1 February 2017

How An Old Raag Is Set To Infuse A New Melody In This Year’s Beating Retreat Ceremony

Source Link
Sumati Mehrishi 

Packed into 16 beats, sounds of Indian instruments and a percussion ensemble, Raag Yaman shines in a blend of traditional military tunes and a fresh musical thought.

It will be the sound that echoes through Vijay Chowk, on 29 January, at Beating the Retreat Ceremony 2017.

How do ragas and rasas surprise us in their seamless evolution? You may get the answer when you watch the 2017 Beating the Retreat Ceremony, to be held on 29 January, at Vijay Chowk or on your television sets.

Nostalgia for military traditions has found a melody centuries old and arrangement fresh. The melody is Raag Yaman -- associated, largely, with romance, with lovers pining in meeting and separation, fragrance and starlit nights, with bhaktas and devotion, motherly love and many other reasons (and excuses) for the expression of nostalgia and happiness, has taken a brave new turn in the brilliant imagination and performance of our men in the tri-service military band, in "Yaman".

The score, Yaman, has been composed by L B Gurung for the tri-service band, with accompaniment of the Indian instruments. It will be performed in a jugalbandi of sorts (and parts) between musicians at the domes and musicians marching in this marvelous culmination of light, rhythm and tradition, touching, quite appropriately, the time assigned to the raga in its wide and voluminous practice.

Packed into 16 beats, sounds of Indian instruments and a percussion ensemble, Yaman shines in this memorable blend of traditional military tunes and a fresh musical thought. It lingers, between the entry and exit of the buglers, it glows in darkness, between a warming sight of brass in bands and buckles, and ceremonial lights that envelope the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

With Yaman, the score Raag Yaman has bled into another rasa, humbly, perhaps, into veer rasa. Finding a different space, in this spectacular celebration of our Republic and the armed forces, Yaman is a melodious recall, a re-awakening, a musical solace to a memory of service and sacrifice, and memories. It perhaps can be heard as a homage to Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan sahab’s love for Raag Durbari and Ustad Bismillah Khan sahab’s undying faith in the Bhairavis, the melodies, the two great maestros believed, were national heritage and wanted preserved (and protected).

Yaman’s performance is, in a way, an act of musical bravery that leaves the ears and the heart wishing for more (and more ragas). Durbari, Bahar, Pilu, Durga, Hamir -- the list of ragas you’d wish for the tri-service military band to perform in the coming years could (easily) be longer. Well, this is what Raag Yaman does. It makes you crave. And crave more.

While we must thank our armed forces and composer Gurung for preserving a melody, we must know that the jugalbandi, particularly, is not easy to perform at Vijay Chowk, in military bands. The echoes of music from the domes dash between the North and South Blocks, creating a jigsaw. Perception of pieces played at the domes, standing at Vijay Chowk, is a tricky game. Then, catching the melody (and the musical embellishments) in the brass wind instruments used in military bands, requires breath, and well, lungs.

Cdr Vijay D Cruz, who was Principal Conductor in the ceremony last year, and is monitoring the Naval Band this time, says,

The Naval Band has celebrated harmonies in its wide performance and numerous concerts across India and in collaboration with bands from other countries. Playing a melody from the Hindustani tradition is about discovering more and more in our music, lung capacities, skills, stamina, practice and preparation.

“Yaman”, according to Cdr Cruz, is a new experience and dimension in the use of melody.

Driven by music, united by the armed forces

What do military bands mean to men in the Indian Armed Forces and musicians? Cdr Cruz helps us connect. He says,

A military band helps enhance the morale of the men. The music, sounds, tones and their representation has to be in the right proportion to strike the required balance of aggression and calmness in the men. In military bands all over the world, there is a certain proportion of wooded wind instruments, brass wind instruments and percussion.

Years make a tradition younger, and younger. MCPO Ramesh Chand has led the Naval Band at the Republic Day Parade for 28 years, and will be conducting the Naval Band on Saturday, besides Cdr Pradeep Kumar. The inclusion of Raag Yaman thrills him. He says,

Our rendition of traditional Indian songs, like Vaishnava Jana, is really liked at our concerts outside India, especially in Japan. Yaman is a melodic arrangement and the Tri Service Band has really enjoyed rehearsing and performing it. The rehearsals for the Naval Band and the Beating Retreat Ceremony involve a lot of dedication, energy, enthusiasm and hard work. A beautiful culmination and beginning to a year marked by concerts and performances across the country and outside.

