Navy musician to perform on R-Day for 16th time
The 48-year-old musician will lead an 80-man naval band as its drum major in front of almost 150,000 attendees, with millions watching India’s most loved ceremonial event on their televisions at home.Updated: Jan 09, 2020 10:30 IST
When Master Chief Petty Officer (musician) Vincent Johnson marches down Rajpath during the Republic Day parade on January 26, he will have the rare distinction of taking part in the spectacular parade for the 16th time.
The 48-year-old musician will lead an 80-man naval band as its drum major in front of almost 150,000 attendees, with millions watching India’s most loved ceremonial event on their televisions at home.
Former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) said Johnson is a distinguished musician and taking part in the parade for so many years was a significant achievement.
Johnson’s 16th milestone should be seen in the context that repeat appearances in the parade are generally easier for members of military bands. As Commander Vijay Dcruz, the navy’s director of music, points out, members of military bands get a chance to take part in the Republic Day parade on multiple occasions as bands are a constant feature at the parade.
“For some, participating in the parade even once is a very big thing. But the case of musicians is different as the bands return to the parade every year. While Johnson’s achievement is laudable and he is the drum major, some of his other band members have also participated in the parade before,” Dcruz said.
Johnson said a few of his men had participated in the parade five or six times before.
Still, 16 is a bit.
The living recipients of Param Vir Chakra and Ashok Chakra (the highest wartime and peacetime gallantry awards, respectively) participate in the parade every year, but apart from them, few have a chance of appearing in more than a few parades.
From Sydney to Mauritius and St Petersburg to Edinburgh, Johnson has led the Indian Navy band at glitzy military events across the world, but if there’s a celebration that’s closest to his heart, it’s the Republic Day parade.
“I took part in the parade for the first time in 1990. It’s hard to describe the adrenaline rush you get when the spectators erupt in applause,” Johnson said on Wednesday. He led the naval band at last year’s parade too.
Johnson said when he took part in the parade for the first time three decades ago, the band had to cover a distance of 16.5 km. “Now we march 12 km. The parade has become shorter over the years but it retains its pageantry and sparkle,” said Johnson, who joined the navy in 1989 and enjoys playing the cornet.
In 2016, the National Democratic Alliance government decided to cut down the duration of the parade by 25 minutes — from 115 minutes to 90 minutes — to make it crisper. In 2005, the then United Progressive Alliance regime shortened the parade by 45 minutes.
Johnson and his band members have been waking up at 3 am since January 2 to practice for the parade. “It’s a display of synchronisation. All of us have to be in step with each other while playing our instruments. It requires a lot of practice, discipline, stamina and teamwork,” he said.
Johnson has led the naval band at several prestigious events, such as the 2013 International Fleet Review in Sydney, the 2015 Mauritius National Day celebrations, the 2017 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the 2018 Russian Federation naval day parade.
“I never felt stress as a member of the naval band in my earlier years. But as drum major, there is an element of pressure as I have to prepare everyone, including myself, for big events,” he said. The navy participates in the Republic Day parade with a band, a marching contingent and a tableau.
“It shows how much the navy cherishes and nurtures martial music. It invests a lot of money in equipment and training. We are proud of the vast repertoire of music the band plays: western classical, jazz and Indian classical,” Prakash said.
The navy’s tableau this year will display its firepower in all three dimensions: surface, sub-surface and air. The tableau will have mock-ups of a Kolkata-class stealth destroyer armed with BrahMos missiles, the Kalvari submarine with its Exocet missiles and the P-8I submarine hunter aircraft with its Harpoons.
It will also showcase the indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant that is being constructed at Cochin Shipyard Limited and is expected to be inducted into the navy by 2022.