Father Romeo Monteiro

In Conversation with Father Romeo Monteiro: On the Choral Traditions of Goa

in Interview
Published on: 06 June 2019
Interview with Father Romero Monteiro, Goa, 2018


Father Romero Monteiro is Chancellor at Bishop’s Palace, Panjim. He holds a PhD in Canon Law, is a postgraduate in Liturgical Music and has a diploma in Composition.

Sebanti Chatterjee is a sound anthropologist and storyteller. She is a PhD scholar in the Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics.


Sebanti Chatterjee: Tell us about your journey in music.

Father Romeo Monteiro: When I was thirteen years old, my father enrolled me in Kala Academy in Panjim for courses in piano and violin. I joined the Rachol Seminary in Goa when I was eighteen years old. I taught music there between the years 2006–2013. I taught solfeggio (an exercise in music using sol-fa syllables), music theory and a variety of instruments (piano, violin, organ, cello, viola, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, horn, euphonium, tuba and percussion). The seminary also had classes for Gregorian chants, liturgical music and Indian music. Although I am a violinist, I play other instruments too. I began teaching all these instruments, and even now music is flourishing at the seminary. You need instruments for a variety in ranges, timbres, feelings, sounds and emotions.

I was the assistant parish priest in the churches at Chinchinim and, later, at Merces (Our Lady of Merces Church). In the choir at Merces, there were about 10–15 members and we sang in all four voices.

SC: Could you tell us briefly about how choral music developed as part of church worship?

RM: Liturgy is an official prayer of the church. In liturgy, there is an officiant celebrant, the congregation and the choir. The priest is the officiant celebrant. He is supposed to be the bridge that allows the prayers of the people to reach God. Before choirs came into existence, there was monodic music (a solo vocal style with a single melodic line accompanied by instrumental music), Gregorian chants, etc. Harmonies developed and choirs began to be formed in monasteries. Organs were introduced in the ninth or tenth century. They produced a cluster of notes. Instruments filled in the gap and accompanied the singing. Then voices (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) emerged in the place of instruments. Choirs developed to help the service. There are different parts which are sung by one person or a group of persons, therefore they are called voices.

Singing and music in church were different from the singing and music outside it. In the beginning, musical instruments were not accepted and certain styles were not entertained in church. From the fifteenth century onwards, trumpets, trombones and flutes began to be used while singing the Gloria (a prayer sung at the beginning of Mass).

SC: How has choral music evolved in Goa?

RM: In Goa, when Christianity arrived in the fifteenth century, a priest named Father Gasper Barzen was instrumental in introducing music in churches.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, motets (vocal compositions in Western classical music) were composed. Motets in the West are different from the ones sung in Goan churches. In Goa, during Lent, certain instruments or voices were used to accompany the tableaus depicting the scenes of the Passion of Christ. This practice still continues in certain parishes. The Franciscans and the Jesuits also took up this tradition. Motets were sung as an accompaniment to these tableaus and processions. In Goa, motets were the first choral compositions.

Anything that is sacred is solemn and needs to be chanted. Chanting also gives solemnity and appropriateness to the text. There was this big choral performance in the middle of the seventeenth century, circa 1622, in Basilica, when an oratorio (a large musical composition meant to be performed by the orchestra, choir and soloists) was sung in seven voices. Lourdino Barreto, my teacher in Rome, used to compose motets. His works were a combination of Eastern and Western music. Choral music in Goa also took inspiration from Indian melodies. Until the creation of Vatican II, motets were sung in Latin. Then Konkani hymns came into existence. Now different kinds of choirs and choral music have emerged. The Goan choirs do not sing a cappella (solo or group singing without instrumental accompaniment), except for maybe one or two hymns. But choral music with the accompaniment of an organ or guitar is quite common.