Everybody loves Parenting?

I’ve gone off American comedy serials on television, partly because they’re re-runs most of the time, and also because the storylines and punchlines are boringly predictable in a very ‘American’ sort of way.

So it was quite by chance that I happened to catch a snippet of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’, Season Two Episode Four. I got interested because I began viewing it at the point where Raymond is sitting at a piano bench with his mother, getting a music lesson.

Everybody loves Parenting

So very briefly, in this episode: Raymond’s little daughter Ally storms off huffily from a piano lesson with her grandmother (Raymond’s mother) and announces she won’t be going back ever. Her mother Debra acquiesces quite tamely, but Raymond, usually laid-back about most things, thinks they shouldn’t give up so easily. In order to inspire his daughter, he resumes lessons with his mother that he had given up (it is not quite clear why) in mid-childhood. And another parent-child, teacher-pupil dynamic begins to play out.

Raymond’s mother berates him for having forgotten so much, and vents her frustration by saying he could have gone far had he stuck with it in his youth. And Raymond begins to blame his father for not having encouraged him in his crucial years, pointing him towards sport instead. The father responds by saying that as Raymond ended up being a sports correspondent and making a living from that, he ought to be grateful.

Raymond’s mother then tells him that Raymond himself was to blame for having stopped playing, not his father. And she let him, because she didn’t want to pin her hopes on him, the way her own mother had done with her.

And to thicken the plot, Raymond’s older brother Robert is generally resentful even in adulthood of the (to him) disproportionate love and attention showered upon Raymond by their parents. He quit piano because, of all the silly reasons, he would suffer from nose-bleeds and stain the piano keys.

So although this is fiction of course, we have several parent-child situations, some of them teacher-pupil as well. Chronologically we have Raymond’s grandmother and mother (example A; the demanding, over-expecting parent who overwhelms the child by setting the benchmark unreasonably high). We have Raymond’s mother and Raymond (example B; the parent/teacher who loves music very much, but doesn’t want to ruin the child’s childhood years as had happened with her). Then there’s Raymond’s father-Raymond (example C; the parent who privately thinks of music and the arts as frou-frou nonsense and wants his child to throw and catch a ball instead). Debra-Ally is example D; the new ‘enlightened’ parent who feels that if a child wants to give something up, then it’s entirely up to him/her, even at a very young age. And lastly we have Raymond-Ally, example E; the parent who somehow knew he could have been fairly proficient at music had he persisted and wants his own child to have a better chance.

This episode of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ is titled “Mozart”. It is probably lazy, stereotypical labelling (“if it’s about the piano, why not call it Mozart?”) but it would be interesting to look at the dynamics within the Mozart family as well. What sort of father/teacher was Leopold Mozart to his genius son Wolfgang Amadeus and daughter Nannerl? And what sort of father was the great Mozart to his own two surviving children Karl Thomas and Franz Xaver Wolfgang?

More is known about Leopold and his gifted children. Being a gifted composer, conductor, teacher and violinist himself, Leopold was quick to spot the ability in both his children (Nannerl was seven and Wolfgang three) and before long was taking them on extensive and exhausting concert tours. Once Leopold realised in particular what a child prodigy his son was proving to be, he sublimated his own career to helping the advancement of both his children. Historians are divided regarding the motives behind Leopold taking his children on tour and wanting to retain a modicum of control even in their adulthood, but others take a more sympathetic view.

Sadly, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s own surviving two children were born too close to his own demise (the second, Franz Xaver, was born five months before Mozart died) for him to have significant involvement in their music education. And as both sons stayed unmarried and had no children, the Mozart bloodline died with them.

So: who is a ‘good’ parent among all the examples cited above, at least when it comes to music education, or, more broadly, fostering their child’s application at a young age to a particular pursuit? All of us have the best of intentions for our children or (if we are teachers) for our pupils. But we have to safeguard against foisting our own expectations upon them or trying to live out our own unfulfilled life ambitions through them, and stifling them in the process.

