Vandemataram, tabla debuts at Beating Retreat

New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) It’s a ceremony that blends Indian and Western marches. But what the 2012 edition of Beating Retreat will be distinctly remembered for will be the variation on Vandemataram, which, along with the tabla, debuted in the ceremony, bringing down the curtains on the Republic Day celebrations.

It was certainly very different and made for a pleasant change though the purists may disagree. But the composer, Sqn. Ldr. G. Jayachandran, could be probably faulted for titling his work ‘Rennaisance’ when ‘Variations on Vandemataram’ would have been more appropriate.

It started as an Echo, with the clarinets leading into the theme that a lone clarinet fleshed out, aided by a tabla, before the other clarinets joined it. The jugalbandi was as perfect as it could be, and the packed audience applauded enthusiastically.

‘It certainly went off well,’ said Gautam Kaul, general secretary of the Delhi Symphony Society, for whom Jayachandran played the French horn not too long ago.

For once, there were more compositions by Indians — 14 — against 13 by foreigners. There were the familiar marches: ‘General Tappy’, ‘Hundred Pipers’, ‘Queen of the Hill’, ‘Twilight’, ‘Sea Patrol’, ‘Almora’ and ‘Post Horn Gallop’. The much-loved ‘Sare Jahan Se Aacha’ brought the event to a close.

And there was one more delightful surprise — the peppy ‘Radetzky March’ by Johann Staus, the only work by a classical Western composer.

The hour-long show began with the arrival of President Pratibha Patil with her stately horse-mounted President’s Bodyguards. The National Anthem was played, the tricolour hoisted and the music took over.

The massed band, some 1,000 strong, marched down Raisina Hill to ‘Parameshwar’, composed by Capt. Mahendra Das NK, the principal conductor for this year’s Beating Retreat.

The pipes and drums thereafter peeled away, their green, red and purple tunics, matched with green, black and blue trousers and white leggings making for a veritable riot of colours.

There was some amazing footwork on display as the musicians wove intricate boxes, triangles, circles, stars and hub and spoke, never missing a single beat.

That is what is so amazing about the music of the Indian armed forces.

The majority of the musicians are from rural areas and would never have touched an instrument before donning the uniform. Yet, so skilled are the instructors that they are not only taught to read music but to perform it in just the manner the composer would have expected them to.

The navy and air force bands then took centre-stage. Here too was a striking contrast — the black uniforms of the navy and the blue of the air force — as they belted out works like ‘Twilight’, which proved that a slow march could also be peppy, ‘Rhythm of the Waves’ and ‘Sea Patrol’ and ‘Renaissance’.

The evening shadows were now lengthening, and it was time for the massed bands to again display their virtuosity with the ‘Drummers Call’ which was just what the name suggests — one set of side drums deferring to the other before the compliment was returned – and the ever-popular and moving ‘Abide With Me’, which was Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite.

This time, one felt the zest was missing and the tubular bell that repeats the theme developed by the massed bands was a tad off colour.

But all that was quickly forgotten as the Retreat was sounded, the tricolour came down and the bands wheeled around to march up Raisina Hill to ‘Sare Jahan Se Aacha’.

It’s last notes had barely faded away when the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the North and South Blocks that flank it, Parliament House and other government buildings came alight with thousands of electric bulbs that lit up the night sky with a brilliance that will remain etched in memory.