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Come all ye faithful

Musical feet: At the get-together, the ambience reflected melody, camaraderie, cooperation and unity. —

Musical feet: At the get-together, the ambience reflected melody, camaraderie, cooperation and unity. —  

For the past three days, one person has taken my mind away from demonetisation and cash shortage. Her name is Saint Cecilia, and she is the patron saint of musicians.

I hadn’t heard of her before, and didn’t even imagine one of my favourite Simon & Garfunkel songs ‘Cecilia’ was indirectly inspired by her. But good things happen, by the grace of God, and this is how I got introduced to her.

Two old friends, musician Ernest Flanagan and Roland Fernandes, informed me about the Musicians Mass on Tuesday, November 22, at the grandiose St Peter’s Church on Hill Road, Bandra. There would be a celebration of the Feast of St Cecilia, where an hour-long mass would be followed by a get-together.

At this point, let me be honest. I am not an expert on religion or mythology. As a Hindu Brahmin, I am only half-aware of these subjects. Though I had visited church many times, I had never attended mass before. Yet, I have believed musicality, in any form, is a religion by itself.

I researched more on St Cecilia, and even participated in a WhatsApp group monitored by the dynamic Michael Noronha. Unlike my regular jeans and tee look, I decided to dress formally.

The mass began at 5:30 p.m. with Father Alban D’Souza addressing the congregation. The musicians comprised singers Sunita Noronha, Melanie Duggal, Lalitha Pinto and Maryann Baretto, keyboardist Merlin D’Souza, guitarist Clarence Dias, Rhys Sebastian on trumpet, James Miranda on flugelhorn, and Flanagan on mandolin.

The hymns ‘How Great Thou Art’, ‘Lord I Offer My Life To You’, ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus’, ‘In Moments Like These’ and ‘God Is Good’ rent the air. So did other church music like ‘The Gloria’, ‘ Alleluia’ and a psalm. People sang along from their pews, and a young lady sitting behind was singing as beautifully as the choir.

At the get-together, musicians mingled happily. The whole ambience reflected melody, camaraderie, cooperation and unity. Qualities that surely defined the spirit of St Cecilia.

I returned with joy, but my mind didn’t stop there. In some ways, I drew a fleeting comparison between St Cecilia and the Hindu goddess Saraswati. While the former was represented with an organ or lute, the latter played the veena. But their life stories were so different, and I was no authority to make this comparison.

I kept researching. The story of St Cecilia is part fact, part fictional. But various religious bodies have been celebrating her feast for years. As one website says, “She is the acclaimed patron saint of music, especially church music, as well as that of musicians, composers, instrument makers and poets.”

According to folklore, despite her vow of virginity, Cecilia was forced by her parents to marry a nobleman named Valerian. During the wedding, she sat apart singing to God in her heart, and for that she was later declared the saint of musicians.

Classical musicians George Frideric Handel, Henry Purcell, Charles Gounod and Benjamin Britten, and poets Alexander Pope and John Dryden have dedicated works to her. The famous Italian artist Raphael painted ‘The Ecstasy of St Cecilia’. Many modern musicians, including David Byrne, Brian Eno, Foo Fighters and Simon & Garfunkel have mentioned her.

The St Peter’s mass was a perfect tribute to her. Father Alban made a relevant point, saying each musician contributed to make a band what it is.

I strangely thought of Coldplay at that moment. Most people attending their show last week only talked about frontman Chris Martin, totally overlooking guitarist Jonny Buckland, bassist Guy Berryman and drummer Will Champion. How I wish the message of St Cecilia goes across through to our rock audiences.

Narendra Kusnur is a freelance music writer

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Printable version | Jul 14, 2020 4:57:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/Come-all-ye-faithful/article16689989.ece

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