At the other extreme, a laissez-faire approach, where there are no expectations at all, and it is deemed unnecessary to guide or encourage the child about anything, that they will ‘find their way’ somehow, is to my mind over-indulgent.

Do you recognise yourself (or someone you know; a friend, acquaintance, relative) as either the parent or child, teacher or pupil in examples A to E? The list is not exhaustive, of course.

The majority of the musicians I know and who’ve come here on tour have told me of loving, nurturing relationships with their parents and teachers. But there are a few who have been in dysfunctional ones; some have persisted despite it, a few have been scarred and some have quit.

I know of a young woman who got to the level of concert pianist, and then chucked what seemed like the beginning of a promising career to study to be something else. She might not admit it to herself, but her decision was at least in part to escape the stifling control and expectations of her own mother and teacher.

There is a gifted jazz musician who speaks disparagingly of his young son, calling him “no good” within earshot. Perhaps the father thinks this is ‘tough love’ or reverse psychology, but when I see the pain in the son’s face each time he hears the putdown, I think of it as cruelty.

It is easier to articulate what is ’bad’ parenting or teaching than what is ‘good’. But I think that if love underpins the dynamic, coupled with an intuitiveness that can only come with the wisdom brought by time, to know when to nudge and when to back off, and to nurture and give the child the best possible opportunities when s/he shows genuine interest and progress, then we cannot go far wrong.

Zubin Mehta and my first LP

Maestro Zubin Mehta turns 80 on 29 April, and a series of concerts in Mumbai with the Israel Philharmonic and soloists Pinchas Zukerman, Amanda Forsyth, Denis Matsuev, Andrea Bocelli, and Maria Katzarava mark this momentous milestone.

Information and music are so readily available today, literally at the click of a mouse or a touch of a screen, that it seems unreal to recollect how difficult it was back in the 1970s.

The only music I had access to at that time was the unwieldy spool tapes that fitted onto a machine that weighed a ton, and had very low sound fidelity, and LPs (long playing records, at 33 1/3 rpm or revolutions per minute), 78s (78 rpm) and 45s. Classical music was to be found mainly on the spool tapes and the LPs.

And before audio cassettes burst upon the scene, changing the way we listened to music, the only way to build one’s music library was to hunt for records, and Sinari’s near the Secretariat was the only place to go. But classical music was pretty hard to come by in those days. I remember Sinari’s once having an exhibition of Melodiya records from the USSR at Menezes Braganza for several days, and it was a treat to go there just to listen to the music. In retrospect, it was part of the Soviet bloc’s Cold War cultural diplomacy, but we weren’t complaining.

The 70s saw Zubin Mehta scaling unimaginable heights in the world of classical music, which few even today, let alone someone coming from India, could rival. At the age of 25, he had conducted three of the world’s major orchestras, the Vienna, Berlin and Israel Philharmonic orchestras. He was director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978, of the Israel Philharmonic in 1977, and of the New York Philharmonic in 1978, a post he would hold for 13 years, the longest in the orchestra’s history. Think of a contemporary conductor, and hardly any have had such a comparably astonishing, meteoric trajectory.

We read about Mehta in the Indian press, and whenever Time magazine covered his achievements. But through the 70s, as far as I could remember, there wasn’t any actual music accessible within India that we could listen to. In the music collection that my father brought back from Germany in 1970, we had nothing conducted by Mehta.

This is why I was so excited when CBS Gramophone Records and Tapes (India) Ltd saw fit to release in 1983 a recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto, played by Isaac Stern, and with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta. It remains etched in my memory, because it was a first of everything for me: the first time I would hear the Brahms Violin Concerto, the first time I would hear Stern play, and perhaps the first recording I would hear of the New York Philharmonic (it is possible that I might have heard them before on the radio via the BBC World Service’s wonderful Thursday request programme “the Pleasure is Yours”), and the first time I would hear Mehta conduct.

