Article In Memoriam

The Big Ocean Cantata

The Big Ocean Cantata is a musical piece specially composed for and dedicated to the 14th Dalai Lama on the occasion of his visit to the Goa University in December 2019. The Cantata is the result of an interdisciplinary research and creative process that combines elements of the musical and philosophical traditions of India and Tibet with Western contemporary composition techniques. This work uses traditional Tibetan melodies, Indian ragas, philosophical thinking structures and texts from India and Tibet, as well as sound textures and harmonies of the musical tradition s of the West.

Through the use of these elements, the Big Ocean Cantata creates a soundscape that represents both the rich Tibetan tradition -its aspirations and hopes- and the crucial need of dialogue and sincere seek for peace, as fervently preached by the Dalai Lama.

The agogics of the Big Ocean Cantata describes different sound perspectives via the varied events and experiences related to the life of the 14th Dalai Lama: his escape from Lhasa and the walk through the Himalayas in 1959, his teachings and the struggle for peace from exile in Dharmasala.

Written entirely in Tibetan and Sanskrit languages, the Big Ocean Cantata comprises of texts used by the 14th Dalai Lama and the Om mani padme hum (ॐ मणिपद्मे हूँ) mantra, a six-syllable mantra of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. This mantra, which is recited by Tibetan Buddhists, leads to the purification of the six realms of existence.

The Big Ocean Cantata is a work that celebrates Tibetan wisdom and coexistence and embodies in itself the struggle for freedom through the respectful dialogue of all traditions and the symbiosis of the aesthetics of the East and West. The name of the composition “Big Ocean” refers to the term ‘Dalai’ which in Mongolian language means ‘ocean’- ‘big’. It is composed for an ensemble of soprano soloist, mixed choir voices, violin, pianos as well as classical and Tibetan percussion sets (singing bowls and Tibetan gongs).

It also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 1989.

– Dr. Santiago Lusardi Girelli

My Life is My Message Virtual Choir Premier

Words by Mahatma Gandhi
Music by Santiago Lusardi Girelli

Western Music Chair, Visiting Research Professors Programme
Goa University

About Dr. Santiago Lusardi Girelli

1979 – 2021

Born in Buenos Aires in 1979, Santiago was an Argentinian-Italian Music Conductor, Composer and Scholar of the philosophical traditions of the East and West. Dr. Lusardi Girelli worked as lecturer and choir and orchestra conductor and in more than 20 countries in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia for the last 20 years. He studied Orchestra, Choir conduction, Philosophy, Theology, and a PhD in Music and Philosophy. He published researches on Buddhist Phenomenology and Hindu Ritualism and its links with Western Music & Art Tradition. Santiago conducted choirs and orchestras, professional and amateurs, around the world throughout more than 400 concerts, and leaded music tours in several countries, from the Amazonas Rain Forest to Leipzig-Germany (J.S. Bach´s city); and from Peruvian Machu Pichu to the Indian Himalayas.

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A Tribute, by Vivek Menezes

From the moment Santiago Lusardi Girelli made his first appearance in Goa in 2013, it was clear the Spanish-Argentinean dynamo was someone extraordinary.

I vividly recall that debut, conducting the disparate assemblage he had knitted together as the Goa University Choir. It was an unusual setting: the 16th century Igreja de Santa Cruz. More novel still was the repertoire: songs in Latin, Spanish and English, as well as indigenous Native American languages. All those present immediately realised they were witnessing a culture-shifting landmark event.

Much of the promise inherent in that sparkling commencement was realised. The Goa University Choir established itself as an exceptional body of musicians, and kept on thrilling audiences with sublime performances in increasingly wonderful heritage locations.

It was Santiago’s individual efforts that opened up concert venues in the stunning St Augustine ruins in Old Goa, and the magnificent St Cajetan church nearby. Thanks to him, the spectacular Ketevan Sacred Music Festival was born. Indian audiences got to listen to brilliant compositions – spanning the gamut from ancient to ultra-modern – that no one else would have thought to try.

The honorific maestro isn’t tossed around lightly. Many conductors come and go without ever earning the right. That was not the case with Santiago, who carried the weight of leadership with effortless, consummate grace. People followed him implicitly, and wherever he went in India he was recognised as a genuine ustaad. This is why his tragic, unfair death from COVID-19 this week is being mourned so widely.

Here in India’s smallest state, amidst anxiety about demographic dissolution, it is widely suspected that newcomers and migrants do not care about Goa. Very often, they are held to be responsible for the rapid degradation of everything valuable that Goans hold dear.

But the exact opposite was true of Santiago, who actually embodied and exemplified much of what is wonderful about our singularly inclusive, many-layered culture. The Goa University Choir is an especially wonderful example. There were insiders, outsiders, Indians, foreigners, men and women, in ages ranging from teenagers right to grandparents, with everyone making exquisite music that was carefully derived from every corner of the world.

COVID-19 sometimes seems to single out the best amongst us, and Santiago was certainly that. On May 1, he posted on Facebook – it was his last message to the world – that “Here I am, once more, like so many times in my life, fighting in chaos. As you can imagine it has not been easy, the loneliness, the uncertainties, the pains and the daily struggle to breathe, and all this being a witness to how this country that I love so much is suffering.”

He gave thanks “for the immense tenderness I have received in my life,” saying “although it hurts, and although a gale is blowing in my lungs, I am here on the warpath.” Then this admirable 41-year-old, who wanted to come and live in India with his beautiful young family, wound up dying here instead. May he rest in peace.

Vivek Menezes is a widely published writer and photographer. He was born in Bombay, went to high school in New York, and holds degrees from Wesleyan University and the London School of Economics. He lives in Goa with his wife and three sons.