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World music day World music day
by Dr Elsa Lycias Joel
2022-06-21 06:31:45
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Inspite of knowing that world music day is celebrated on June 21 since 1982 I happened to think over it for the first time today.  One of my favourite childhood memories include waking up and going to bedlistening to the hymn ‘ Deva pidhaenthanmeipanallo’ .  This was not only my most loved song but the one that rang in my ears all the time. I consider this my all-time special due to the following reasons:

1- This is the first Tamil song I learnt as a kid

2- If not in our house, this song was still heard from some part of my hometown Neyyoor.

3- Soon after I began to decipher the lyrics, I understood the song was not just honey to my ears but it also encouraged my soul.

4- It was nothing but Psalm 23rd taking the shape of a song only to offer me a peace that passeth all understanding.

5 - I could tell between music lovers and others from the way they sang this particular song.

music001_400Before I could understand each word I developed a liking because of the tune. As I grew up, I developed a taste for various genres of music. Yet, when my father attempted to teach me play the organ, I tried hard to learn to play this song and succeeded.  At that point of time, even when I had a handful of favourite songs, every time I came across a beautiful scenery or I felt troubled deep within, this song‘Deva Pidhaenthanmeipanallo’ played through my head and heart. Such was its influence on me.  When I realized the power of this song, I wanted to know more about the person behind this wonderful creation.  I wanted to know who wrote it with so much insight, under what circumstances or situation or how passionately was the tune composed. Whichever part of the world this song is still sung, the tune never changes. That makes it clear that the person who wrote and composed this song was guided by an unlimited divine grace. Pouring into books and research papers , I got to know that Joseph, the poet  was born in Neyyoor as the elder son to Timothy and Leah on July 22nd, 1841. With great respect and fondness, he was referred to as ‘YosepuKaviraayar’ by the people of Kanyakumari District. Of all the astonishing facts and details, one that I recall often is that in 1856, 15 year old Joseph was tutored in an English school at Nagercoilby Reverend. Vedhakan who earned the credit of translating John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained.  No wonder Joseph grew up to be an erudite poet who wrote and composed more than a hundred songs in addition to giving his best shot as the inspector of schools for ten years and advisor to a few church councils. Giving a poetic form to more than 91 Psalms and composing music for the same is definitely an uphill task that can be done by a musical legend and no doubt, Poet Joseph was one.  His enviable reputation as a song-writer stemmed from the fact that even while he was terminally ill, he didn’t stop writing songs. At the age of 46, Poet Joseph passed away leaving behind hundreds of hymns for us to relish or take comfort in.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that the people of Neyyoor take great pride in their musical heritage also because of Poet /educationist Joseph, whose grave is still visited by music lovers from all over Tamilnadu. Talk to anybody from Neyyoor and you will know they never miss an opportunity to celebrate Poet Joseph, whose legacy lives on.That is also why Poet Joseph’s grandson Mr. Joseph Cornelius Joel cared to be the choir master of Dartmouth Chapel Choir for almost 33 year besides being a music teacher in various other institutes. During J.Cornelius Joel’s tenure as the choir master, the Dartmouth Chapel Choir was well known in the Tamilnadu music circle for the numerous accolades they won. By the time J. Cornelius Joel was confident about one of his protégés taking over the mantle of choral director, he retired only to tutor students from the comforts of his home.

On special days as this, we ought to remember and memorialize musical legends who are less spoken about and fade away with time.  Today, if Neyyoor happens to be that small village in Kanyakumari district where every kid is taught the basics of classical church music, where music is part of good times as well as sad times, then the credit solely goes to missionaries who trained people like Poet Joseph, J. Cornelius Joel and many more who are responsible for the music to play on.

Finally, the song ‘Deva pidhaenthanmeipanallo’ sounds like the song for all seasons, for the mountains and the valleys. Whether I sing it, think of it or hum it, this song assures me of one thing. That is, whoever I am, whatever I do and wherever I go, a love larger than life upholds me and that love will carry me through.

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