It was the first classical LP I remember buying. If I’m not mistaken, it cost Rs. 50, and I remember the short walk home, gingerly holding it right side up so the record wouldn’t roll out of its sleeve!

My dad’s LP collection featured largely German or Austrian orchestras, and the programme notes on their sleeves were usually in German, if at all. So it was refreshing to hear an ‘American’ sound. And I could read about the music in English for a change.

The striking, arresting cover photograph was taken by Bill King, who (although I didn’t know it then) was one of the most acclaimed fashion photographers of his time, a regular on Vogue, Cosmopolitan and Vanity Fair, the toast of the Milan and Paris fashion elite, and whose “exuberant images celebrated youth and optimism”. He seemed a more likely choice for a Rolling Stone cover (and indeed he was, often) than for the front of a classical music LP.

My first LP

King has an unbelievably youthful Mehta looking us straight in the eye, while Stern looks somewhat self-consciously away, his violin scroll cradled against his left collarbone. The picture has a grainy quality that somehow makes it look hip and dignified at the same time.

The programme notes were written by one Joscelyn Godwin, and they helped me right then, to start ‘joining the dots’, as it were, when it came to musical history. For instance, she points out that Brahms had completed his Second Symphony a year before this concerto, “and it seems as if that particular mine of musical inspiration was not yet exhausted, for the Violin Concerto is almost like a sister piece”.

I happened to have the Second Symphony in our collection, so was able to listen and compare. And yes, the similarities were indeed there: similar opening statements, both in triple meter, both in D major. And “as in the symphony, strength is always tempered with gentleness”. It was thrilling to be able to hear exactly what she meant.

But even she couldn’t resist slipping in some contemporary culture: karate and kung-fu were big by then, hoo-haa-ing into film and music (remember ‘Kung Fu fighting’ by Biddu, sung by Carl Douglas, now making a comeback with Kung Fu Panda 3). So I was tickled pink by the way she concludes her programme note: “Yet just before the end there is a moment of calm, as if to show that neither Brahms nor his performers are allowing themselves to be swept along in a mindless race for the finish — the gesture of a karate master who can stop a blow a hair’s breadth from its target”.

To this day, I cannot hear the finale of the Brahms Violin Concerto without this imagery in my head. I’ve been hooked on to reading programme notes ever since.

All these thoughts come rushing at me as I remember the first time I “heard” Zubin Mehta. Little did I know then that I’d hear him and the New York Philharmonic in Mumbai barely two years later.

Happy 80th, Maestro! May you have many many more, filled with good health, happiness and great music!

(An edited version of this article was published on 24 April 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Remembering Sir Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999): His ‘Regal’ concert

The classical music world is in celebratory mode at the birth centenary year of Sir Yehudi Menuhin, with elaborate events planned around the world to mark this milestone.

The popular UK classical music radio channel Classic FM began a 20-part series “Yehudi Menuhin: the Master Musician”. BBC Radio 3 presented a week-long (11-17 April) focus exploring his music and life. Those interested can listen online via the ‘Listen Again’ feature. BBC Four will have a documentary “Yehudi Menuhin: Who’s Yehudi?” which hopefully will eventually also be available online soon enough.

Warner Classics label will release 80 CDs, 11 DVDs and a book, all curated by Bruno Monsaingeon. Live Music Now Germany celebrates the centenary with 16 concerts, and its Austrian counterpart has a gala concert in Vienna.

 

On Menuhin’s actual birthday (22 April), violinist Uto Ughi plays the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Brescia Italy. The Yehudi Menuhin School Surrey has a commemorative festival (1-10 July) featuring present and past students of the school among others. And there’s much more.

I will be writing in the national press about Menuhin’s Indian connection, his love of yoga and Indian music, and his friendship with Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Alla Rakha, and Dr. L. Subramaniam.

Researching Menuhin’s tryst with India revealed that it all began on his first visit here in 1952. I remember my senior friend, piano pedagogue Margarida Miranda telling me about this visit. I am grateful to her for poring over her archive of concert programmes to retrieve information about this historic concert.

