphony Orchestra of Bombay concert in 1952 (featuring Yehudi Menuhin as soloist, performing both, the Mendelssohn and Beethoven violin concertos in a single evening) at Regal Cinema is any indicator, Goan musicians formed a sizeable proportion of the ranks of that orchestra. I was able to count 30 names that were almost certainly of Goan origin among the 81 orchestra members.

As part of the research for her thesis, Marsden contacted me for information on Vere da Silva, Goan solicitor as well as violin virtuoso and conductor, who was a relative, and a huge influence on my own musical upbringing. I put her in touch with his family, and furnished whatever material I had at my own disposal.

Vere da Silva finds mention in her Serenade magazine article as well: “By 1955 the second Bombay Symphony Orchestra had fizzled out, as had its namesake before it. In 1957 it was briefly reformed by a Goan lawyer named Vere da Silva, under a new name, the Bombay City Orchestra, but again faded when da Silva left to pursue a career in law in the U.K.”

In this column two years ago, I had described the historic 1957 concert of the Bombay City Orchestra under his baton featuring the famous American contralto Marian Anderson. There is rare film footage in the University of Pennsylvania archive “Marian Anderson: A Life in Song” of an aria (‘Mon couer s’ouvre à ta voix’ from Saint-Saëns’ opera ‘Samson et Dalila’) performed at that concert.

Marsden’s general comment that “the story of the Symphony Orchestra in Bombay was one of passion but also one of frustration” and that “dedicated amateurs always played in Bombay’s orchestras for love rather than money” applies just as much to the Goan musician.

There are no further overt references to Goan musicians in Marsden’s article, but the Goan contribution in both the existing orchestras in Mumbai, the Bombay Chamber Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra of India, continue to this day.

(An edited version of this article was published on 18 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Bailey and Love and the Goa Stone

Among all the textbooks one had to read in the course of one’s medical studies, Bailey and Love’s ‘Short Practice of Surgery’ stands out as a literal heavyweight. I remember my first thought after reading the title: “If this is what a ‘short’ practice of surgery is like, I’m relieved we don’t have the ‘long’ practice on our curriculum!”

Anyone familiar with it will know what a formidable tome it is. I’ve seen it used as a door-stop in the students’ hostel, and it would probably be an effective missile if dropped from a sufficient height. It also added to one’s gravitas as a scholar, to say nothing of its benefits to the upper arm muscles, if one carried it around the college campus.

But it was a very readable text, in contrast to so many others. And often its little footnotes and asides in italics were so much more interesting than the rest of the textbook.

One such footnote, which appeared under “special types of mechanical intestinal obstruction”, described “trichobezoars and phytobezoars”, which according to the text, are “firm masses of undigested hairball and fruit/vegetable fibre, respectively.” In case you’re wondering about the hairball bit, the text helpfully explains it can happen “due to persistent hair chewing or sucking, and may be associated with an underlying psychiatric abnormality”.

In both words trichobezoar and phytobezoar, the prefixes trycho- and phyto- were previously known to me and pretty self-explanatory i.e. pertaining to hair and plants respectively, and derived from the Greek. But ‘bezoar’ was new to me. I assumed from the context that it must be an exotic term for ‘stone’, and quashed any curiosity I might have had for its etymology with this explanation. I had enough –ologies to deal with in my medical years without needing to indulge my passion for etymology as well. We couldn’t Google things then, but an old (1964) edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary we had at home told me that the word was derived from the Persian word ‘pādzahr’ which apparently meant ‘antidote’. This made no sense, but as it hardly seemed like a viva question, I put it out of my mind. I might have seen a bezoar in a pathology specimen jar, but there my experience of it as a medical student or doctor ended.

I didn’t dream that there’d be a Goa angle to the ‘bezoar’, but apparently there is one. I realised this after my first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York. On view in gallery 463 is a stunning exhibit titled ‘Goa stone and container’. The description dates it to the late 17th to early 18th century.

Working Title/Artist: Goa stone container with stone and standDepartment: Islamic ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: late 17th-early 18th century
photography by mma, Digital File: DP116021.tif
retouched by film and media (kah) 02_05_14

It further explained that Goa stones were manufactured by Jesuits in the late 17th century, and were ‘manmade’ versions of bezoars, “gallstones from ruminants” such as sheep, deer, antelope. Reassuring to note that no humans were harmed in the process. Bezoars were apparently highly coveted for their supposed medicinal and talismanic powers, especially their believed properties as a universal antidote to any poison, which is therefore how it got its Persian name.

Prior to stumbling upon this exhibit, I had not heard of the Goa stone before. The literature about it is pretty sparse and scattered, with curiously a disproportionate amount of knowledge gleaned from American sources.

The Goa stone apparently was initially made from genuine bezoars, but became so popular that when naturally occurring bezoars from animal sources became scarce, they began to be fashioned artificially by mixing them with other elements such as shell, amber, musk, resin, and crushed precious stones. They were ingested by scraping them and mixing the scrapings with tea or water. They were highly prized for their properties and were worth literally more than their weight in gold, and often encased in elaborate, ornate, hand-crafted containers made of gold (as in the exhibit at the Met) and exported to Europe. Another surviving specimen of the Goa stone was made for the Duke of Alba in the late 16th century and now resides in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, while another was auctioned at Christies London for an unknown sum. The specimen at the Met was brought to England in the 18th century by a British officer in the East India Company.