Mounted Indian Presidential Guards on horseback are pictured following the rehearsal of the Beating Retreat Ceremony at Vijay Chowk in New Delhi on 27 January 2015. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Pieces, parts, practice, precision and perfection

How is the music in the tri-service band practised and rehearsed? The score, when arranged and finalised, is sent to the participating bands for practice. The three bands practise and prepare the scores individually before meeting at rehearsals in January. A lot goes into the music, including fitness, listening, thinking and playing. Cdr Cruz explains the process.

The score comes to us, and similarly, to the other bands. The first step is to practise parts individually. Perfection is the key. Talent plays a huge role, but practice is extremely important, otherwise, the senses will not perform to precision when and where they need to. The music has to be immaculate, the marching, ranks and files, perfect; eyes have to watch the path, the sequence and the instruments, and hands have to be agile and ready for the scores and music parts. In October, we begin practising the pieces within the band. Clarity sets in. Some scores have been part of the military band tradition. The new scores require more practice.

Does interest in music lead the men to the armed forces? The reasons, inspiration, backgrounds and roles are as singular and diverse as our armed forces. Cdr Cruz has been cradled in harmonies and MCPO Ramesh Chand in pahadi melodies. Both listen to and watch Zubin Mehta.

Cdr Cruz hails from Goa. He was dabbling with various musical instruments before being commissioned in 2001. “As a boy, I was interested in strings, the piano, vocals, wind instruments,” he laughs. Including, yes, singing at the church. What about the organ? “I was always very fascinated with it,” says Cdr Cruz, who was determined to join “the armed forces band” as a boy. Which band? “Any!” He was trained in conducting music in Pachmarhi. “Those were grueling three years where practising enough was just not enough. I had a lot of cassettes for listening.”

The flute boy in Himachal, now MCPO Ramesh Chand, looks back at nearly three decades in service and recalls how he was in awe of the piano when he joined the Navy. “I had only seen a harmonium in my entire life. The sight of a piano was a milestone,” he adds.

Cdr Cruz and MCPO Chand are two grains of a grand oral and written tradition that soaks influences from around the world. The sounds and stories are many. Percussionists from the Indian Army, before they burst into the Drummers’ Call, become one in a cultural identity, dissolving colours of their regiments in beats, spluttering tempos and a roaring final call to Bharat Mata. “Alag alag regiments se hain aur milkar bajate hain,” says a drummer, before walking off with his drum on wheels from the North Block end at a rehearsal. His mallets do most of the talking a few moments later.

Many musicians, according to Cdr Cruz and MCPO Chand, discover reading and writing music for the first time after joining the Naval Band. Many discover and study chords for the first time. The families support the men and watch them on the television. “My family attended the ceremony last year,” Cdr Cruz points out.

Treasure and tunes

The military bands have nurtured a blend of Western and Indian music sensibilities and sounds, with a dash of folk (and film music), and jazz. Piccolo, clarinet, alto sax, tenor sax, French Horn, trombone, cornet, euphonium, percussion -- Western and Indian flow into scores and arrangements, traditional and new. Treasure. “There is a lot that can be discovered, and will be, in the future,” adds Cruz. Pragmatism, in the use of musical instruments, counts. So does love for acoustics. “I’d rather hear a real violin playing in the band than hear the sound of a violin on the synthesiser. Similarly, the sound of Indian music instruments is good when it is real.”

The response from the audience at Naval Band concerts, according to Cruz, rests, besides other factors, on the use of harmonies. “Are there harmonies in Indian Classical music? I would love to explore them,” Cdr Cruz ends the conversation. He, with different musical sensibilities, is standing atop a treasure, waiting to be discovered. Yaman makes you crave. It does. Yes, there are harmonies in Indian classical music, Cdr Cruz. Waiting for more magic from the armed forces military bands.

From the ceremony desk

Why is Beating the Retreat celebrated? What is its significance? Here’s how the handout explains it.

A centuries old military tradition, dating from the days when troops disengaged from battle at sunset. A soon as the buglers sounded the retreat, the troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms and withdraw from the battle field. It is for this reason that the custom of standing during the sounding of the retreat has been retained to this day.

Do the drums awaken? Do the drums recall? “Drum beats recall the days when troops were recalled to their quarters in an appointed time in the evening.”

Here is the sequences of tunes that will be played on the day of the event:

No comments: