Army brass band and choir captivate with Christmas Carols | Sunday Observer

Army brass band and choir captivate with Christmas Carols

December is a month of resounding carols. It is a time to appreciate refined music. The Army brass band and choir have been passionately rehearsing for weeks to present a fine rendition of Christmas carols. I visited their Head Quarters at Ratmalana a few days before their grand show at the NelumPokuna Theatre. The Director General of the Band and Performing Arts division is Major General M.H.F. Yusuf. He explained “The army band has a long and rich history. We have the Marching Band (Brass band) and the Beat Band.

As you know December is a very busy month for us. Our bands and choir have been busy practising. Our first performance was on December 11, in Colombo; followed by a performance at St.Joseph Vaz Church, Wennappuwa on December 15. Thereafter we will perform in Jaffna on December 16 and 17. From there we go to Mullaithivu on December 18 and hope to dazzle Batticaloa at the Gandhi Stadium on December 19.

Once we return to Colombo, we will perform at Lake House on December 20 and conclude the season with a display at St. Francis Church, Dalugama (Kelaniya) on December 24”.

We walked to the studio. As the doors opened it was lovely to hear the choir singing the old hymn Christmas time, mistletoe and wine. The 40 voices, both male and female blended in perfect harmony. The young soldiers are trained by the dynamic Eshantha Andrado, one of the best bass voices in Christian choral circles. Eshantha has put in a lot of effort to bring the Choir to its present condition. The brass band, combined with some members of the beat band was amazing. There was a wide array of instruments ranging from clarinets, trumpets, saxophones, bass, tuba to drums. It must be mentioned that most of these young soldiers don’t come from an English speaking background, yet a genuine desire to succeed has propelled them to learn the English carols and sing with brilliance.

In the public eye people always visualise only the combat infantry regiments of the army. Many citizens fail to understand the important duties of the Army Band and Cultural Performing Troupe.

There are 800 men and women of various ranks attached to the Band and Performing Arts division. Out of these, 400 men form the mighty Marching bands which are stationed in Colombo, Anuradhapura and Diyatalawa (to play at passing out parades of new cadet intakes).

During the tenure of present Army Commander Lieutenant General. Mahesh Senanayake, he encouraged and created the way for the band to visit 10 foreign nations. Due to this 200 young soldiers from rural areas got the opportunity to see the world. The Army Brass Band reached their zenith at the Global Band Festival held in Russia this year. After performing they were placed at number one position, but after SMS voting they were positioned at slot number three. Captain Lasantha Nandakumara is a veteran Band Master with 29 years of experience. He spent years as the Drum Major and then was promoted to Band Master. He explained “The brass band has to put on a magnificent display for the public. We practice hard. At special state events like Independence Day we utilise a total band strength of 178 musicians. This includes16 side drums, 8 bass drums, 16 trumpets, 16 trombones, 16 bass tuba, 16 saxophones (alto and tenor) and 16 clarinets. You can imagine the combined output of our volume”.

On other state occasions we have a 45-member band that welcomes foreign Heads of State etc. Becoming a Band Master requires two years of western music training in Pakistan.

The Drum Major is a band designation given to a senior sergeant, who has played in the band. The Drum Major marches ahead, keeping formation making gestures by his mace. The mace of the Army Band has a lion head at the end of the staff. Only when the band stops does the officer come forward to conduct. At times a team of 12 women pipers also join the marching band.

Band members practice daily from 6 am to 7.30 am. After breakfast they rehearse until 12.30 pm. Once lunch is over, they practise until evening, depending on the scheduled events.

When marching they keep to formation and move in steps from 8-16-32 paces. Marching and playing heavy instruments like the tuba, trumpet and bass drum requires stamina. It takes 5 years to produce a good musician who can also march to the drum beat. Before each public/military performance the soldiers have to prepare their uniforms. Number 1 whites are worn for ceremonial events while number 4 green is worn for funerals and memorials. Instruments have, to be polished using silver. The band travels in 3 large buses across the country.

At the NelumPokuna Theatre the dedicated practice paid off, as the choir and band put on a sterling display of blissful yuletide music.

The girls and boys of the cultural troupe supplemented the blessed evening with a performance of the nativity.

It was a pleasant experience to witness the annual Army carol service.