But do we know how effective such cure-alls really were? There is an intriguing story from 1575 when the celebrated French surgeon Ambroise Paré wanted to publicly prove that bezoars were ineffective as antidotes. A cook in the royal court had been caught stealing and sentenced to death by hanging but Paré apparently persuaded him to agree to death by poisoning instead. Despite administering the supposed antidote, the hapless cook died horribly many hours later.

But recent experiments show that when crushed bezoars are mixed in arsenic-laced solutions, the toxic compound arsenite does indeed get removed by binding to sulphur compounds in the protein of degraded hair, a major component of bezoars.

For those interested, there is an informative short video about the Met Museum exhibit titled ‘Paradox’, by curator Maryam Ekhtiar. It allows you a close-up look at the exquisite filigree craftsmanship of the 20-carat gold case, teeming with mythological creatures, such as unicorns, griffins, as well as more earthly ones. “Works of art aren’t always what they seem”, says Ekhtiar in the video. “The dissonance between the case which is so elaborate and so extravagant, and what’s inside, which is creepy and unexpected; that, I think is the most amazing attribute of this work. It’s the paradox that it presents that totally surprises you.”

Interactive technology on the website of the Metropolitan Museum allows you to examine the exhibit at even closer quarters, from every angle, virtually turning it round, lifting the lid, in a way you would not be able to handle the actual exhibit.

Just as I was preparing to send this into print, my son indicated to me that he already knew about bezoars and their believed powers. When I asked him where he learnt this, he called my attention to page 147 of J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. It is a topic that Severus Snape puts up for discussion to his class during their Potions lesson in their first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Who says children’s books cannot be educational as well?

(An edited version of this article was published on 11 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Boyd meets Girl!

We do not often get a cello recital in Goa, much less a cello-guitar duo. So it gives me much pleasure to announce the ProMusica concert ‘Boyd meets Girl’ featuring Laura Metcalf (cello) and Rupert Boyd (guitar) on 7 September 2016 at 6.45 pm, at Menezes Braganza hall Panjim. Donation passes are available at Furtados Music stores and at the door just before the concert.

Boyd Meets Girl

The husband-wife duo has already given concerts to wide acclaim all over the United States and in Australia, performing an eclectic blend of transcriptions and original works from the baroque through modern day. Boyd Meets Girl plans to record its debut album later this year, with a release scheduled for mid-2017.

Laura Metcalf, noted for her “gorgeous cello legatos” (Washington Post) and her “sensitive, melodic touch” (BlogCritics Magazine) is known for her compelling solo and chamber music performances worldwide. Her debut solo album, “First Day” debuted at #7 on the Billboard classical chart. She is the cellist of acclaimed string quintet Sybarite5 who won the 2011 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition. Sybarite5’s album “Disturb the Silence” recently reached the Top Ten on the Billboard Charts. Metcalf’s has performed as soloist with the Zagreb Philharmonic, One World Symphony , Laredo Philharmonic, the Ensemble 212 Orchestra and the Orquesta Sinfonica Sinaloa, and has repeatedly been invited to perform with renowned international artists at the Newport Music Festival. She has given concerts in nearly all 50 states, as well as Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Haiti, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Mexico, UAE, Japan, Austria, and Canada.
Metcalf was appointed to the Malek Jandali trio in 2015, a trio with piano, cello and oud dedicated to new music and humanitarian causes. The ensemble has performed twice in Carnegie Hall, has toured to the UAE, and has been featured in National Geographic and BBC World News.
Laura has also been a member of the Tarab Cello Ensemble, a group of 8 cellists with whom she has performed in the U.S. and Mexico. She has appeared on the Festival Chamber Music series at Weill and Merkin Concert Halls, and with the Elysium Chamber Ensemble at the Tenri Institute, collaborating with members of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Currently she enjoys a regular collaboration with pianist David Oei and violinist Eriko Sato as the LED trio.

In 2009 Metcalf formed the Ansonia Trio, who won the Grand Prize in the 2009 Rutenberg Competition at the University of South Florida. Prior to this, she was a member of the Stella Piano Trio, who were the top-ranked North American Ensemble in the 2007 ARD Munich Competition and won the Artists International auditions.
Metcalf is a regular visitor to the IMS Prussia Cove in Cornwall, England, where she is routinely invited to take part in the Open Chamber Music Seminar. Other festival appearances include the Aspen, Taos and Sarasota Music Festivals, the London Masterclasses, and the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau (France). She has performed in masterclasses for Bernard Greenhouse, Ralph Kirshbaum, Colin Carr, Pamela Frank, Paul Katz, and many others.
Outside of the classical realm, Metcalf has appeared on the David Letterman Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the Today Show and The View with such artists as John Legend, Donna Summer, Clay Aiken, Chromeo and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.

Metcalf received her Master of Music degree in May 2006 from the Mannes College of Music, and was awarded the James E. Hughes award for excellence in performance. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, where, as recipient of the prestigious Trustee Scholarship, she won the 2003 Solo Bach Competition.
A devoted educator, Metcalf has given career-guidance presentations at the Eastman School of Music, the Hart School of Music and Oklahoma State University. She served on the faculty of Opus 118 Harlem School of Music from 2006-2011, through which she also founded the first-ever cello program in New York’s Public School 129, and is currently a private cello teacher and chamber music coach for students of all ages as well as a faculty member of the New York Summer Music Festival. Metcalf is frequently engaged by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for outreach performance work in public schools in the New York area.

