Services’ bands enthral on Beating Retreat as Republic Day celebrations end

It was 5-25 p.m. when the sun vanished behind Rashtrapati Bhavan’s South Block here on Tuesday. With the gradual drop in temperature combining with the melodic “Through the Great Ocean” playing at the heart of Vijay Chowk, the onset of goose bumps was inevitable. The man who composed the tune, Lieutenant-Commander S. K. Champion, was standing not very far off, watching his boys perform with a big smile on his face. He scanned the heads that lightly bobbed around him and smiled more…

An hour or more before Lt. Cdr. Champion stood amid civilians, queues had developed on all roads leading up to the President’s home. Women outnumbered men, turning the sex ratio in Delhi Metro’s queues on its head. People were frisked: no eatables, no cameras, they were told.

Vijay Chowk, the stately square down Raisina Hill, was brimming with people eager to witness the last round of celebrations for the Republic Day: Beating Retreat by the massed bands of the three Services. What followed was grand: the entry of President Pranab Mukherjee, the chief guest of the ceremony and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, preceded by mounted Presidential Bodyguards. Brisk rotating sticks in the hands of men from the Defence forces and the sound of music all equally contributed to the goose bumps that appeared under thick winter jackets.

The new composition this year, ‘Dhola Re Dhola’, composed by Maj. Gen K. N. Bhatt and Maj. N. Hussain, left spectators squinting in the fading light to find the source of the ‘echo’ effect created by the military bands. The composition was also proof that Indian tunes were the flavour of the ceremony this year with 18 of the 23 performances composed by Indian musicians and only five popular tunes borrowed from foreign musicians with all of them interspersed four times with ‘Fanfare’, a collage by Buglers.

With 14 military bands, six pipes and drum bands from regimental centres and 11 from battalions, buglers and trumpeters from various Army regiments and the combined effect of the Navy and Air Force bands, it was a lesson on what wonders could have been achieved if one paid more attention during rehearsals of their school bands.

Among the other performance that invited “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience, were “The Admiral’s Insignia” also composed by Lt. Cdr. S. K. Champion, “Young India” composed by Maj. Mahendra Das and the “Drummers’ Call” that reverberated across Lutyen’s Delhi.

An hour after Lt. Cdr. S. K. Champion stood among civilians and as principal conductor had directed the massed bands to render “Abide With Me”, the entire Raisina Hill and adjoining Government buildings lit up with hundreds of lights. The effect was so mesmerising, even the five-year-old who had incessantly asked his mother when they could go home, gaped in wonder.

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