It fired my imagination for several reasons. For starters, the rehearsals and the concert were held in Regal cinema Colaba Bombay (today Mumbai). The Regal was part of a trinity, along with Eros and Sterling that represented for me the epitome of cinema-going in my youth. You really had the full movie experience when you went to ‘town’ and ‘saw a picture’ in one of them. And Regal was the best of them in my view.

One movie that stands out in my memory is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). I still remember the rush of exhilaration as we watched E.T. and a gang of children cycle past an impossibly huge full moon to the heady, expansive background music by John Williams, in glorious stereophonic sound, the finest available in India then.

At the time, I had no idea that great music had been performed live barely three decades earlier, in that very ‘room’. I have since returned to the cinema with the specific purpose of trying to imagine how it must have been, and how a live orchestra would have sounded there.

The orchestra that played at the 1952 Menuhin concert would certainly have filled the stage: there were 20 first violins, 20 second violins, 8 violas, 8 celli, 6 double-basses, 4 flutes, 2 oboes, 4 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 French horns, 2 trumpets and of course the timpanist. Whew!

Menuhin 1952 Bombay concert 2

The orchestra? The Symphony Orchestra of Bombay, conducted by Francisco Casanovas (the programme describes him as conductor of the Calcutta Symphony Orchestra). I guess in those innocent times, no-one paused to think that the orchestra’s acronym could stand for something else as well.

Menuhin 1952 Bombay concert 12

The programme? It began with a Mozart overture ‘The Marriage of Figaro’, followed by two (!) violin concertos, the Mendelssohn E minor and the Beethoven, separated by the mighty Chaconne from Johann Sebastian Bach’s D minor Partita for solo violin. The audience certainly got their money’s worth!

Menuhin 1952 Bombay concert 16

And what a stellar line-up of musicians! I’ll list here only those who I recognised and would be of interest to readers here. It had Mehli Mehta (father of Zubin Mehta) as concertmaster; the violins also included, in order of mention in the programme, Sebastian Vaz, Adrian de Mello, Mauro Alphonso, Siloo Panthaky, Josic Menzies, Oscar Pereira and Keki Mehta. Among the violas, I recognised the name of Terence Fernandes (who, with Vere da Silva, Keki Mehta and George Lester formed the Dorian string quartet, which was, I am told, Bombay’s first ever string quartet). The celli had, in addition to George Lester, Antonio Sequeira, who later taught cello at the Academia da Música (today the Kala Academy) in Goa. And Mickey Correa headed the list of clarinets. As I write this, I can’t help thinking what an incredible era that must have been, just to have all those musicians of such calibre in the same city at the same time. Virtually all the names I’ve listed are mentioned reverentially even today.

I try to ascertain who must have taught the violinists, for example, for them to have attained such great heights at their instrument. And the answers are increasingly hard to come by. Memories are fading fast, and first-hand accounts are now out of the question. I remember about a couple of years ago meeting Keki Mehta at a concert at the NCPA, and I got his number, with the intention of either dropping in or interviewing him by telephone. I wanted to capture his recollections of playing in the Dorian string quartet. But shortly after that, I heard that he had passed away.

The jazz age Naresh Fernandes chronicles and describes so vividly in his ‘Taj Mahal Foxtrot’ occurred alongside this golden age of western classical music, and all largely within a radius of a few miles in South Bombay. Perhaps we could call it the ‘Regal Minuet’?

(An edited version of this article was published on 17 April 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

A history lesson in a coin: The Indio, the ‘ghost’ coin

My interest in coins and numismatics began organically, almost accidentally. My father was very interested in coins, and would solicit souvenirs from family and friends from their travels to various parts of the world. So the sight and the distinctive ‘aroma’ of coins were with me from my childhood. And the fact that I grew up in the Casa da Moeda (Mint House) inevitably drew me further headlong into the world of coins, reaching a sort of high point at the 2009 festival of Casa da Moeda, the 175th year of its establishment in 1834.