New York-based Australian classical guitarist Rupert Boyd is acclaimed as one of the most talented guitarists of his generation. He has been described by The Washington Post as “truly evocative,” and by Classical Guitar Magazine as “a player who deserves to be heard.” His performances have taken him across four continents, from New York’s Carnegie Hall, to the Barcelona Guitar Festival Spain, Strings-139 Festival (China), Festival de Musique Classique (France), Gharana Music Festival (Nepal), and every state and territory in mainland Australia.

In addition to his Carnegie Hall debut as part of the D’Addario Music Foundation’s “International Competition Winners in Concert” Series, Boyd’s recent performance highlights include the Newport Music Festival, Music in the Strathmore Mansion, Marlow Guitar Series, Grand Canyon Guitar Society, Boston Guitar Society, University of Denver, University of Hawaii and concerts in India and the Philippines.

He has released two solo recordings. Fantasías was released this April, and has been described as “a high quality achievement” by The Canberra Times, “compelling ‘can’t put it down’ listening” by the Canberra Critics Circle, and “a ‘must hear’ experience” by Minor 7th. His debut recording Valses Poéticos received the following review in Soundboard, the Guitar Foundation of America’s quarterly publication: “Boyd’s playing is beautifully refined, with gorgeous tone… musically and technically flawless… the album is first-rate.”Soundboard also described the eponymous work by Granados as “one of the best recorded performances of this work on guitar.”

Active as both a soloist and chamber musician, Boyd regularly performs throughout the world as part of the Australian Guitar Duo with guitarist Jacob Cordover. The Australian Guitar Duo was a prizewinner of the Chamber Music section of the Australian Guitar Competition, and its debut CD Songs from the Forest was described as “wonderfully entertaining” by Classical Guitar Magazine, and “very impressive” by Soundboard Magazine.

Boyd holds a Bachelor of Music (First Class Honours) from the Australian National University School of Music, a Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music and an Artist Diploma from the Yale University School of Music. In addition to winning the Andrés Segovia award from the Manhattan School of Music, Boyd was also a winner of the Lillian Fuchs Chamber Music Competition and the Eisenberg-Fried Concerto Competition.

Their concert programme in Goa includes works by Bach, Fauré, de Falla and Piazzola.

(An edited version of this article was published on 4 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Music and the Brain

The annual BBC Proms festival is on, from July to September, and since my return to Goa, I’ve been listening to all the concerts on internet radio. The “Listen Again” feature allows one to listen to a concert at one’s convenience, for upto 28 days after the concert. In Goa, the internet connection gods have to smile benevolently upon you as well.

The Proms Extra programmes, aired in the interval of the concerts, are often just as interesting as the music. For instance, there was a brilliant programme highlighting recent medical research into the modifications in the human brain following musical training.

The programme was chosen to accompany The Ten Pieces Proms, a concert chosen specially for secondary-school pupils in the UK. In it, BBC Radio 3 presenter Clemency Burton-Hill spoke to one of the world’s leading experts in neuro-education, cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Sylvain Moreno from the Centre for Brain Fitness, University of Toronto about the impact musical study can have on the brain structure and function of children.

Neuroscientific research over the last few years suggests that children who study music and perform music in school ensembles perform better in core subjects (including English and maths) than their peers.

Moreno’s research reveals an exciting causal connection between music education and cognitive growth. “One of the main hypotheses right now is the music training tends to improve the inhibitory mechanism in your brain. These are mechanisms you use in everyday activities”, he said on the programme.

His team conducted a study in 2011 in which they selected a population (children aged four or five) that had had no prior musical training. They showed that after just four weeks of musical training, there were changes in the brain (brain ‘plasticity’, as he termed it), in I.Q. testing and in the performance of cognitive tasks, and attention. A follow-up study showed that these changes persisted even a year later, even though they received no further musical training after the four-week intervention. And although he admitted more research is needed, they observed that the “developmental trajectory” of the children had been favourably altered by the intervention of musical training. “Basically, their brain was developing faster, and for the better”, said Dr. Moreno. Just four weeks of music education had essentially ‘rewired’ their neural pathways in a very positive way, much to the surprise of the research team.

This is heartening news, as the widely-held belief until now has been that one needs to study music for several years for it to have beneficial effects upon the brain.

Moreno added that the research findings would trigger further research into how music training could help those with disabilities, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and older populations with stroke and dementia. The evidence so far suggests that even a little music training in early life can have benefits that last into old age. So music could actually be seen as a form of ‘preventive medicine’, if you like, to stave off some of the problems of senility and the ageing process.

Those involved in amateur music-making, singing in choruses and playing in ensembles might have already known this instinctively, but now there is a body of clinical evidence accumulating to scientifically back it up.

What about the idea of coming from a ‘musical background’? Are children of ‘musical’ parents at an advantage? Moreno answered in this way; “The more activity you are exposed to that can enrich your life experience, the more it has a positive effect on you. Music is one of these activities. I would encourage any parent to involve their children in music class, learning an instrument, or just learning to sing. I always say that the voice is the cheapest instrument you can find, because you already carry it with you.

