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Golden notes from Silver Band

What better experience of nostalgia than notes from a 100-year-old band? M. RAGHURAM profiles Harry's Silver Band



MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE Harry's Silver Band played the welcome tune when Mother Theresa arrived in Mangalore

Who would not like to bask in nostalgia once in a while? And music could be a great medium to experience nostalgia in case you are not a bibliophile or you cannot relate to photographs. The kind of music that James Last, Louis Armstrong, Perry Como or good old Harry Belafonte played evokes nostalgia like nothing else. But there are bands that do this too and brass bands can do it very well. Harry's Silver Band of Mangalore is a century old and is still going strong.

Think of a typically Mangalorean Catholic wedding, a roce, or a funeral cortege, the Silver Band has to be a part of it. Come Christmas and the air is filled with the joyous riffs of Harry's Silver Band.

Over generations

Started in 1906 (the same time that Ammembal Subba Rao Pai started Canara Bank and Haji Abdullah Sahib the Corporation Bank here) by Lawrence D'Souza, who was affectionately known as Lorsam, the Silver Band has been handed over to the next two generations of D'Souzas — Edwin and Harry.

Mangalore's leading musicians are now planning to revive melodies that are over100 years old in a programme called Turbent, which is the centenary programme of the band. It will be just like the old days. They will play standards such as "When the saints go marching in" and march, in full uniform, blowing their gleaming trumpets and thundering the drums and cymbals. Every Mangalorean worth his salt will be there on February 12, 2006, as the saints of music go marching in.

Harry, down-to-earth that he is, makes no fuss of the fact that he is one of the outstanding representatives of the great tradition of brass bands of Mangalore. The late Bennett Pinto, in his book Konkani Bards and Musicians of Kanara, traces the glorious past of the brass bands. The brass bands came to India with imperial rule. The Portuguese, Dutch, French and the British all had their own brass bands aboard the ships that landed on Indian soil. They left an indelible impression on the natives and even taught them to play the clarinet, trumpet and percussion instruments, which the Indians were quick to learn. Mangalorean musicians learnt this kind of music from the Goans. Bennett Pinto recalls three prominent names — Bandmaster Colaco, J.C. Pereira and Anthony Costa, whose descendents even today play the brass instruments in typical European style.

Harry — a simple man like most of his Catholic fraternity — feels good that he is the torch-bearer of the great tradition. He swears by his trumpet that one day he and his boys will deliver a surprise to the Mangaloreans who have loved his music for the last 35 years as the head of the band since 1970. The City of Mangalore will present to Harry on that glorious day a new trumpet, a day he says he will cherish for the rest of his life.

Fond memories

What were Harry's most fond memories with his band? It was playing a welcome tune when Mother Theresa arrived in Mangalore. He and his band, everyone who is now playing with him now, was there to play for the Mother. But after the hundreds of corteges he has led with his band, Harry likes to play tunes from James Last, and "Viva Espana", which is an all-time hit of the conductor.

Harry does not blow his own trumpet where his writing ability is concerned. He has won the State Konkani Sahitya Academy's award, which he treasures in his living room amid rows of books on all subjects. The Konkani Community in Mangalore has also conferred on him the title Konkani Sangeet Shree.

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