Military meets masses: The tri-service in collaboration with civil musicians perform at NCPA
The highlight of the extravagant evening was the extempore medly of freedom songs by the tri-services to commemorate the 75th year of India’s independence
If freedom had a metaphorical face, it’s the grandeur of celebration that India saw in the last few days culminating on the evening of August 15, Independence Day. The visuals of historical places, possessions decked in tri colour lights across the country and many parts of the world with the national flag flaunting its glory up in the sky imbibed a true sense of freedom. Translating the many facets of freedom swathed in the grandeur of sovereignty and the hues of personal freedom was a Symphonic musical extravaganza at NCPA on Monday. Musically directed by pianist and composer Merlin D’Souza, the cross-genre group brought together the Armed Forces and civilian musicians including vocalists, rappers, leading instrumentalists of various genres, and a ventriloquist on stage. The bands regaled an eclectic audience with a wide repertoire of martial music, arrangements of Western classical, Indian classical, and other forms of contemporary popular and folk music.
A unique collaboration
Martial music is one of the many forms of music particularly composed to create Veer rasa (heroic emotion). Armed forces all over the world have deep-rooted martial music traditions. And the evening was a perfect mingling of the martial sounds of trumpets, trombone, bagpipes and drums, with civilian musicians armed with melodious strains of the guitar, violin and piano. The Indian Navy band led by Commander Satish Champion (Director of Music, Naval Central Band) and Lieutenant Commander Aldrin D Alexander (Assistant Director, Naval Central Band) collaborated for the first time with civilian musicians to do wonders on stage. “The Navy usually does wonders at sea but the musical band is one of the ways that we can reach out to people and showcase our musical potential as well. It is the first time that the military has collaborated with civil musicians, which was wonderful. There was ambiguity initially about how things were shaping up but we are adaptive to new things easily and despite the fact that music has no language there is so much to learn when we work together with civil musicians,” says Commander Champion, who worked closely with Lieutenant Commander Alexander to score music for the concert. “We mainly play ceremonial music but this time it was different from what we normally perform,” he adds.
Merlin, who collaborated with Naval band members for the first time with her band Soul Yatra, says that global history has been created with this collaboration. “This is the first time we brought an armed forces orchestra together with civilians on a civilian stage. This has been a great experience from day one. They are from one of the best schools of music. They are strict, disciplined, and musically dynamic. There was so much openness in terms of changing tunes, and compositions to match the sounds. It’s been smooth sailing,” says Merlin, who brought the best of her band members on stage, including vocalist Vivian Pocha, Ronit Chatterjee, bassist Saurabh Suman, Apurv Isaac, and saxophonist Rhys Sebastian.
Sailing through the music
Even though the military band is ceremonial in its function, the armed forces fused the traditional folk and pop music symphonies of the brass band with Merlin’s groovy arrangement of contemporary music fused with Indian ragas and piano work, making it more colourful and enjoyable. The tone of the evening was set with patriotic fervor with the first performance featuring a child artist telling her story in songs followed by a performance by a teenage girl highlighting the heroes gone by on the screen from art, politics, drama, and cinema. A mix of pop and Indian fusion with Indian instruments leading into an extempore medley of songs by the tri-services at the end of the musical evening was a sight to behold and soulful musical poetry to ears.
We asked Commander Champion about his experience with armed force musicians performing in India and abroad during our conversation. The officer tells us that the exposure is different but not the way the band performs. “There is no difference as such because as performers the moment we start performing we get so engrossed in our performance that it doesn’t matter where we are. Whether it’s abroad or in our own county it’s the same. The exposure is different in terms of how people bond together. In a military setup, there is a different discipline but in a civil setup everyone is equal and everyone bonds together so well. That’s something I feel is different in this particular collaboration,” says Commander Champion, who usually experiments with various music genres for the different spectrum of audiences. “When the naval band performs we don’t stick to any one genre. We have a wide line of music genres covered. You don’t want to make it monotonous for the particular set of people who are there but you want to show the progress of all the talented naval musicians who have expertise in various instruments, many of which are not even part of the naval music instrument list. There is something for everyone,” insists the officer.
The musical side of the military
Rehearsed over two weeks with a total of 30 naval musicians and a conductor, with many metamorphoses given to song selection and compositions, the musicians in the band are special entry sailors in the Navy or jawans in the Army and Air Force. The officer shares that many of the performers in the band have been trained from scratch. “The formation process is stringent so when someone is applying to be a band member in services they need to know which instrument they are going to play and if that is in the list of instruments that we prefer and use in the band,” explains the officer and adds that in addition, if someone plays any instrument with a fair degree of proficiency, they can be accepted in the band. “We train them as we believe that they can be trained and molded to play the band instruments. They have to play the wind instruments that are played in military bands. For instance, we have got some bass tuba players who have joined on the grounds of being mridangam players. They are opposite but because the boys have got some affinity for music, we know that we will be able to mold them. And within five months they can handle marches and concerts,” explains Commander Champion as we conclude our conversation.