Group lessons or one-on-one sessions? One-on-one sessions seem to have a stronger effect, but Moreno says there is a trade-off, because there is more fun to be had in group learning, and the fun element could have its own benefits. Taken out of the laboratory setting and into the real world, group learning would make more sense on many levels, including the financial consideration, with group lessons likely to be cheaper than one-on-one sessions, and providing benefit to more children within a teacher’s working hours.

“What is great about music is that you can learn, and improve your brain skills, with a very engaging and motivational type of activity. For kids it is fun. This is the main point why it is so important.”

Also, it was thought in the past that music targeted mainly the auditory areas of the brain, ie the temporal lobes, the brain areas around the ears. “But neuro-imaging has shown that music is stimulating almost every area of your brain… So it is very easy to conceive that music is going to have a very general benefit on every processing that we manage during our daily life.”

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The link between music and motor processing is complex. The corpus callosum, the part of the brain linking the two cerebral hemispheres, is involved in this process. “We know for instance that a pianist has more grey matter in this part of the brain, because they use both hands so much.” The brain is deeply impacted by the type of training. “If you play trumpet or you play violin, your auditory cortex will be modified differently.”

String players have a bigger representation of the fingers area in the brain. And this can continue to happen in adult life. This is a research area of interest to neuro-scientist Gottfried Schlaug at Harvard Medical School Boston. “This has been a revolution in brain plasticity and in neuro-science”, says Moreno. “Before these discoveries, we didn’t think that the adult brain could be modified. We had this pre-conceived notion that only children could modify their brain through learning, and once you became an adult, your brain was pretty much ‘stuck’ in what you had done before. But recent findings show that this is actually not true. You can modify your brain at any age. Your brain keeps its plasticity properties until very late in life. I remember testing a ninety-year old with our musical training software, and she showed incredible change after just a few weeks of training.”

He concluded the programme by saying “Music can be really beneficial for education. It should be part of every school curriculum. This is the expert consensus in our scientific community.”

(An edited version of this article was published on 28 August 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Portugalíssimo!

When Child’s Play India Foundation was offered an opportunity to co-host with Fundação Oriente a chamber music performance by a string quartet from the Orquestra Sinfónica Juvenil de Lisboa, we eagerly said yes.

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It was a win-win situation. The musicians would work with our children and teachers. In addition, Goa would get a string quartet performance (something we don’t get every day here) of an extremely high standard. I am optimistic also of building from this connection a Luso-Indian bridge that could help not just Child’s Play, but music pedagogy for everyone in Goa on a long-term basis.

Another fringe benefit that excites me greatly is the opportunity to embark upon a voyage of discovery into yet another facet of the Portuguese contribution to classical music, something that is sorely neglected even in the most learned music circles around the world. We in Goa are fortunate to attract Portuguese performers so often, and we therefore have a higher probability of hearing music written by Portuguese composers.

So although the musicians (Rui Pedro Mendes Cristão and Luís Filipe Calhau Guimarães, violins; David Brito, viola; and Pedro Serra e Silva, cello) will also perform mainstream repertoire (Mozart Divertimenti or ‘Salzburg symphonies’ nos. 1 in D major K. 136/125a and 3 in F major K. 138/125b; and Antonin Dvořák’s string quartet no. 12 in F major opus 96, the ‘American’), it is their Portuguese music that I am looking forward to even more.

In an earlier column, I had described my first encounter with the music of Portuguese composer and conductor José Manuel Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988) at the concert of Álvaro Pereira (violin) and Pedro Emanuel Pereira (piano) in May 2015 when they played his ethereal Nocturne for violin and piano. And now, we will hear the third movement of his second string quartet in A minor, opus 27 (1957). A leading Portuguese symphonist of the twentieth century, Braga Santos deserves to be far better known than he is at present. His Piano concerto opus 52, composed in 1973, only received its UK premiere last year!

The second Portuguese composer featured on their programme is José Vianna da Motta (1868-1948), eminent pianist-composer and pedagogue. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first time at least in the recent past that Vianna da Motta’s music will be performed in Goa, so it might be worthwhile studying his life history.

Born on the West African island of São Tomé where his father had a pharmacy, Vianna da Motta’s musical ability became obvious soon after the family relocated to Colares near Sintra. He gave his debut public performance at the piano aged thirteen, already playing some of his own compositions.

After completing his tertiary studies aged just fourteen, he then studied piano and composition in Berlin with the famous Scharwenka brothers (Franz Xaver and Ludwig Philipp, both composers and teachers) and in Frankfurt with Hans von Bülow. He expressed his support for the music of Richard Wagner in several publications and conferences.

He wrote about his years in Germany: “I was able to observe at close hand the incomparable world of music in Germany during the transition from the 19th century to the 20th, one of the richest periods ever in the history of music in all respects: creation, interpretation, aesthetic and philosophical research, and historic and academic discoveries.”

