Police Phoom-Phah…
By Maxwell Pereira
maxpk@vsnl.com

Among the plethora of activities jostling for priority in my scheme of things, was the All India Police Bands Competition I was roped in also to accommodate last week. In the process, a delightful experience of a serious exposure to, a committed involvement in, and an encounter with police bands from all over India - as the chairman of the Judges Committee that assessed their performance.

Regimental Bands and martial music occupy a unique place in the glorious saga of valour of the armed forces, being directly responsible for raising the morale of the men in uniform. In times of peace, regimental music provides entertainment and is a source of inspiration not only to those who don uniforms and their families, but also other citizens around. While Bands denote various ensembles of musicians who play a combination of wood winds, brass and percussion instruments of special categories, for regimental purposes it is mainly the Brass and the Pipe Bands that are in wide use as Marching Bands or Military Bands.

In ancient times, shells, horns, drums and trumpets collectively used during battle provided powerful tones and trebles to pitch the war cries and infuse fighting spirit among troops. They were used more for signalling than for the music produced. With changing times, more harmonious and melodius instruments replaced the old. The earliest military bands were established in Europe during the reigns of Loouis-XVI of France and Fredrick the Great of Prussia. Ireland and Scotland provided Pipe Bands, also those with a combination of drum-and-fife and drum-and-bugles with the bagpipes. The musicians in the marching bands tend to wear more colourful uniforms, using faster tempos, at times also featuring drum majors, baton twirlers, flag and rifle corps and even a line of acrobats and dancers.

The only Bands that provide good music in our country today, I believe, are from the Army, Navy and the Air-Force. And Delhi-ites are familiar with some etherial experience once a year, at the Beatig Retreat, part of the British legacy left to us - a ceremony at Vijay Chowk in the days after Republic Day. Indeed a show par excellance - a treat both to the eyes and the ears, nostalgically lifting up one's spirit and soul into the sublime - thanks to all the Services Bands playing in harmonious unison perched or marching in formations against the picturesque backdrop of the Raisina Hill edifices - the majestic Rashtrapati Bhawan flanked on either side by the North and South Blocks - creations of the celebrated Lutyens and Baker.

Unlike the Services Bands which recveive excellent training at the armed forces music school at Pachmari, and lately at the Naval Band school and the Air-Force Band school, the police bands have unfotunately been the victims of utter neglect and apathy over the years, many literally having degenerated to crude street performers and nothing more.

To arrest this trend, it was in 1984 that Pandit Gautam Kaul, a policeman with a deep interest in music, proposed at the annual DGP's Conference the need for a competition for police bands from all over India, with a view to encourage quality music and inculcate regimental pride. The proposal got unanimous approval and Madhya Pradesh Police volunteered to hold the first competition; but not until 1999 could this dream be realised. The first band competition then held in Lucknow, was only between various sectors of the CRPF, with just eight bands participating. The participation has grown since then, reaching a record 23 entries for the 6th All India Police Bands Competition - 2004; held though in February 2005 and hosted by the CRPF at their Jharoda Kalan Group Centre in Delhi.

The UP Police team having withdrawn at the last moment, 22 were left in the fray - 6 from CPOs and 16 State Police Forces, which included 19 Brass, 12 Pipe Bands and 18 Buglars' Teams totalling approximately 1200 musicians. It was heartening to see first timers Andaman & Nicobar Islands Police despite the Tsunami aftermath. Notable absentees too from established and better known bands, who did not participate; those who did, did not exploit their full potential; and some despite being present in the local station. Particularly true in respect of Delhi Police, who fielded only their Brass and not their Pipe Band - or their reputed Buglars

Standards this time were better, with qualitative changes in content, performance, improvements in dress/uniforms and new instruments acquired. But many bands did not sport the prescribed strength, nor was the knowledge of music adequate. Lack of proper rhythm, balance of melody and harmony, and attrocious timing - the common defects. Also music not in sync, with defective entries. And no dynamics or proper expression per prescribed score.

Adversely noted against some bands was their posture, sloppy marching, gimmickry bordering on buffoonry and the ridiculous. Playacting, unnatural and deliberately put on exaggerated swagger, unwarranted and crude jerky movements, crouching side-steps, and wide-kneed movements that did not go well with regimental genre. Some drummers indulging in street tiger-dance postures. Some with a laboured pregnant walk, some others that of a wet hen. Excellent bandmasters whose worth not really realised, and saddled with discarded players and old instruments - effectively stifling talent which could otherwise have been put to good use. An express need for some not to degenerate into useless street performers with pathetic performances jarring to the ear, as to be reflecting only the apathy of the concerned police management.

Some excellent stock too of dedicated musicians and bandmasters of calibre - potential to be tapped and/or encouraged; the ones who played correct music, with clarity of notes and instruments, clear sharp or muted where needed, with an elegant well-blended sound with painstaking effort at dynamics of expression that fell pleasingly on the ear. Obviously wherever police management took interest, participation and performance markedly stood out. Teams that did well - CRPF, Delhi Police, ITBP, BSF and Jharkand Poice.

900 words: 28.02.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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