Listening to the marvelous music of the massed bands of India's Defence forces on YouTube within hours after the performance on January 29 evening, I remembered with great nostalgia all those glorious sunsets I had seen for so many years in the past, sitting with my family on temporary stands and watching the bands march up and down the Vijay Chowk in New Delhi and cast their magic spell. And naturally I couldn't resist digging out and reading my own commentaries on this unique annual event.
THE HINDU, New Delhi
13 February 1987
Martial Music And Police Pop
Republic Day is the day on which the whole nation pays special attention to its armed forces, and music for marching largely figures in the formal proceedings on this occasion. Prominently featured in the Republic Day parade on Rajpath -- which is watched by millions of people on the national TV network -- are not only the country's superior war machines, but also the best of its military bands.
And martial music is the main attraction in the spectacular official ceremony called Beating Retreat, which brings to a close the Republic Day celebrations in the capital three days later as twilight sets in at the Vijay Chowk facing the formidable twin Secretariat Buildings. So popular is this tour de force of the massed bands of the defence services that an advance recital is usually organized (with tickets sold to the public) at the same venue on the preceding evening.
The cosmopolitan Indian culture owes certain good things to the British influence, among which (like the English language) can be counted the standard military band, featuring a diversity of Western wind instruments like the trumpet, bugle, trombone, clarionet, oboe, flute and horn, with a percussive batteries of drums and cymbals. Of course, the bagpipe band -- which is Scotland's gift to the world -- is in a very special class of its own, like Scotch whiskey! . . . .
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The origins of the European military band can be traced back to the Middle Ages, but there have been some significant landmarks in its development from time to time in the last three centuries, marked by the widening range of instrumentation, as well as perceptible changes in performing techniques and even objectives and functions.
Till the end of the First World War, when the infantry and cavalry regiments had a crucial role to play in warfare, the military band was essentially an aid to marching and signalling, besides serving to entertain and encourage the troops on the battlefield or in camps. It had also a ceremonial role to play, but this was incidental and not the main purpose of its existence.
Today, on the contrary, the military bands are by and large a symbolic unit whose utility is mainly ceremonial, though it does also constitute a source of occasional entertainment for defence personnel posted in remote and isolated localities.
Understandably, the traditional repertoire of the military band consists of music for marching, which is characterized by percussive rhythm of a recurring pattern, with simple melodic and harmonic lines to give it a definite shape and distinct color.
Many great composers of Western classical music -- such as Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Berlioz, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky -- have effectively used march tunes in their works. But these sophisticated orchestral works are not usually preferred by open-air brass bands, for which the true classical items are marches written by composers like the Frenchmen Lully and Philidor of the 17th century, or J.F. Wagner (Germany), Gilmore and Souza (USA), or Alford and Bidgood (Britain), of the 19th and 20th centuries.
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It goes to the credit of some innovative musicians belonging to or associated with our defence forces that the Indian military bands have access to a number of original and colorful march tunes based on the country's folk or ethnic melodies. The undisputed leader in this area has been Harold Joseph, a former Director of Music in the Indian Army, who is also the permanent conductor of the Delhi Symphony Orchestra.
Among others who have composed and arranged this genre of music are Captain H. K, Thakur of the Army, Chief Petty Officer G. Cardoza of the Navy, and Flt. Lt. K. R. Sawarkar of the Air Force. Special mention must be made of Prof. A. Lobo, whose musical score of the popular tune for Iqbal's poem 'Sahray Jahan Se Achcha' is the most famous Indian march tune today. . . . .