Vianna da Motta was student at Franz Liszt’s final classes in Weimar, which had a profound influence upon him. He describes the momentous meeting in vivid detail: “It was in July 1885, at around three o’clock in the afternoon. When I entered the room where Liszt received people, it was packed. The Master was a majestic figure dressed in a long Abbé coat. He had a serene, severe expression, which was not intimidating but rather paternal. He was standing, surrounded by a sea of heads of all descriptions, of which the female variety stood out for the familiarity with which they addressed him…. After I was introduced, he invited me at once to sit down at the piano where I played his study Ronde des Lutins. He did not stop me but after I had finished he said, ‘A little more cautiously; don’t rush into the start. You can come back.’ This last sentence was my dream come true: I had been admitted to Liszt’s circle”.

This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted beyond Berlin, to Rome and other cities, and continued until Liszt’s death in 1886. But Vianna da Motta remained one of his chief exponents through his life.

Vianna da Motta’s Berlin years also brought him close to the great Italian pianist-composer, conductor and teacher Ferruccio Busoni, who dedicated his transcription of Bach choral preludes to him “for having understood so well” the music. da Motta would write “We were linked by a true communion of ideas, although we could never agree on two points: one was (in my opinion) his excessive admiration for Berlioz, and the other was my admiration for Wagner which he never shared”. But despite their artistic differences, the friendship only grew stronger. Busoni said as much when he wrote a note to da Motta while sending him some of his music “To his now doubting, now believing, near, distant, approving, rejecting, constantly faithful and highly esteemed friend”.

Busoni composed two cadenzas to Mozart’s piano concerto in E flat minor specially for da Motta, which the latter performed under the latter’s baton in Berlin.

He shared the stage with some of the greatest contemporaries of his time, including the virtuoso violinist-composers Eugène Ysaÿe and Pablo de Sarasate.

He finally returned to Portugal in 1917, becoming director of the Conservatório Nacional two years later. In 1957, the José Vianna da Motta Music Competition was founded in his honour.

A direct connection between the two composers on the programme is the 1948 orchestral work by Joly Braga Santos titled ‘Elegy to Vianna da Motta’.

I was able to listen to the string quartet by Joly Braga Santos (performed with much feeling by the Quarteto de Cordas de Lisboa, 1989) on YouTube, and it would have been really wonderful to have heard this true masterpiece performed in its entirety in concert. It really deserves to join the standard chamber music repertoire, and be heard much more often. The string quartet by Vianna da Motta has not yet found a niche in cyberspace, so it is with great eagerness that I await listening to this very significant concert.

(An edited version of this article was published on 21 August 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Showers of music forecast

Two exciting concerts are scheduled in the next few days, 20 and 24 August, in the capital city at Menezes Braganza hall.

Child’s Play India Foundation (www.childsplayindia.org) presents its annual monsoon concert on 20 August 2016 at 6.30 pm. The concert programme features the children from the charity playing violin, viola, cello, recorder, flute and clarinet. They will play an eclectic selection of pieces, including Suzuki melodies, J. S. Bach’s G major Minuet, and a Rigaudon by Henry Purcell in four-part harmony, and the instrumental version of the evergreen Goan ode ‘Sobit amchem Goem’ set to the lyrics of great Goan poet Manoharrai Sardessai.

In addition, the concert also features music by visiting musicians Matthew Higham (flute) and Jenny Clarke (piano) from the Purcell School of Music England, and by Ankna Arockiam (mezzo-soprano) and Edward Cohen (piano) from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

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Matthew Higham and Jenny Clarke will perform the famous Sicilienne by Marie Theresia von Paradis, Ian Clarke’s Orange Dawn, Eldin Burton’s Sonatina for flute and piano, Benjamin Godard’s Suite de Trois Morceaux, a movement from Robert Muczynski’s sonata for flute and piano, and the movement titled ‘Krishna’ from Albert Roussel’s Jouers de Flûte. Jenny Clarke will also accompany Child’s Play violin teacher Syanna Fernandes in Wieniawski’s Légènde.

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Ankna Arockiam and Edward Arockiam will perform works that include Handel’s famous aria ‘Ombra mai fu’ from his opera Xerxes, Schubert’s ‘Du bist die Ruh’, Ravel’s Chanson ecossaise, and Federico García Lorca’s ‘Canciones Españolas Antiguas’.

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On 24 August 2016, also at 6.30 pm, Child’s Play India Foundation in association with Fundação Oriente present four musicians (Rui Pedro Mendes Cristão and Luís Filipe Calhau Guimarães, violins; David Brito, viola; and Pedro Serra e Silva, cello) from the Orquestra Sinfónica Juvenil de Lisboa in a string quartet recital that has in its concert programme W. A. Mozart’s Divertimenti or ‘Salzburg symphonies’ nos. 1 in D major K. 136/125a and 3 in F major K. 138/125b; and Antonin Dvořák’s string quartet no. 12 in F major opus 96 (the ‘American’) and two works by Portuguese composers: the third movement of the String Quartet no. 2 by Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988) and ‘Scenes in the Mountains’ from the second String Quartet by José Vianna da Motta (1868-1948).

Donation passes to both concerts are already on sale at Furtados Music stores and will also be available at the door on the evenings of the concert.

Child’s Play India Foundation is also very pleased to be invited back to the prestigious INK talks (http://inktalks.com/people/luis-dias) in September 2016, and the presentation this time will feature a live performance on stage by a selected ensemble of the charity’s children and teachers.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times goa India on 19 August 2016)

The Buck stops at Opera

What’s with animation movies and classical music? The love affair seems as old as animation itself, a notable high point being the 1940 Walt Disney film ‘Fantasia’ with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski, a deliberate marriage between the two genres.

