The sound of Comfort
Meet Theodore V. Comfort, one of the country's oldest Organists
The master Organist at play in St. John's Church, Secunderabad -- Photo: K. Ramesh Babu
THE MARK of a genius is the ability to make even the difficult, incomprehensible, the inaccessible easily understood to a large group of individuals, not necessarily well versed in the subject. To that extent 88-year old Theodore V. Comfort defines the outstanding talent of a genius in bringing an instrument like an Organ, with all its rules and comparative rigidity, understandable to the general public and how.
For one who has been playing the Organ for 63-years in St. John's Church, a better half of his life has been spent, rather dedicated, to the instrument and drawing people closer to it. "After I am gone, someone has to keep playing. I cannot afford to let the music die," says the octogenarian, who celebrated his 88th birthday on December 21.
Seemingly happy that he has been able to inculcate interest in youngsters to take up playing the Organ, he describes, "The soulful sound is overwhelming, it can only draw one deeper. It fills my heart with gladness when I see an youngster playing the instrument."
Comfort - perhaps the oldest Organist alive in India, and the most seasoned one - started his musical career with a one-string violin (Ek Tara) to play folk music to his tribal friends - the Lambadas, Bhills, Gounds and Todas. "It was a surprise to see the joy it produced in the lives of these simple folks. It gave me an interesting insight on the power of music."
And from then on, whatever he did - a career in RADAR training to an expedition to the Arctic Circle to a career with EME in the Indian Army, his passion for music continued. Reminiscing his days as a student of Nizam College in the Forties, Comfort says, "I used to go to college an hour early to listen to the Nizam's Symphony which used to practise at Basheerbagh." Later, he took a fascination for four-part music and switched on to the Organ with regular music lessons from W.H. Morris, an Englishman, an engineer and an accomplished Organist. "He used to play at St. Andrew's Church, beside Y.W.C.A. I have never come across anybody who can play better." His brush with the 1906-manufactured Organ in St. John's Church was purely accidental. "It was the memorial service for King George V that day when the regular Organist's absence compelled the Chaplin to ask me play the instrument. St. John's was the church for the British military, and soldiers used to march all the way from Trimulgherry with their band to attend the service. I was only 15 years old then and had never handled an Organ independently. As it was an important occasion, I was afraid and nervous when my father said `go ahead. I will stand behind you'. I do not remember what happened next. All I remember is that Commanding Officer of the British Army walked up and patted me on my back amid cheers from the others. Apparently, they were pleased."
Across the seas
One good thing led to another. Comfort started playing the Organ regularly, and his fame spread far and wide. "I was invited by the Prince of Denmark to play the colossal Organ at the Royal Chapel at Elsinor Castle." Among famous personalities for whom he had played, including Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to India in 1982, and places he was invited to play - musical memories of his session at Medina Cathedral in America are still fresh. "The Time magazine had described me as an `Organist poet' after that. Actually playing the Organ is no different from poetry. One just needs to pour out one's soul into it," he says.
Eighty-eight and what still playing, doing his own thing, what's the secret? "I count and walk 500 rounds around my house every morning and evening. In between, I write letters to my children, most of whom are settled abroad. It brings me joy. And of course, it's for music that I live and an unfinished task to infuse interest and teach more youngsters to play the Organ."
What about his children, have they taken to the instrument? "They're part of the `modern crowd'," smiles the man for whom music is lifeline.
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