Based in Goa, the Aradhon Choir is a leading vocal ensemble founded and conducted by Omar de Loiola Pereira. Goa has strong traditions of choral music that can be traced back to the arrival of Christianity in the fifteenth century. Presently, the state has a flourishing choral-music scene in terms of both liturgical and sacred music, with experiments in rhythm and melody being carried out by various choir ensembles.
In this interview with a choir member, Omar de Loiola Pereira discusses the formation of the Aradhon Choir, his fascination for Konkani sacred music, the selection of choral repertoires and the process of musical arrangement.
Heidi Loyola Pereira (HLP): Tell us about how you got into music. Were you formally trained?
Omar de Loiola Pereira (OLP): I have (always) been into music although I haven’t been formally trained. While I have done particular courses in music performance, it wasn’t formal training in the classical sense of the word. But I have been in music one way or another from the time I was seven years old... (for) more than 30 years.
Choral music has always had a very special place in my heart, although I perform other kinds of music as well. And so, through the years I have started a few choirs, and now I have Aradhon.
When I was in my teens, I started a youth choir called Juventus, which performed both sacred as well as non-sacred music—from cultural music, a bit of classical music, to pretty much everything else. It actually did pretty well for itself. The choir actually gained a fair amount of popularity in the mid-nineties, so we didn’t just sing in churches but also put on shows.
A little later, in the late nineties, I started another vocal ensemble. It was much smaller, just about six or seven members. It was called Ovation. But that didn’t last very long—maybe around two to three years. But it consisted of more senior members. In fact, I was the youngest. But Ovation did not do sacred music; it did everything but sacred music. Also, Ovation performed more for corporate events and things like that, which was quite interesting for its time.
Then I moved to Australia and spent about 15–16 years there. I played with a few bands but did not start any choirs during that time. But then, when I decided to come back to Goa, at the top of my list was to start another band. That is how Aradhon came about.
HLP: Could you talk about Goan sacred music? What fascination does it hold for you?
OLP: Goan sacred music is incredibly rich in its musical content as well as in its theological content. What attracts me to Konkani sacred music is its musicality. Most hymns are composed by priests that are trained in music in the seminary, or by very reputable musicians and composers. If you were to just listen to the music and not the lyrics, you would find that it is easy-listening music—the kind you hear on your radio. But when you add theological content to it, Konkani sacred music becomes magical all of a sudden. It has a lot of potential and scope for both choral as well as orchestral arrangement. That is really what got me going right at the beginning in my teens, what got me interested in choral music—it started off with the potential of Konkani sacred music above everything else. That is what I would like to concentrate on, although I have performed all kinds of sacred music. What I would really like to explore further is Konkani sacred music and give it more emphasis in our performances.
HLP: How do you work out the musical arrangement for each section of the choir?
OLP: I don’t have a set template for arrangement. What I do is listen to the hymn and let the hymn itself guide me. One hymn could be one style, the other hymn could be a totally different style. There is one hymn that would probably remind the audience of Brazilian music. Yet, there are some hymns that sound more classical, and others that sound like tangos. Incidentally, a major portion of Konkani hymns are set to voices; if you don’t hear the lyrics, and if they are arranged for an orchestra, you could actually dance to them. It is very beautiful music. I let the hymn itself guide me into coming up with the arrangement—different hymns inspire me differently.
HLP: Have you come up with any of your own hymns or compositions?
OLP: I am not really a composer. I am more of an arranger than a composer. A lot of hymns we sing are my own arrangement. We do arrangements by other composers, by other arrangers...but in general terms, most of the arrangements are mine.
HLP: Can you tell us a little bit more about the repertoire that you do?
OLP: Yes, it is not just Konkani sacred music. We do a lot of stuff in English and a bit in Latin. The stuff we do in Latin is more classical. The stuff we do in English ranges from classical to contemporary. There is a much wider spectrum as far as non-Konkani music is concerned. But yes, as far as sacred music goes, we are open to doing any form of it.
All our performances are in chapels and churches. However, the plan is to take sacred music beyond these institutions. What I would like to do is take sacred music to the streets in terms of open-air concerts. But nonetheless, it (our aim) is to popularise sacred music and get more people to listen to it.
HLP: Can you talk about your experiences in conducting choir music?
OLP: I am not a technically trained conductor. What I can tell you about is my experience at the helm of Aradhon.
With conducting as such, I am actually quite fortunate that there is an incredible amount of talent within the choir—this way, conducting becomes a lot easier. I like to start with each one’s potential and specialities and work on vocal sirens (vocal exercises) with them. Of course, at the end of the day everything has to come together within the choir. But I do let all this guide me in conducting.
Also, the fact that it is not a big choir, but more a small vocal ensemble, makes it easier I guess, to be more connected with each singer. This way, everything happens fluidly and easily.
Depending on the number of voices we have in the choir, their ranges, the type of melody and the opportunity it presents, the arrangement can go anywhere. But it is also important to keep the lyrics and what we are actually singing about in mind—that is probably the fundamental influencing factor in not just the arrangement, but in the way that it (the hymn) is sung and in the expression required to sing. For me, that is a very important guiding factor when it comes to arranging.
HLP: So how did participating in the Monte Music Festival (2018) happen?
OLP: The organisers came across some of our YouTube videos. They really liked what we had done with Konkani hymns. They called me up and had a chat about whether we would do a concert for the Monte festival, with an emphasis on Konkani music. What they wanted was for a good proportion of it to be in Konkani, so that something local could be showcased at that level. And I really jumped at the idea because that was something that I was very keen on...to bring our Konkani church music to a platform like the Monte festival, where it goes beyond just the local audience. I am very keen for as many people to hear what Konkani sacred music is like, and the Monte festival was one of the best platforms for that.
HLP: How did you choose your hymns, and do you have favourites among them?
OLP: I wanted to do hymns that are sung on a daily basis in churches around Goa. People sing these hymns all the time, but I wanted to present them from a slightly different perspective. So, therefore, two-thirds of the programme for the Monte festival was in Konkani. We threw in a few hymns in Latin and in English because that is also what people know and sing.
Really, the entire repertoire is a favourite—that is why those hymns were chosen. When I choose a hymn, it is because it connects with me quite deeply. For example, ‘Devacho Sobd’ is one hymn that really struck me both in terms of its music and lyrics. But then there are other hymns that I connect with on a very emotional level. For example, the hymn ‘Sam Francisku Xaviera’ is very traditional. So are ‘Ruzari Saibinni’, and ‘Pav Maie’. These are very traditional hymns that we have grown up with and lived with. They connect very deeply, very emotionally to me.
Then there is the Christmas carol ‘Mari Mateak Ballok Zala’. It is a beautiful carol in many ways. It is not just the music and what it expresses, but the way in which it is expressed. The way Dr Manohar Sardesai and Micael Martins have written that poem is extraordinary.
‘The Aradhon Choir Live at the Monte 2018’, live recording of Konkani hymns presented at the Monte Music Festival in Goa, presented by the Museu do Oriente, February 2, 2018, https://archive.org/details/TheAradhonChoir