And animators have much comic material to draw from opera in particular, with its over-the-top emotions, the often ridiculous plotlines, the airs and graces of prima donnas, and the tendency of both the classical music profession and their rarefied audience to often take themselves much too seriously.

A while ago, I had written a column on the use of the aria ‘E lucevan le stele’ from Giacomo Puccini’s opera ‘Tosca’ in ‘Happy Feet 2’. I had stumbled upon this only because my son was watching the film, and I happened to be with him at the time.

And the same circumstances applied for ‘Ice Age: Collision Course’. He was keen on seeing it, and it fell to my lot to chaperone him to Inox. The film is the fifth in the Ice Age franchise, and quite frankly the franchise ought to have been ‘put on ice’ after the very first episode. But box office considerations seem to trump even the basic need for a genuine spark of creativity. Far easier to keep creating sequels and milking an old idea rather than think of a new idea.

Buck the weasel

Buck the weasel (given voice by Simon Pegg, who is Benji in Mission Impossible III) is an addition to the menagerie of Paleolithic (and the franchise has received a lot of criticism for not even attempting to be scientifically accurate about chronology and timelines) in the third instalment of the series Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009).

He gets written out of part four (Continental Drift 2012) but makes a swashbuckling return in Collision Course. And how does he make an entrance? With the Figaro aria.

The aria itself is actually titled “Largo al factotum” from Gioachino Rossini’s opera “Il barbiere di Siviglia” (The Barber of Seville) based on the comedy play Le Barbier de Séville by Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799). It, in turn, is part of a trilogy of ‘Figaro’ plays, of which Le Barbier de Séville is the first, followed by Le Mariage de Figaro (better known today as a basis for Mozart’s famous opera of the same name, but in Italian) and La Mère Coupable (The Guilty Mother).

All the plays are centred on the character of Figaro. It is thought that Beaumarchais thought up the name Figaro as a phonetic transcription of the words ‘fils Caron’, therefore a creation or ‘son’ of his own.

Beaumarchais himself had much in common with his character Figaro in terms of intelligence, quick-wittedness and versatility: Beaumarchais was at various points in his life horologist (inventing a timepiece that was accurate to the second and tiny enough to fit into a ring), inventor, playwright, satirist, musician, publisher, horticulturist, diplomat, spy, arms dealer, revolutionary (playing a role in both, the American and French Revolutions) and financier.

At preliminary examination, the content of the plays seems innocuous enough, following a pretty traditional Italian Commedia dell-arte structure, with Figaro modelled upon the character of Brighella or Arlecchino. Both belong to the zanni (from where we get the English word ‘zany’) or comic servant characters in Commedia dell’arte. Figaro too is a former ‘comic servant’-turned barber who is capable of doing everything. Brighella is essentially Arlecchino’s smarter and older if somewhat more vindictive brother in the Commedia dell’arte cast of characters. Both Brighella and Arlecchino have a striking resemblance to Buck the weasel in Ice Age, in that all are mask-wearing, club- or sword-wielding characters. I am not sure whether these were deliberate additions to Buck’s appearance to prepare him for Figaro, or mere coincidence.

What made the plays so revolutionary was the subterfuge of the social order, with the servant clearly shown to be smarter and more resourceful than the master, and even prompting the master’s decisions. Louis XVI was prophetic when he said of Le Mariage de Figaro: “For this play not to be a danger, the Bastille would have to be torn down first.” Napoleon Bonaparte called it “the Revolution in action.’

In the Rossini opera, like Buck in Ice Age Collision Course, Figaro bursts upon stage with the Largo al factotum aria. The title literally means “Make way for the factotum”, factotum being a sort of jack-of-all-trades, deriving from the Latin for “do everything”.

The aria is a virtuosic showpiece for any baritone, one of the most difficult in the repertoire to perform, on account of its allegro vivace, almost nonstop singing of tongue-twisting lyrics set into the rhythm of triplets in 6/8 metre, and having to make it look effortless while gesticulating and acting out the lines. It is Rossini arias just like Largo al factotum that so inspired the Victorian-era theatrical partners, librettist-composer Gilbert and Sullivan to write their ‘topsy-turvy’ comic operas that so cleverly interwove lyrics and music.

This is where Buck’s aria in Ice Age falls far short. The English lyrics are lame, just not as witty or funny as they could have been. The English National Opera routinely performs the operatic repertoire in English, and their translations are done with much imagination and thought. The text to Buck’s aria however seems to have been put together in a slapdash manner, perhaps in a hurry to meet a deadline. It attempts to be a pastiche or parody of the original, but ends up being neither.

Contrast this with the much older Tom-and-Jerry “take” on Largo al factotum, where there is such humour in the delivery and the exploitation of the music score to dictate what happens on screen. Timing is everything in comedy. This is truly brilliant animation. For all its 3-D effects, the weasel is not a “patch” on that cat and mouse.

That said, Buck’s aria will familiarise young audiences with classical music, even if this is just a few minutes of it. Bollywood actor Arjun Kapoor does the voice-over in the Hindi version of Collision Course, thus widening its reach even further.