But even so, I am hardly the serious coin collector some people might think I am. I have embarrassingly few really rare coins in my possession, even though in the course of my research into them, I have trawled the shops dealing in them in Mumbai, Lisbon and London, and have visited museums and research centres in Goa, Mumbai, Nashik, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and overseas in Portugal and the UK. I’d much rather track down a coin and look at it first-hand than try to acquire it for myself. If I’m lucky enough to be allowed to photograph its obverse and reverse, and take down other details such as weight and dimensions, so be it. If not, that’s fine too. I’m more fascinated by the stories that lie within them, the history lessons which are ingrained in the circumstances of their birth, so to speak.

My research into Indo-Portuguese numismatics while preparing for the Casa da Moeda festival took me to Casa da Moeda Lisbon, where the staff very graciously helped me as much as possible, showing me their collection and giving me access to their library.

I cross-referenced online a book called “Memorias das Moedas correntes em Portugal, desde o tempo dos Romanos, até o anno de 1856” (A record of Currencies in Portugal, from Roman times to 1856) by Manuel Bernardo Lopes Fernandes (1797-1870). On page 116, it describes a coin called INDIO, a silver Portuguese coin worth 33 reis, minted in 1499, with on one side the cross of the Military Order of Christ encircled by the words IИ HOC SIGИO VIИCES (Latin translation: in this sign you will conquer), and on the other the royal coat of arms encircled by the abbreviated form of PRIMUS EMANUEL REX PORTUGALIAE ALGARVE CITRA ULTRA IN AFRICA DOMINUS GUINEE, IN COMMERCII, NAVIGATIONE AETHIOPIAE, ARABIAE, PERSIAE INDIA (Latin for ‘Manuel I, King of Portugal and Algarve and overseas of Africa and Guinea, and through commerce and navigation of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India’).

Indio

The statement is a little grandiose, as the Portuguese sway over many of these dominions was still quite tenuous in 1499. But positive thinking, eh?

The author adds laconically: “Nunca vimos esta moeda”; “I/We have never seen this coin”. There hangs a tale.

The Indio (‘the Indian’), as its name might suggest, is believed to have been commissioned by Dom Manuel I in 1499 specifically for trade with India (along with the gold coin, the português). It was rare enough in 1856, earning it the label of the ‘lost’ or ‘ghost’ coin of D. Manuel, and only one specimen (held at the numismatic collection of the Museu Histórico Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil) was known to have survived. Until now.

A team has found the shipwreck of the nau Esmeralda, part of Vasco da Gama’s armada to India (the annual Carreira da India), off the coast of Oman.

Captained by da Gama’s uncle Vicente Sodré, the Esmeralda, along with the São Pedro led by Vicente’s brother Brás, sank in 1503 following a violent storm. This shipwreck is possibly the oldest colonial vessel ever found, which makes this a particularly exciting find.

The exact site was pinpointed by the sole eyewitness account of Pêro d’Athaíde, one of the other captains in the Sodré squadron, and corroborating accounts by Gaspar Corrêa in his chronicle Lendas da Índia (c. 1550), and others (Barros, Castanheda and Góis).

The circumstances surrounding this shipwreck are interesting. Before sailing back to Lisbon in February 1503, Vasco da Gama had entrusted his maternal uncles Vicente and Brás Sodré with patrolling the Malabar coast and protecting the Portuguese allies Cochin and Cannanore from likely attack by the Zamorin of Calicut. The Sodré brothers not only left the cities open to the attack which came a month later, but went off to the gulf of Aden at the mouth of the Red Sea in search of booty (pepper, cloves, sugar, textiles, rice) on Arab merchant ships. And this they did, murdering all the crew on the Arab ships they encountered and setting them afire, and then keeping the lion’s share of this for themselves, including the quinto real, the royal fifth of 20% of any booty that was supposed to go to the Crown, much to the displeasure of the other captains in the fleet.

