From guns to guitars (not roses) | art and culture | Hindustan Times
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From guns to guitars (not roses)

In an orchestra, as on the battle field, arrangement is crucial for a soldier. During a combat situation, the artillery provides back-up to the Infantry men leading the charge.

art and culture Updated: Jul 31, 2011 01:15 IST
Aasheesh Sharma

In an orchestra, as on the battle field, arrangement is crucial for a soldier. During a combat situation, the artillery provides back-up to the Infantry men leading the charge. Similarly, in an orchestra, says Captain Mahendra Das of the Army Symphony Orchestra, the percussion provides back-up to the clarinet, cornet and flute. “So, managing more than 60 musicians with instruments ranging from woodwind, to brass, to string to percussion isn’t tough for a soldier.”

Das, bandmaster and chief conductor for the Army Symphony Orchestra, hasn’t actuallyventured into a combat situation in 22 years of service. He is one of hundreds of musicians trained at the Indian Military School of Music in Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh, who’d rather wield a guitar than a gun.

For centuries, martial music in the army has been used for motivational purposes: to evoke a sense of pride and inculcate a work ethic. Army bands generally use horns, cymbals, trumpets and drums. Two months back, with the introduction of string instruments such as violin, cello, guitar and fiddle, the Indian Army band has been expanded to acquire the contours of a symphony orchestra. On Wednesday, evening in its second public performance at Delhi’s Manekshaw Auditorium, the band played a selection of old favourites from Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, to the soundtrack of The Good, The Bad, The Ugly.

Sipahi D PIlamo, 24, may have grown up listening to Jon Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams in the 90s, but his rendition of Lee Hazlewood’s Summer Wine had the audience asking for an encore. The son of a pastor, Pilamo began by singing in a choir back home in Manipur and moved to singing Eagles’ covers. He learnt to play the cello and the clarinet and joined the army band two years back. “If I am lucky, I will do a Potential Band Master course and become a conductor one day,” he says.

Naik Suraj Lepcha, from Darjeeling, swears by Kenny G. One of the high points of the performance was Lepcha on the sax, playing Moon River. Composed by Johnny Mercer and Henri Mancini for the soundtrack of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, it was originally sung by Audrey Hepburn. Lepcha heard the tune on a CD last week and perfected it for the performance. “We get up at 4 in the morning for physical training and practice at least six hours every day. Music is God’s gift, but you can always learn new nuances in rehearsals,” adds Naib Subedar BB Chhetri, one of the conductors.

When it comes to the Army, there’s gotta be a method behind the music.