(An edited version of this article was published on 14 August 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

To Sir with Love: Carlos D’Costa (1911-1983)

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Carlos D’Costa (or ‘Sir’ Costa as we respectfully addressed him) was technically not my first violin teacher, but he was certainly the first to leave such a profound, long-lasting impression upon me. He looms larger than life in my childhood memory. It will be his 105th birth anniversary this 11 August, and would like to dedicate this column to his memory.

I don’t recollect at what point after our return from Germany my father decided that my brother and I should have violin lessons. Perhaps I was five or six when Mr. Machado, a kindly old gentleman from Daman, would come home to give us lessons. It was all too brief, as in about a year he returned to Daman. We corresponded with him by post-card for many years. He had the most intriguing address: “Mr Machado, Near mango tree, Moti Daman, Daman.” Incredibly, our letters would reach him on this cryptic address, and he would exhort us to keep up our practice. When eventually our letters began to receive no reply, we had to assume the worst. Should I ever visit Daman, I shall certainly look up his family.

We then had an even briefer spell with Gregorio Rodrigues from Mandur. Then, when our parish priest Rev. Fr. Martin Fernandes began the Santa Cecilia School of Music, we became its first students. In typical parish music school fashion, we had to first study solfeggio, which I still think a very good thing. So many students of an instrument are unable to sing the music they are trying to play, which is so fundamental to music-making.

Solfeggio class (at the house on Rua de Ourem at the corner of the turn-off into São Tomé vaddo) was loads of fun under the easy-going, humour-loving Fr. Borges. There would be eruptions of laughter in our class, and we would struggle to keep a straight face when Fr. Martin made his surprise visits.

One fine afternoon, I was summoned to the other branch of the school (the house opposite Welfit tailors) where I met Sir Costa for possibly the first time. He and Fr. Martin got me to try out a simple piece (‘Russian Dance’) on the violin, and they decided that I was ready for violin lessons. From then on, I would have thrice-weekly lessons with Sir Costa, come rain or shine, school or vacation, for nearly a decade until the end of Sir Costa’s teaching days.

This might seem a long time, but when I look back at that time-span, it seems all too short. Those years with Sir Costa inculcated in me the discipline of regular practice. Thrice-weekly lessons meant we necessarily had to practice in the intervening days. Add to that Fr. Martin’s encouragement of as many children as possible playing at 8 am Sunday children’s mass, and we therefore had daily contact with the instrument without us even realising it.

Perhaps we had fewer distractions then. I remember only cycling, playing in the street, and story-books and comics competing for our attention. But even they didn’t really eat into our dedicated practice time. And the instrumental competitions at Don Bosco, the Trinity College exams, St. Cecilia concerts, the masses and novenas meant we were constantly having to prepare for something or the other all the time. Children today have fewer and fewer opportunities to perform in public, especially as ensembles.

Sir Costa was such a gentle soul, and something about his aura, his wise, reassuring smile, was so compelling that we tried our best to please him, to give him the results he wanted. I do not recollect practice at home being a chore, because we really wanted to be ready for our next lesson with him. He would be seated at the centre of the room, and the class on benches and chairs all around him, with our music on purpose-built silver-painted wooden stands in front of us.

It might seem a cliché to say this, but in my imagination I can see and hear him play as if he were still here. Everything about the way he played was elegant: clean crisp bow strokes producing such a distinctive, signature sweet tone. His sound had a rare nobility of spirit and guileless beauty that one doesn’t easily find today.

So many teaching aids and accessories were unheard of then. We played without shoulder-rests, and got along fine without them. We had no coloured strips to the fingerboard or electronic tuners as intonation aids, the only intonation aids being our ears, the ultimate arbiter for intonation.

And Sir Costa was particularly fussy about intonation, and I am ever grateful to him for this. Today, we talk about tonalisation and ‘ringing notes’ through the Suzuki method. But Sir Costa was instinctively doing this even before such concepts had gained currency here.

He was unassuming and self-deprecating to a fault. He would often tell us how he “didn’t know much”, but that he would teach us whatever he knew. But over time, it was obvious he had played a lot on the Bombay orchestral circuit, perhaps in the 1950s after Independence. He had certainly played under the baton of my relative Vere da Silva (violinist and conductor, another major influence in my musical upbringing), and when I learnt of this, I engineered what turned out to be a very emotional reunion between the two of them after decades at my house.

It was Sir Costa who first extolled to me the joys of orchestral playing (“where a whole section should sound like just one violin playing”), as a result of which I began to listen to my records even more avidly. I think he was happiest when he was allowed by Fr. Martin to conduct us. Eyes half-closed, with a smile on his face, he would coax the music from the various voices, and we would play our hearts out for him.

He would spring sight-reading challenges upon us all the time, which really is such an important part of music learning. Perhaps it is an indication of the times India was going through that he compared it to “shoot-at-sight” after curfew. We had to “shoot” the notes at first sight!

Sir Costa was so busy with teaching and playing at the chapel that he rarely got leave to go to his home in Colva. But he took us on one memorable occasion, where we met his family, including his son Rocklin, who is today a priest.

I remember his final years with cancer for the stoicism (“God is great”, he would say) and the dignity with which he faced the illness head-on. When he passed away, it left me bereft of the most important, inspirational teacher-figure in my life until then, and not just in music. I am ever grateful that he touched my life so profoundly.

