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My piano teacher

by Fr. Nascimento Mascarenhas

When I was a boy growing up in Goa, I learned the rudiments of the Art of Mozart from four good music teachers, all from our village of Saligao. One was Blasio Fernandes, the choirmaster of St. Anne’s Chapel; the second, Eustaquinho D’Souza, was mestre da igreja at the Saligao Church of Mae de Deus; third was Anselmo Mascarenhas, my revered uncle; and fourth piano teacher was Margaret D’Souza, the Burma-returned piano teacher, from the Arrarim ward . Though the three male tutors never spared a chance to strike my head with their violin bow whenever I went out of sync with the timing, or yell at me when my singing fell flat, my piano teacher Margaret D’Souza’s teaching was both natural and allegro. She tuned my ears to sharply and quickly catch the musical notes, to sing at the correct pitch and play the right chords.

Miss Margaret taught piano to a number of musically inclined students from Saligao. With her practical approach and uncanny teaching knack, her students could play quite elaborate tunes within just a few days. I started piano lessons with piano teacher Miss Margaret in the year 1958, at the behest of my uncle Anselmo, less than a week before his birthday, which fell on April 21. On that day, I surprised him by flawlessly playing a not-so-simple rendition of Happy Birthday. The following day it was La Spagnola and then other classics, as I was gradually initiated into Neapolitan music and Italian opera singing too.

If ever I erred, producing a jarring B-flat when a C-sharp was called for, the resultant cacophony did not perturb my piano teacher. There was no irritated admonishment. Instead she gently placed her fingers on the keyboard, struck the right chord and urged me to do the same. “Keep on practising until you learn the piece well,” was her calm advice. In the end I struck the notes quite correctly and comfortably. I looked at her. She beamed with satisfaction, her sparkling eyes now as wide as saucers.

Within ten weeks my piano teacher Miss Margaret taught me a few semi-classical and classical pieces. On the last day of my lessons, she handed me a small note with a little thought scribbled on it for my reflection: “Be fruitful to yourself, by making good use of God’s gifts, employing every moment according to the end for which it is destined, and as if it were to be the last of your life. Like the rising sun you must advance and gather strength as you go.” Much later I learned that these were the words of St. Margaret Mary of Alacoque, my piano teacher’s “namesake saint”.

Miss Margaret was accustomed to wearing a floppy hat. She was quite tall and willowing, with a pale complexion that belied a wiry constitution and a quick-witted sense of humour. Once Miss Margaret and I happened to be together at Peggy’s Corner in Saligao, waiting for transport to take us to Betim. At that time there were few vehicles. A taxi coming from Calangute stopped to drop off two passengers; we took their places, joining the four other passengers already in the taxi. Atop the hill, near the Saligao Seminary, the engine suddenly conked out. All six of us passengers had to get out and push the car. Margaret remarked to the driver, “Arre, if you had let us know at Peggy’s Corner itself, instead of giving you two rupees each, we would have charged you one rupee per head for this pushing!” The taxi driver guffawed as the engine roared into life again. And while we passed through the coconut boles exploding into sudden bursts of greenery into the incredible blue sky, observing the ripples of a stream beside the road at Pilerne, my piano teacher shared a personal joke about the church choir with us: “The repetition of one chorus has so numbed my mind that instead of ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people’, I now hear ‘Come for tea, come for tea, my people.’ There were peals of laughter among us. The spontaneous bonds created among us while pushing the car lingered till Betim, and Miss Margaret was the centre of attraction. After crossing the Mandovi by ferry we parted ways.

I seldom met my poiano teacher after that. She died on 15 December 2001 at the age of 81. As the funeral procession passed through Saligao, someone mourned: “There goes Margaret D’Souza, the piano teacher.” May the good Lord give her a place among the choirs in Heaven.

1 comment on My piano teacher

  • Neha

    Lovely read :) I am glad you have such fond memories of your piano teacher… Just goes on to show how our teachers do touch our lives in a special way and leave behind an imprint … :)

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