Veteran Lieutenant General PM Hariz, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, during an online musical show regretted that he could not read musical notes, though he plays the Saxophone. We both graduated from Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, Thamizh Nadu – he in 1974 and I in 1979.
We were taught musical notation by our Band Master, the late Mr Goodu Sahab, who led the school’s pipe band. He joined our school in 1966 and retired in 1987. Pipe band players do not refer to any music sheet while playing unlike the brass band. Many of our friends in the band thus were not into reading music, just like General Hariz.
Mr Goodu Sahab was a Veteran Havildar (Sergeant) who joined the Indian Army in 1950 and retired from the Madras Regimental Centre as a Pipe Major in 1966. His education level was not beyond middle school level, but was an excellent Band Master. He was instrumental in adding six bag pipes to our school band when he joined our school in 1968. The performance of the school band during various events and parades at school stood testimony to his ability – both as a Band Master and as a Guru.
He conducted music reading lessons while we were in Grade 5 and it was all Greek and Latin for most of us. Minim, Crotchet, Quaver, Semiquaver, Demisemiquaver, Hemidemisemiquaver – all flew over my head., some danced in front of my eyes. I just could not make any sense of them.
Our classmate Somasunadra Kumar, who played in the school band, reminisces: “Though Mr Goodu Sahab looked simple, rather Chaplinesque, for the band guys, he was a hard task master when it came to the practice and the performance. He made us practice with metronome, so that our beats were as per the requirement of a particular tune for slow/ normal/ double march.
On the ceremonial parade days (Mondays) we had to reach the band room early, check all the instruments practice for a while and then carry all the instruments from band room to the Oval Parade Ground, almost a kilometer away, over an undulating terrain.
Other than teaching us how to play the instruments, he also taught us how to maintain/ repair them. He taught us how to change the drum head membrane (those days it was animal hide and it had to be handled carefully;) how to maintain the bag of the bagpipes (the bag is also made of animal hide) using bore oil (a blend of pharmaceutical grade, all natural, organic oils;) and to clean and service the copper/ brass bugles.”
Whatever it was, all those who played in the school band carried music with them. During the alumni meets, there is a beeline to play the musical instruments while the alumni marched from the Cadets’ Mess to the Academic Block.
Playing in the school band was encouraged with an additional glass of milk and a piece of Mysore-Pak post dinner (better known as Band Milk,) to compensate for the extra hours they spent on practice and the physical effort needed for it. Mysore-Pak, a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour, owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore. It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.
Playing in the band was a way to work out and it improved the muscle memory and coordination of the cadets. Those who played the wind instruments – bag pipe and the bugle – it increased the strength of their respiratory system.
Our children went through music lessons as part of Canadian school curriculum in Grade 7. They were taught to read music and perform. Those students who excelled joined the school band and received an additional credit for music in their high school.
Not all can read music though many enjoy it. Many musically talented people never picked up a musical instrument in their lives. There are many musicians who memorise musical tunes on hearing them and play an instrument without knowing how to read the music. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, George Shearing – they were all well known musicians who were blind.
Why should you learn to read music?
Being able to read music facilitates to understand the structure of the piece and the entire composition. It helps you to remember the music you are playing. With the music sheet handy, you are less likely to goof up.
It is sure to boost your self-esteem and acts as a confidence-booster. Practicing and performing music – instrumental or vocal – by reading the notation is immensely satisfying. The act of practicing and performing are great stress relievers. It is truly exhausting and also good for channeling your mind.
Once you learn to read music, you will find it much easier to learn an instrument and an array of musical styles. It will help you play in a band or with your friends as a group. You can create your own musical compositions too.
It’s never too late to learn anything. So I too am trying to learn to read music, though I am not a musician.