Marching On The Tunes Of Glory Battle Of The Brass Bands

Marching on the Tunes of Glory Battle of the Brass Bands

Everybody believed that they had seen it all. For the last few days, participating bands from the three sister services had amazed the audience relentlessly. It was a musical gala that stunned the audience for days. Buglers, Trumpeters, Drummers in their specially crafted outfits played military tunes in synchronization. Every performance was better than the last, all vying for the honour of winning PAF inter-band competition 2022.

A s the men in their traditional and unique military outfits, carrying the armoury of glittering Trumpets, Cornets, Trombones, Saxophones, Mellophones and Sousaphones entered the arena, one thing was for sure; the next three days would be full of entertainment and amusement for the audience. Everybody was seated and hush prevailed over the crowd. Then, it started. The audience waited with baited breath as one unit after another marched in. A perfectly-synchronized performance given by the seven different band units from the three sister services. A glorious barrage of melodies erupted from the performance comprising 300 experienced band members. The brethren from the three forces played flawlessly, not missing a single beat. The attendees were in awe, exhilarated for the entirety of the 14-minute performance that was signaled the commencement of Inter-Band Competition held at AHQ Islamabad. It was an experience that would stay with the audience for the rest of their lives, a perfect example of how capable and skilled the band units of PAF really are.

Inter-Band Competition 2022

This year’s Inter-Band Competition was unique and was a mega event. The three-day annual ‘Musical Fiesta’ was part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Pakistan as the nation celebrated 75 years of independence this year. The band units knew that securing the trophy would mean glory for all the band members for years to come. The event was attended by the four band units of PAF, three band units from the Army and a half unit from the Navy. The competition was held amongst the PAF band units only, the army and navy band units were participating as the guests showing the goodwill for the event.

The competition was judged by seasoned veterans from the tri-services, one from each force. The judges judged the bands in terms of their general discipline, dress and instruments inspection, performance while marching in columns and drawing different patterns. The event was also attended by student bands of Saleem Nawaz Fazaia College, PAF Base Masroor and Fazaia Inter College, PAF Base Minhas, who performed whole-heartedly with their senior counterparts. This year, the competition had a special treat for the attendees and viewers. This was the combined performance given by all the band units present, as described at the start. The exercise was made all the more impressive by the fact that the band units only had three days to practice and master it.

Three days mega event witnessed some remarkable performances by the participating band units. On one hand the breath-taking performance on the famous tune of ‘Mujahido’ by No 1 band unit of PAF mesmerized the audience so on other, ‘Allah o Akbar’ by No 2 PAF Band unit equally captivated the audience. It was a tie breaker till the very end. Smartly turned out in their traditional chequered dresses, the bagpipers from Pak Army also made a impression at the closing ceremony.

The best was kept for the finale of the event. While playing tunes of national and folk songs, all Band Units drew collectively the digit “75” surrounded by Crescent. The performance received huge applause from the audience. 

Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu, Chief of the Air Staff, Pakistan Air Force was the Chief Guest at the closing ceremony of the event. The Chief Guest awarded trophies and prizes to Winner Band, Best Band Master and Best individual performers. No 1 Band Unit, Nur Khan won the Inter-Band competition for the year 2022-23. The entire ceremony was enhanced drastically when at the end, CAS, PAF announced 1 million cash for each band unit of PAF, in addition to cash prizes they had already won. It was a befitting end to the event. The Chief Guest also appreciated performance and artistic pursuits of all the participants.

History of Brass Bands

A military band is a highly-trained group of military personnel that is charged with providing musical performances for military and official events. Although, hierarchies differ from nation to nation, the leader of the band is termed the Bandmaster or Director of Music. The line-up of the tracks played by the band usually have a patriotic or nationalistic tilt, with national anthems and national songs being the favourites. Military bands are of two types; Stationary bands and Marching bands. As is obvious, marching bands have to practice even harder to be able perform while executing all sorts of enthralling manoeuvres. Another historical classification of military bands is made on the basis of instruments. The first is field music, which includes bugles/horns, bagpipes, fifes and drums. This formation was used when the most important function was to control troops and entertainment. The second type came into being with the invention and widespread use of the keyed trumpet or the saxhorn family of brass instruments. The third classification is the mounted band, which used to accompany cavalry and, at times, artillery formations.

