The Piped Organs in Goan Churches

At the age if 76, playing the pipe organ every week at Margao’s Holy Spirit Church about 25 years ago is just a happy memory for Maurelio Cotta. “The pipe organ produces a very solid sound that has a rich influence on its surroundings. If it were played in the church, the sound would resonate till the Old Market in Margao. I used to play it every week, but now I cant even try,given its present condition’ says Cotta. He says there are three different sounds that can be produced soft,loud and middle range and it sounds similar to the flute.

It was once a pivotal instrument used for church music, but with the induction of easier and simpler musical instruments, six of the seven pipe organs in Goa are relegated to mere aesthetic value.

These huge instruments were brought to the state some time during 1885 and 1907  by ships in parts and assembled in Goa. The seven places in the state that house these instruments are the Holy Spirit Church, Margao, The cathedral of St Catherine and the Basillica of Bom Jesus, Both at Old Goa, the church of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim, the church of Salvador do Mundo, Loutulim and the only functioning one which is at the Rachol Seminary, Rachol, Goa.

David Rumsey, a Sydney born researcher and organist writes in his academic paper titled The Organs of Goa, India in 1994, “five of the existing seven organs are by Gebruder Link of Gienged an der Benz, Wuttemberg, Germany. The other two are an Anglo Indian organ building firm, Hurry Brothers of Calcutta.

Having learned to play at the Rachol Seminary in 1963, while studying Theology, Cotta says he would have surely become the lead organist there if he were to have stayed on at seminary. But he insists that the music produced is nothing short of divine.

There is something so divine about the sort of music that comes out from the pipe organ. There are smaller organs called the Harmonium that is most widely played. Though it produced some good sound it cannot compare with the pipe organ. The music it produced was so divine, it would bring people close to God, says Cotta.

Father Avinash Rebello Parish Priest at the Holy Spirit church says that a lot of effort was put into getting a professional to fix the pipe organ but its been over five years and no one has succeeded in bringing the instrument back to its glorious former self.

Four years ago the parish priest of the church wanted to repair the pipes. They were in urgent need of a cleaning and repair. There was a firm in Calcutta who showed interest in repairing the instrument but there has been no headway since then. We are hoping that the repairs will be completed soon.

Maintenance is no easy task either. Maintenance of a pipe organ is approached from several angles – The Organs environment ( dust and humidity changes are two problems, periodic restoration is needed and renewal of leather parts and broken action parts as well as temperature change can put the organ out of tune.
The only functional organ at Rachol Seminary gets played every sunday and for seminary functions.

“Our own seminarians play the pipe organs, They do so every Sunday, But it took us a great deal to take care of the instrument itself, Recently we had to repair it at a cost of around 5 lakhs. It was fitted with an electric blower so there is no need to keep a person only for blowing air into the instrument like in the past” says Fr Simon Fernandes who is in charge of music at the seminary.

It may be the cost of maintenance that has put these instruments on the back burner. But musician Cotta points to various other reasons.

Evolution of music and change in the liturgy from the Gregorian to the current liturgy are two of the main reasons for this trend. Different parts of the Latin masses, including parts such as the Kyrie, Santos and the Alleluia have now been replaced with vernacular masses. Church music has become more simpler and basic with more dependence on electronically operated organs’. Says Cotta.

The fact that no one in the state or the country for that matter is trained in repairing a pipe organ also adds to the reasons,”There is no one in India who is trained in repairing the pipe organs.It is a specialized job and there is no one in the country who would ever make a career fixing pipe organs,’ Says Cotta.

The positioning of the instrument is usually in the choir gallery that in the past was always located on the top of the inside of the church, but the trend these days is for the choir to be closer to the main altar.