Remembrances of flowers and Bands

By: Saad S. Khan

I was fairly young when the flower shows started being organized in Islamabad in the early 1980’s. Since childhood nothing had fascinated me more than the beauty of flowers and the melody of instrumental bands. I just loved the annual spring flower show, at that time, held at the Rose and Jasmine Garden, near Abpara. I would argue with my parents to attend the show on the third and final day only in order to enable myself to be present at the prize-giving ceremony. Not that I won any prize at that time but because the Islamabad City Police Band, smartly dressed in scarlet red and sky-blue, would always be there at the last day. The music in the background and the awesome spread of flowers all across, was something that made that one and a half hour, more memorable than any other moment in the whole year. Right from the end of the ceremony of Spring Flower show, I would be looking forward to the upcoming Chrysanthemum Show in the Autumn. Since the leaves are dry and Islamabad gives a yellowish look, a Khaki-clad army band (of Frontier Force regiment) would be more in tune with the colors, I mused. Army band was never called in and my wish remains unfulfilled to this day.
Over the years, as I became a voracious collector of videos, CD’s and DVD’s and all types of small visual footages or audio clips of bands worldwide, I became more aware of the connection between music and flowers. Of the five basic senses humankind is bestowed with, flowers touch one’s aesthetic sense in three ways— the beauty in sight, sweetness of their smell and softness in the touch of petals; ordinary music affects only one sense— hearing. However, military music, both the marching bands as well as sit-in orchestras, distinguish themselves by the tradition of ornate colorful uniforms. Thus military bands, for any one who understands music, is not only a treat to hear but a fiesta to watch as well. The colors of marching bands remind one of the colors that the Nature has bestowed to make our lives beautiful, in the rainbows on the skies and in the riot of flowers on plains. One does not have to become a William Wordsworth to understand the importance of flowers. Cognitively and innately, man grows up to love flowers and music. Therefore, all human ceremonies and emotions are expressed in terms of flowers or music.
Thus, be it the wedding where flowers and music go side by side or death where the last rites involve flowers and music in most of the human cultures. In Pakistan, music (though not flowers and flower petals) at an ordinary civilian funeral would ordinarily seem to be too much out of place, but our ceremonial send off to our fallen heroes (especially those who died in uniform—both military and civil) in the “war on terror” is done through a playing of the Bugle the tune called “The Last Post”. For funerals of our heads of states, at least, (the three who died during their tenure in office, i.e. the Quaid himself, Liaqat Ali Khan, and lately Gen Zia) the military bands were called in to play mourning tunes, at the state funerals. Birthdays, house warming parties, and many other successes are also celebrated through a combo or flowers and music. Thus, the flowers and music seem to possess an inextricable linkage in expression of the human emotions.
Blue Flowers (left) and Blue uniforms of US Marines Corps Band (right) Military bands are one human contrivance that accentuate human urge for refinement, fine arts and aesthetics. The melodies and the colors make a lovely match. Marching Band has now become a sport consisting of a group of instrumental musicians and color guard who generally perform outdoors and incorporate some type of marching (and possibly onto other movements) with their musical performance. Instrumentation typically includes brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments. Most marching bands use some kind of uniform (often of a military style) that include the school or organization’s name or symbol, shakos, pith helmets, feather plumes, gloves, and sometimes gauntlets, sashes, and/or capes.
Marching bands are generally categorized by function, size and by the style of show they perform. In addition to traditional parade performances, many marching bands also perform field shows at special events (such as football games) or at competitions. Increasingly, marching bands are performing indoor concerts (in addition to any “pep band” duties) that implement many of the songs, traditions, and flair from outside performances.
The marching band originated with traveling musicians who performed together at festivals and celebrations throughout the ancient world. It evolved and became more structured within the armies of the early city-states, becoming the basis for the military band, from which the modern marching band emerged. As musicians became less important in directing the movement of troops on the battlefield, the bands moved into increasingly ceremonial roles – an intermediate stage which provided some of the instrumentation and music for marching bands was the modern brass band, which also evolved out of the military tradition.

Red Roses (right) contrast with Queen’s Own Royal Band (left) in UK

Since the inception of Drum Corps International in the 1970s, many marching bands that perform field shows have adopted changes to the activity that parallel developments with modern drum and bugle corps. Marching bands are categorized based on primary function, instrumentation, and style – although many organizations may fill multiple roles. Military bands and Corps of Drums were historically the first marching bands. Instrumentation varies, but generally contains brass, percussion, and woodwinds. Given their original purpose, military marching bands typically march in a forward direction with straight lines. Music is performed at a constant tempo to facilitate the steady marching of the entire military group with which the band is playing. This style can include classic drum and bugle corps, pipe bands and fife and drum corps. Active duty military marching bands often perform in parades with other military units and march in the same manner as other military personnel. Due to a lack of competition venues, military personnel, and interest, almost all military marching bands have started disappearing outside military formations like school, college or town marching band even in countries like the United States, where most renowned academic institutions had bands even before the advent of the twentieth century. The military worldwide is the only institution that is keeping alive the brass bands.
This is all the more true in case of Pakistan. The Pakistani Armed Forces have 240 Band units from Regimental Centre Bands to small pipe bands of individual infantry platoons. Pakistani bands have distinguished themselves in the annual Edinburgh International Military Tattoo in Scotland and on occasions such as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Lately, the performance of Joint Services Headqaurters (JSHQ) Band at the World Military Music Festival at Tripoli to mark the 40th anniversary of Libyan revolution (1st to 4th Sept 2009) was much appreciated. Very few Pakistani schools had bands; the most outstanding examples were the St Patrick School in Karachi, Yazdan Khan High School in Quetta and the St Mary’s High School in Rawalpindi. Except for the military training institutions and cadet colleges, there is hardly a tradition of bands in Pakistani colleges and none at all in any of the 84 HEC- recognized Universities in Pakistan.

Kenya Navy Band (left) is as white as are the African Lilly flowers (right)

In a conservative and quasi religious society like Pakistan, music or musicians are not held in high esteem. Let us not forget the Islamic injunction that “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty”. The holy Prophet’s welcome in Median upon his Hijrah from the city of Makkah in the year 622 A.D. was made through welcoming songs. According to some modernist ulema of Egypt, abhorring fine arts is against the spirit of Islam and is a negation of God’s multiple blessings on the humankind.
According to Steven Pinker, a cognitive psychologist, best known for his book “The Language Instinct”, music is the auditory cheesecake, an exquisite confection crafted to tickle the sensitive spots of our mental faculties. Music, along with art and literature, is part of what makes us human; its absence would have had a brutalizing effect on society. Philip Ball, in his book of eponymous name, talks of a music instinct, that we could not rid ourselves of, even if we tried. One of the joy of listening to music is that people not experts in the art of music can tell just by listening if a note has gone wrong or were out of tune with the rest of the ensemble. Even a child can feel if a tune or harmony is not quite right. Hence, music without words (just instrumental one) arouses in us feelings of joy, exhilaration, sadness, gloom, thrill or chill. This is why, just like flowers, bands will remain embedded in human life.

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