Marching for Pakistan

When the freedom fighters were finally able to wrest control from the colonizers and Pakistan was born, it inherited brass and chamber orchestra musical equipment. Using these instruments, the RPAF band was formed on 1 February 1948 in Drigh Road, Karachi. 

On 16 November, 1948, Training Flight was established within the RPAF Central Band. The first batch of inductees was trained by musicians from the band musicians of the Royal Army. After a decade, in 1959, the band was given the title PAF Central Band. The first separate Music Training Flight (MTF) was erected in Karachi in 1965. In 1973, the band was officially given its due and converted into a unit and moved to PAF Base, Kohat. After 7 years, in 1980, the unit was relocated to PAF Base Chaklala. Another development was the changing of the title of MTF to Musical Section. The entire unit was reassigned to Pre-trade Training School in Kohat. The name of Music Section was once again changed, gaining the title of School of Music. 

Induction and Training

Induction into PAF band stream is through a proper procedure. The only real requirement is a passion for music and a dedication to the motherland. Once the recruits are short-listed, they are sent to Kohat and begin their training in Pre-trade Training School. Later, the trainees are sent to School of Music, a speciality military educational institution formed to train recruits in the field of martial music.

After the foundation has been laid, the trainees are issued their musical instruments. These instruments are to be maintained and honoured by the trainees for the larger part of his careers. An issued instrument will be part of trainee’s life until he ascends to the level of a Band Master. Once the recruits pass out from the initial course, they are designated to band unit.

PAF now has four distinguished band units. These units are stationed in Risalpur, Nur Khan, Kohat and Korangi Creek. Each of the bands have their own area of expertise and are assigned duties based on area and nature of assignment. The band which resides in Korangi Creek covers ceremonies held in South Pakistan. The band posted in Risalpur usually spends its tenure in Risalpur performing on the graduation parade ceremonies. The band at Kohat Base usually performs in ceremonies located in Northern and Central Pakistan. The band in Nur Khan Base is reserved for VVIP and similarly exclusive duties, which includes the tri-services guard of honour and tri-services contingent performances. The band is usually dispatched in 2 configurations; full band (40 members) and half band (20-22 members).

PAF Band operates directly under the Admin Branch’s department Directorate of Protocol and Ceremonial. The Directorate of Protocol and Ceremonial is the authority which manages the overall careers of the bands while administrative and day-to-day support is provided by the base they are stationed at.

PAF Band Events

PAF Bands are an integral part of all prestigious ceremonies in PAF. They pay tribute in all their fervour whenever a Guard of Honour is presented to the CAS and visiting dignitaries at the AHQ. Their bugles also cry in proud lament at the funerals of their distinguished brethren. The Defence Day dinner is another auspicious event where their presence is cherished by all the veterans and retired officers. Another major event for the band units is 23 March. However, the event closest to the heart of the band members is unquestionably the PAF inter-band completion. PAF Band from PAF Academy Asghar Khan also perform during the guard mounting ceremony held at Mazar-e-Quaid on 6th September every year in which a contingent of cadets from the academy take over duties as the guards at the mausoleum.  

However, the most important event for the PAF bands would remain the Inter-Band Competition. The event was initiated in 2008 and the first competition was a huge success, cherished by band members and the attendees alike. Then, the event could not be curated for the next decade, for various reasons. In 2018, the tradition was once again rejuvenated by the then CAS in all its splendour. It was again held in 2019, under the patronage of Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan. It was all set to become a proud annual tradition. However, like everything else around the globe, the plan was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Fortunately, after the involuntary break, the event was revived immediately owing to the keen interest of Air Chief Marshal Zaheer Ahmed Baber Sidhu.

PAF Band Units have performed in several different nations and impressed thousands of spectators around the globe. The nations that have hosted PAF Band Units include Brunei, Germany, Malaysia, Libya, Turkey, Russia and China. The band gathered immense praise when it took part in the Spasskeya Tower Festival in 2015. Also known as the Military Music Festival (IMMF), the event is held in Moscow annually. The event features performances from the best military bands in the world. The PAF band unit was a part of the tri-services military band that captivated the hard-to-impress audience and earned a good name for the country.