Mestri Tomas brought in the concept of phrasing music and began distributing the leads to all musicians. The drums and bass guitar began getting solos to play which in turn enhanced the beauty of the performance and as a result, people would go to see the performances of the tiatr a second and third time too!
On our journey of earth, we encounter many people who leave an indelible print of ink on your life. Some by their cruel deeds and others by their sheer life of simplicity. There are still a few who carve for themselves a niche in your heart by their silent work and when this person passes away, your heart aches with pain. Mestri Tomas Antao or “Thomson” as he was lovingly called in his heydays, is no more. The sound of his trumpet playing has faded into eternity but the sweet music he created lingers in our ears.
Tomas Domingoes Rosario Antao, born on March 7, 1939, from his early days began his musical educational journey at the tender age of seven, learning the ropes from Jose Antonio Gonsalves (father of Anthony Gonsalves!) of Calata Majorda at the Escola Parochial of Majorda. He completed his Segundo Grau in Portuguese, completed his primary education at Majorda, and then at a school in Margao. His craving for music took him to a seaman Francis Braganza who taught him to play the banjo! He was very fascinated with the instrument and his brother Antonio who was in Africa at that time brought him a Banjo. Armed with a prized possession, Tomas practised long hours and gained confidence in playing the instrument. Mestri Pacheco from Utorda honed his skills and gave him the break to play in a children's tiatr at Utorda. He was paid 6 rupees then! Mestri Antonio Moraes invited Tomas to join his band playing for the Young Stars of Goa in several of their tiatrs. He diligently saved his earnings and bought his first trumpet for Rs 425!
Tomas began blowing the trumpet with the help of his friends in Majorda and then Santan Mestri, noticing his natural style of playing, took him under his tutelage and with the hard work that Tomas put in, he was confidently playing a song in different scales within three months. Mestri Santan made Tomas his band member as they dished out quality and soul-stirring music for village feast fanfare and tiatrs for which he was publicly appreciated by his first teacher Mestri Jose Antonio Gonsalves!
It was Rosario Rodrigues who brought out the best from Tomas. Earlier the melody of the song would be played as an introduction and interlude for the cantos and songs of tiatrs. Rosario gave him the liberty in music and as a result, Tomas composed soothing melodies and introduction to the singing. He brought in the concept of phrasing music and began distributing the leads to all musicians. The drums and bass guitar too began getting solos to play which in turn enhanced the beauty of the performance and as a result, people would go to see the performances of the tiatr a second and third time too! Ekech Ratri, Ami fator, Fattim Pavlo were hit presentations of Rosario Rodrigues where music of Tomas Mestri did the talking.
I had the privilege to experience the commitment and dedication of Mestri Tomas to music not only in my tiatrs but also in spiritual music. Years ago when Mandd Sobhann celebrated its silver jubilee I was entrusted with the task of presenting Konkani Motets at Kalangan Mangalore. My enquiries with people who mattered led me to the doorstep of Mestri Tomas who was overwhelmed with the thought of recreating the scenario of motet singing that too at a cultural event.
Mestri Tomas dug in his notes and the next day handed me the notation scripts of the motets that he recalled were given to him by Mestri Gonsalves. He guided me to have all male singers as in the olden days and wrote music besides violins, for the clarinets too, while he played the French Horn. When I related this preparation to my friend Eric Ozario, the Mandd Sobhann organisers gave Mestri Tomas the honour of being the ‘Yezman’ for a day's programme! We then presented these motets during the Lenten season at the All India Radio and Goa Doordarshan.
I also had the privilege of interviewing Mestri Tomas on Goa Doordarshan during which he related how for a recording of a folk Konkani play at the studios of All India Radio, he played the snares and bass drum with his legs as he blew the trumpet lead. For the zomnivelo khells presented, earlier there were two different players in drumming, Mestri Tomas got the drum set introduced!
Mestri Tomas was a great teacher too who insisted on learning the musical notations in solfeggio as a prerequisite for learning an instrument. He was proficient in teaching any blowing or wind instrument besides the violin and would soon bring out a tutor from his collection. He would also assist to buy a second-hand or new instrument and at times would even give his own instrument as a gift to the learner.
Mestri Tomas is no more, but the rich musical legacy he left behind will keep him alive in our midst. It’s a loss not only to the tiatr and music fraternity but also to the learners of music and the tiatr aficionados in general. May the winds of heaven blow softly, and whisper in your ears Mestri, how much we love and miss you, and wish that you were here.