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Last year marked the 100 birth anniversary of a celebrated Austrian priest-musician who dedicated a great part of his life to Macau, Fr. Wilhelm Schmid, SDB (司馬榮) (1910 – 2000). The mayor of the Austrian city of Hornstein has already invited a local choral group from Macau, the Perosi Choir, to perform Fr. Schmid’s works in his very hometown as part of an extended centenary celebration this summer.
Fr. Schmid served as choir master and teacher in Seminário de São José and in Colégio Salesiano during his years of dedicated service in Macau from 1939-1966.
He was also the director of the Macau Police Force Band as well as of the Salesian Woodwind Band. For major festive performances like drama and concert, seminarians would make up the violinists section while Fr. Schmid’s other students and associates would take up the remaining strings and woodwinds of the orchestra. He was known to be quite a tough coach. Many alumni today still remember that signature knock on the head whenever one sang out of tune.
Fr. Schmid was a missionary belonging to the religious society of the Salesians of Don Bosco (not to be confused with the other well-known intellectual German priest, Fr. Wilhelm Schmidt SVD, the “Father of Ethnology”). Our Fr. Schmid taught vocal lessons, harmony, counterpoint, fugue & composition. He composed numerous Marian and Eucharistic hymns with Latin, Portuguese and Chinese lyrics that many Chinese Salesian pupils of (g)olden days would know. According to his former colleagues, Fr. Schmid confessed that he had a particular devotion to Mary. And whenever inspiration for a melody comes, he always prays a Hail Mary before setting out to put the pen to paper.
In 2009, a forty-page manuscript of a Mass setting composed by Fr. Schmid was providentially found on sale in a downtown flea market. Similar items of such irreplaceable cultural value pop up from limbo once in a while.
The current Bishop of Hong Kong, John Tong and Mr. Doming Lam Ngok-pui (林樂培), the esteemed Honorary President of the Hong Kong Composers’ Guild, were both taught by Fr. Schmid. Not to mention Maestro Monsignor Antonio Lau (劉志明) of Fujen Catholic University in Taiwan, as well as our late Bishop Domingos Lam of Macau. The list of distinguished students can go on. But one hallmark characterizes them all – an unfeigned religiosity evident in the seamless union of plain Chinese lyrics and fervent melody in their compositions. I can’t do justice to their due value here with mere verbal description. You got to eat the pudding yourself.
Salesian music is joyful and exuberant yet not frivolous or inane. It features a Piedmontese harmonium and pious serenity. Actually I should also mention names of other Salesian musicians like Don Cesare Brianza (d. 1986) of fond memory, who founded the Little Singers of the Wooden Cross in Macau, and Don Vincenzo Cimatti (d. 1965) of Japan. They were inspirers who made life singable and lovable, to whom I tip my hat very, very profoundly.
©MDTimes/ University of Saint Joseph
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