Despite being warned by locals about the seasonal tempest brewing, greed prevented the Sodré brothers from seeking safe harbour. While Vicente perished in the tempest on 30 April 1503, Brás survived. He perversely blamed the calamity on their Muslim pilots (one of them believed to be ‘the best pilot in all India’) and had them summarily executed. Brás himself died shortly after, ‘of unknown causes’.

The greed of the brothers Sodré led directly to their demise, their dereliction of duty led to loss of face to the Portuguese with their Indian allies, and the unprovoked cruelty of the brothers led to reprisals against Portuguese interests by their enemies.

The recovered artefacts from the Esmeralda include a specimen of the Indio, the legendary ‘ghost’ coin, which is causing ripples in numismatic circles. Who knows what else might come to light?

But salvage attempts had been made soon after, although by the ‘wrong’ forces as far as the Portuguese were concerned. Some guns from the ships (50-60 berços, two bombardas grossas and one falcão) ended in the hands of Malik Ayaz, governor of Diu, who used them to advantage in giving the Portuguese their first taste of naval defeat in the Indian Ocean, in the battle of Chaul (March 1508). A dose of their own ‘medicine’?

(An edited version of this article was published on 10 April 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Merchants of Death and the Bazaar of Blood

I am sure many of you, like me, watched live the address of Pope Francis to the House of Congress during his historic visit to the United States.

Many television channels beamed live coverage of the speech, and some, like CNN, also analysed the content of his speech in great detail soon after he had finished.

Much was made of his reference, for example, to “four [American] individuals and four dreams”: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

However, I noticed a glaring, deafening silence, over what he had said just before that:

“Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.”

The learned pundits and talking heads on CNN and BBC World skimmed over this as if he had just not said any of this. Perhaps I am reading too much into this omission, but it is well known just how powerful the National Rifle Association of America in particular and the weapons industry in general are in the US, and indeed the rest of the world. The words of Pope Francis must have made them squirm uncomfortably in their seats. Best to ignore his scathing indictment and pretend it had just not happened. The good old ostrich-in-the-sand ploy works every time in diverting the attention of the public.

But people continue to die at the receiving end of ever frighteningly more ‘efficient’ weapons of mass destruction, all over the world. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD) is a sanitised euphemism for hell on earth.

Amnesty International has 10 sobering ‘killer’ facts on the global weapons trade:

1.1500 people are killed every day by conflict and armed violence.

2. There are more international laws regulating the trade of bananas than of weapons. Regulation is virtually absent, and corruption widespread. Anyone remember Bofors?

3. 12 billion bullets are produced every year.

4. Over 26 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to armed conflict.

5. Child soldiers are being used in armed conflict in 19 countries.

6. For every death, there are up to 28 serious injuries.

7. Damage caused by weapons destroys infrastructure and perpetuates poverty.

8. 74% of the world’s weapons are supplied by just six countries: USA (34.84%), Russia (14.86%), Germany (7.43%), United Kingdom (6.57%), China (6.29%) and France (4%).

9. Systematic rape of girls and women occur through the use of weapons. In conflict regions such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone, the scale of rape and sexual violence is staggeringly high. Many women and girls have been forced into sexual slavery by fighters, and many are raped at gunpoint. Women and girls are often the forgotten victims of armed conflict.

10. Stronger regulations in the sale and trade of arms could save hundreds of thousands of lives annually.

Food for thought for those who visited the DefExpo for ‘educational purposes’, as a scientist recommended in a section of the press. You may try to look at the science, the physics of it all, but basically what the industry strives towards is an ever more “efficient” killing machine.

merchants of death  

Weapons are all about the money, big money, with no thought to the human suffering and environmental damage they leave in their wake. “Blood money”, as the Pope would have called it.

Over 1.5 trillion United States dollars are spent on military expenditures worldwide.

Pope Francis pulled no punches when he spoke on the subject last year, saying people who manufacture weapons or invest in weapons industries are hypocrites if they call themselves Christian:

“We are living through the third world war, but by pieces.  In Europe there’s war, in Africa there’s war, in the Middle East there’s war, in other countries there’s war.  Can I trust world leaders?  When I go to vote for a candidate, can I trust that he won’t take my country to war?”

