Explosion of expression | Sunday Observer

Explosion of expression

The bagpipe is a rather complex yet unique instrument and has its origins in the cold salubrious highlands of Scotland where ancient clans used these pipes as a means of signal based communication

The great composer Wolfgang Mozart once said “Music is my life and my life is music”. These words resonate, the influence that music can have on the mortal mind. There is one section of the army that seems to connect to these words. They are the members of the Army Band and Performing Arts Unit who live and work in Kattubedde.

This outfit of full time soldiers: both men and women have dedicated their service life to enhance the lives of their uniformed colleagues with all sorts of scintillating entertainment. I visited their camp with Major. Nalin Marasinghe to witness the abundant talent of these young women and men. The history of this performing unit has many milestones. The Army Band was formed on June 22, 1950 with Lieutenant (Quarter Master) George Perry, a second officer from the British Army and 28 local bandsmen. In 1955 the Acting Commander of the Army, Colonel. H.W.G Wijekoon, (later Major General) initiated the forming of the Hewisi Band along with Lieutenant C.T. Caldera, CLI and Mr. Lionel Edirisinghe who was one of Sri Lanka’s foremost musicians. Staff Sergeant D. Wickramasinghe. was the first Bandmaster. I have witnessed the present marching band on many occasions and they play with an exuberance of pride upholding military decorum.

The modern two storey building has many air-conditioned studios and halls. Over the years the army marching band has expanded to a wide spectrum of music; now boast of their own dance band, English orchestra, oriental orchestra, calypso band and an oriental marching band. As we walked around this facility we were able to witness various dance troupes in action - part of their daily practice routines. All these young performers are full time soldiers - who have completed their phase of combat training. It was inspiring to see that these hands that can fire a rapid burst from a T-56 assault rifle can play the guitar, organ and drums. It shows that within these humans there is another beautiful side: a side that reflects their expression to brings joy to others. As we pass a studio a young female corporal is singing a hit made famous by the late Clarence Wijewardene.

As we walk into the next hall a bevy of female soldiers are rehearsing their “uda rata “ (up-country) dance drills to the pulsating beat of a drum. The dancing troupes have travelled abroad many times. Presently two teams are touring Malaysia and France. This is a good way to build cultural relationships with other nations as dancing can be appreciated across any audience.

As we climb down to another section with Major. Sanath Koralage, a 30 year veteran band-master, I was surprised to see female bagpipers. The army is the only force to have a team of women bagpipers. The bagpipe is a rather complex yet unique instrument and has its origins in the cold salubrious highlands of

Scotland where ancient clans used these pipes as a means of signal based communication. The deep yet sharp notes from the pipes would resonate across the valleys and were often used to warn of impending danger. Some opine that it was played by the ancient Assyrians. Thankfully with time the bagpipes were calibrated to have nine notes and are used as a musical instrument. The bagpipes were common in almost every regiment of the British military. The bagpipes are a double reed instrument. The chanter and drones are made of expensive African black wood

It is also not an easy task to blow on the reeds and create music, yet these rural girls have wonderfully mastered these notes and give us a lovely demonstration. I spoke to one of them, Dinali Jayasundera a native of Kurunegala. This young woman enlisted in the army in 2012 and was selected to the pipe band in 2013. Dinali works with another 20 young ladies. They begin their day at 8.30 am and practice unitl 4.14pm. Wearing their ceremonial uniform (black and red skirt) with Scottish braids they are an imposing sight. Maintaining the bagpipe is another task that requires patience and time. So the team sets apart Wednesday for cleaning the bagpipes. This outstanding outfit recently displayed their prowess at the National Remembrance Day wreath laying ceremony.

The directorate of bands and performing arts comes under the command of Brigadier M.H.F. Yusuf almost 90% of the officers and other ranks are from the army general service corps (GSC). The bands and dance troupes perform almost every week at military weddings, military dinner dances, state functions and other invited events.

To a military that has endured 30 years of conflict, the soothing sound of music will certainly create positive vibes and usher in solace. The sage and writer Rabindranath Tagore once expressed “I slept and dreamt that life was joy, I awoke and saw that life was service, I acted and behold service was joy”. These young men and women perform a silent service that brings a joyful smile to their uniformed comrades and their audiences.