Professor Santiago Lusardi Girelli is in Goa with a team of musicians from the University of Seville (Spain) and others from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Colombia, and Argentina. He has been invited to take the Anthony Gonsalves Chair of Western Music as part of the ambitious Visiting Professorship Programme, a series of interdisciplinary courses set up at the Goa University. He spoke to Navhind Times in an exclusive interview.

Welcome back to Goa, Professor Girelli! This is your first experience of a Goan monsoon, isn’t it?

Yes. When I was told it could rain relentlessly for days on end, I didn’t quite believe it, but now I do! But it is also invigorating, and we are enjoying the weather immensely.

Tell us a little about the lecture series you will be giving at the Goa University.

The six-week course is entitled ‘Western Music in dialogue with the Arts, History and Philosophy.’ Its objective is to explore the confluence of western music with art, sculpture, architecture, poetry, literature, theatre, religion and philosophy, and its historical and political context.

We will intersperse the lectures with music performances. So while I talk about the links with the other arts, etc, the focus will be on the music.

In addition to the Goa University students and faculty, the lecture series is also open to the wider public.

What about your plan to form the first-ever Goa University choir? What are the eligibility criteria to join?

In Europe, every large university has its own choir and orchestra. I am delighted to be helping Goa University set up their choir. The singers and musicians in European universities are not just from the universities but from the wider community as well. So we welcome participation from the wider Goan community for the Goa University choir. One needn’t have prior singing experience, but I will be auditioning those interested in joining.

Your team is going to be busy in Goa. You have a partnership with the music charity Child’s Play (India) Foundation, but you will also work with the wider music community?

In April, I helped Child’s Play set up an ensemble, ‘Camerata Child’s Play’. The idea is to encourage regular chamber and ensemble playing among the youth; in effect to form a ‘nucleo’ which is the foundation of the El Sistema model in Venezuela and elsewhere. Our musicians will seek to strengthen this and work with young musicians and music students in Child’s Play and beyond.

I am pleased also to report that our proposal to the Kala Academy has been enthusiastically accepted. We will work with teachers and students, giving lessons in violin, viola, cello, choir and chamber music. We have also proposed workshops in Baroque and Classical music interpretation, chamber music masterclasses, and an orchestral and choral conducting course.

In addition to music, you are also a deeply spiritual man, and have spent a lot of your life in meditation and study of philosophy and theology. Could you elaborate?

As a youth, I joined a meditation school in Argentina and studied under a disciple of the great Paramahansa Yogananda. My spiritual journey has taken me to the major religious destination in India: Hrishikesh, Haridwar, Varanasi, Bodhgaya. India is a spiritual place!

You share some similarities with our current Pope in that both of you are of Italian-origin and grew up in Buenos Aires. But you also have met him and studied with him before he became our Pope. Elaborate.

I studied at the Colegio Máximo, a Jesuit University in Argentina. The current Pope had been Chancellor there many years earlier, and was Visiting Professor there in my time. I studied various theological subjects under him. He is a lovely, simple man, approachable and easy to talk to. He always traveled by public transport even as Archbishop.

I often played organ at the Buenos Aires cathedral and conducted choir when he celebrated Mass as Archbishop. Our Christian musician community used to have frequent meetings with him

Tell us a little about your experience with the path-breaking El Sistema philosophy of music education and social empowerment in Venezuela and elsewhere. There are skeptics who feel India is not fertile ground for it. Can it take root here, and how?

I have worked for several years in El Sistema with disadvantaged children across South America. In La Paz, for example, some children of the indigenous community have little or no Western influence, and yet El Sistema has been a success here.

Having travelled widely across India, I am convinced the El Sistema ethos can work, and perhaps nowhere better than Goa! The model would need to be adapted and fashioned to suit the local conditions, to create a new program rather than just copy a template. Each place and its people and circumstances are unique.

(For details of the Western Music lecture series at Goa University or to audition for the Goa University choir, email or call 9011051950)

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 10 July 2013)