“This makes me think of something:  people, leaders, businessmen who say they are Christians, and they manufacture weapons!  This brings up some distrust:  they say they are Christians!  “No, no, Father, I don’t manufacture, no, no…  I only have my savings, my investments in the weapons factories.”  Ah!  And why?  “Because the interest rates are a little higher…”… Hypocrisy!”

And then the Pope delivers the punch line: “And those who die, they’re second-class persons, human beings”.

Casualties of war are dismissed by dehumanising or depersonalising them. They are swept under the rug by the terrible term “collateral damage”. They cease to be people, just “the enemy” or “the bad guys”. Killing becomes a “necessary evil”.

The British publishing company focussed on military, aerospace and transportation is called Jane’s Information Group. What a deceptive name; you’d think this was targeted at bored housewives. They excel at the art of such euphemism. And negotiating their website is like shopping on eBay, with helpful links like “Search for products”, “Add to shopping cart” and “Proceed to checkout”. Presumably all one needs is a credit card. And a lack of conscience. They probably have bargains as well: buy ten cluster bombs, get one free. Or two howitzers for the price of one. Buy one, get one free.

We saw depersonalisation at its lowest ebb when Israeli ‘settlers’ gathered on hillsides in 2014 to whoop, whistle and cheer as bombs rained down on innocent unarmed civilians in Gaza. “What a beauty”, said one, as if watching a firework display. Deck chairs, bags of crisps and bottles of beer were brought along, as if at a picnic.

 

I grew up watching movies (“Where Eagles Dare” and “The Dirty Dozen” come to mind) that glamourised and glorified warfare. One felt like cheering when the “enemy” “got what was coming to them”.

A few decades later, I feel very differently. I’ve never lived in a war zone, thank God. But I’ve met refugees and survivors of war and conflict as my patients in my years in England, and the physical scars on their bodies and psychological ones on their minds are horrifically real. It is not something one wishes on anyone, not even “the enemy”.

(An edited version of this article was published on 3 April 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Gloria in excelsis Deo

One significant change in the liturgy occurs at the end of Lent, at the Easter Vigil: the inclusion of the ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ (Glory to God in the highest).

It is known as the Greater Doxology (from the Greek doxa “glory” and logia “saying”) and is a hymn of praise to God, important in both, the Byzantine rite used by the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, and the Roman rite used by the Roman Catholic Church.

Today, it is sung or recited in the Mass, after the Kyrie eleison (Lord have Mercy) and before the Credo (I believe), on Sundays outside of Lent and Advent, and on solemnities and feasts. It is omitted on days of sorrow and penitence, and a mass for the dead. In the past, only bishops had the privilege of using the hymn in Mass, and history records its extended use by priests in general towards the end of the 11th century.

Gloria Vivaldi

It is also called the ‘angelic hymn’ because its opening lines “Gloria in excelsis Deo; Et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis” (Glory to God in the highest; And on earth peace to men of good will) are the words the angels sang when the birth of Jesus was proclaimed to shepherds in Luke 2:14. The complete text is believed to date from probably the 4th century AD.

The Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus (Holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) together form the Ordinary of the Mass.

Italian Baroque composer Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (1678-1741) wrote at least three settings of the hymn ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’, of which only two survive: RV 588 and 589. RV 590 is deemed as lost. RV stands for Ryom Verzeichnis, the catalogue of Vivaldi’s works by Danish musicologist Peter Ryom.

RV 589 is the more famous and more commonly performed version. Like its RV 588 sibling, it has 12 movements, each devoted to a relevant line in the hymn. Last Wednesday, Child’s Play adult community choir led by Nicholas Manlove, our volunteer from the United States, sang the first movement from it, with a six-member string ensemble which included two of our children, the brothers Irfan and Salim Shimpigar. It was a fitting composition for Child’s Play India Foundation, a Sistema-inspired music charity, to perform. Why? Read on.