(An edited version of this article was published on 7 August 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Ugly Ducklings and Swans

I could not have asked for a better setting for my 50th if I had tried. It had the Wimbledon final in the evening, and the UEFA Euro Championship final in the early hours of the following morning.

I guess cheering for either of the finalists could be misconstrued as an ‘anti-national’ act, given the colonial histories of both Portugal and France on our subcontinent. I’ll make no secret of the fact that I (like most of Goa, I suspect) was rooting for Portugal. Apart from the historic affinity one felt for the team, there was also much more riding on that match for Portugal. The last time they got to the final, they were on home soil, but had to be content with the runner-up spot.

And what a nail-biting match it was! It looked like curtains for Portugal after Cristiano Ronaldo’s premature exit due to injury pretty early on in the game. If Portugal were to score now, who would it be? I had thought it might be Nani or Renato Sanches. Éder (Éderzito António Macedo Lopes) was not even a consideration until he was brought in as a substitute for Sanches at the 78th minute. I don’t know much about footballers’ vital stats, so when the TV commentator made remarks like “not a very good goal-scoring record” and “struggled in Swansea City” as Éder ran onto the field, it was not very confidence-inspiring.

But manager and coach of the Portuguese team Fernando Santos obviously knew what he was doing when he sent Éder in. I marvel at how coaches decide on the strategic moment that a specific player comes off and another comes on.

And just when it seemed like the 0-0 stalemate would spill from extra time into a penalty shoot-out, sweet deliverance for Portugal with a stunning goal from Éder in the 109th minute! The London Guardian the following day called him “the most unexpected of heroes.”

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Unexpected indeed. The South Wales Echo saw fit to carry its headline the same day “Swansea flop Eder the hero” and in its text even while celebrating his ‘sensational’ goal also described him as “one of the most disappointing transfer flops in recent Swansea City history”.

Coach Santos had earlier termed his team “ugly ducklings”; Éder had in almost in a heartbeat now metamorphosed into “a beautiful swan” in Santos’ eyes.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s remark to the press qualified their victory quite insightfully: “It is a trophy for all the Portuguese, for all immigrants, all the people who believed in us.”

Their team-mate Pepe echoed a similar sentiment:  “We represented Portugal, a beautiful country of immigrants and we represent every one of them. This goes out to them.”

The Guardian London acknowledged Éder’s immigrant origin as well as early background with a rather clumsy headline: “Éder’s piece of outsider art caps journey from care home to Euro 2016 glory”.

The composition of European national teams is interesting, because the ethnic origin of many team members often betrays the country’s colonial history or past waves of economic migration. Éder was born in 1987 in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, a West African country formerly under the Portuguese until it unilaterally declared its independence in 1973. Not much about his early childhood is in the public domain. His family moved to Lisbon for better economic prospects when Éder was two years old but lacked the means to care for him. He was therefore admitted to Lar O Girassol (“The Sunflower Home”), a state-administered care home in the vicinity of Coimbra. He spent his formative years here. The Lar was apparently run by Catholic priests, and characteristically had a rigid daily schedule, from which football provided a welcome release.

The TV commentator at the live match coverage said something shortly after Éder’s goal, to the effect that his childhood was so deprived that he rarely spoke about it. But in the Guardian article, his quotes from the previous year about those times seemed candid enough: “It helped me to grow into the man that I have become and aided my football career…. Of course, at times it was a little bit tough, which is normal, but I enjoyed it a lot. I met so many of my friends there, and it was good to have that life experience.”

Immigrants and “outsiders” are raging topics worldwide right now, from the Syrian refugee crisis, to Brexit, to the US election and Donald Trump’s proposed wall to keep Mexicans out, to the ever-increasing xenophobia in the “civilised” world and even to Goa, with issues of Portuguese citizenship, and our attitude to migrants from other parts of India.

I recently exited one of the umpteen Facebook groups that discuss Goan issues, as a reaction to a meme championing the cause of “Ghanti-exit”, with pictures of supposed migrants to Goa, carrying all their belongings upon their heads, and with their impoverished state quite clearly obvious. Does love for Goa necessarily have to translate into hatred and scorn of the “other”? Who is harming Goa more, the poor migrant in search of work, or the rich elite from India’s metropolises who buy second and third homes at exorbitant prices, therefore spiralling real estate prices ever upward, making it impossible for Goan first-time buyers to enter the property market? Or the casino barons who (mis)use our rivers with impunity and give very little back in exchange, to say nothing of cheapening the brand value of Goa as a tourist destination? Or ‘Goan’ politicians who actually get re-elected on artificial vote banks?

How differently would history have played out if Éder’s family had been denied entry into Portugal? Would Portugal have lifted the Euro 2016 trophy in his absence?

One could speculate even further beyond football and further back in time: would Beethoven have been Germany’s pride and joy, its greatest gift to the world, had his grandfather not been permitted to move at the age of 22 from the Brabant region in present-day Belgium to Bonn?

One certainly needs checks and balances when it comes to immigration, to avoid swamping of finite resources. But there’s really no telling who, and how many generations later, will make a nation rejoice (as Portugal did on 10 July) at having let someone, or a family, or a community into their borders, into their lives and into their hearts.

(An edited version of this article was published on 31 July 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)