Although written for four-part polyphonic choir, the Vivaldi Gloria is thought to have been initially sung by an all-female choir. Both the surviving versions RV 588 and 589 are believed to have been written in 1715, when Vivaldi was employed at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, a convent, orphanage and music school in Venice.

The Pietà as it was known was a haven for orphans and abandoned girls, especially those left in their care as babies. Like other Venetian ospedali, it gained renown for performances of sacred music by its figlie di coro. La Pietà also had a formidable orchestra of up to sixty players, all female. Inevitably, it became a hub of creativity, with composers writing music specifically for them. Vivaldi (who had been ordained as a Catholic priest and was nicknamed ‘The Red Priest’ for his ginger hair) wrote much of his sacred vocal and instrumental music for the forces available to him at the Pietà.

And he was not the only one. Over a dozen other composers also held posts there as Maestri di Coro at various points in its history.

In addition, the Pietà’s staff of copyists and printers did much to further the cause of music in the city. Vivaldi certainly used their services a lot. The Ospedale also provided him employment and a salary as a violin teacher and chorus master during his tenure there (1703-1715 and 1723-1740).

We speak of ‘social empowerment through music education’ as if it were a modern construct. El Sistema, the music education program that began in the 1970s ‘that rescues children from the depredations of poverty through music’ is justly called a revolution, almost a miracle in achieving this objective. But the Pietà and other Ospedali like it were in effect doing just this, centuries earlier.

The Ospedale della Pietà alone produced at least five composers that we know of, all female, and three of them foundlings. They wrote in a distinctive ‘Pietà style’ of composition.

Those among the other foundlings who went on to become musicians and singers attained a degree of respectability that society might perhaps not have accorded them had they not been brought here. It is worthwhile noting that only girls in the orphanage were taught music, as boys could be trained for livelihoods in commerce and shipping. This was unusual in a society that generally frowned upon professional female musicians.

The female musicians and singers performed for audiences but concealed from their “profane” gaze by a black gauze “transparent enough to show the figures of women, but not in the least their features and complexion.” Left to the imagination, they became even more heavenly to visitors such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who called them “angels of beauty”. He in frustration sought special permission to see them, only to have his illusion shattered, but “as long as they were singing, I persisted in thinking them beautiful, in spite of my eyes.”

The divine, angelic qualities of their music are perhaps best exemplified by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s ‘Triumph of Faith’ painted at the Pietà, portraying choirs of angels descending from heaven to earth.

It is due to the talent of these women that composers like Vivaldi were able to write music in larger forms that developed the modern orchestra, thus contributing to music history. Some of Vivaldi’s violin concerti (e.g. RV 343) showcase the virtuosity of one of the Pietà violinists Ana Maria della Pietà, who went on to become a composer as well.

The Ospedali became the templates for future music institutions in Italy and beyond. The Royal Academy of Music London (1822) was the first English music school that solely trained both boys and girls to be professional musicians. Felix Mendelssohn who in 1843 founded the Leipzig Conservatory was influenced by his teacher Carl Zelter who had begun a school modelled upon the Ospedali.

The evolution of music, the pursuit of musical excellence, music education and pedagogy, and charity, philanthropy and social empowerment have been closely intertwined through history. Long may this continue!

(An edited version of this article was published on 27 March 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Semana Santa (Holy Week) at Santa Cruz church, Santa Cruz Goa

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The Swedish choir, the  Sångföreningen Qöhr rolled into Goa early this morning. It was an eventful trip for them, and getting their accommodation sorted took a while.

But a good Goan breakfast later, they caught a local bus up to Santa Cruz church to meet their Child’s Play choral colleagues at Santa Cruz.

We had a very intense morning rehearsal session, and ended with a rousing African hello-goodbye song, sung in the round, with a lot of movement and kinetic energy!

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Can’t wait for the concert! It’s going to be so wonderful!  

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