Reading Music

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.

(Courtesy Mr Steve Rosson (1969))

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.

(Courtesy Mr Somasunadara Kumar (1974))

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.”

(Courtesy Veteran Commander N Vijayasarathy (2019))

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.

Bill of Fare

CadetMessAmar

Many of our classmates take time off their busy schedule to attend the Alumni meeting at Sainik School Amaravathi Nagar, held during the last weekend of June.  Many undertake this pilgrimage to their Alma-Mater purely  to relive their childhood and partake of for the tea and food the school mess served.  The menu was based on a weekly ‘Bill of Fare’ which hung on the notice board of the mess.  The only variation during our entire stay at the school (1971-1979) was the date on the top and the name of the vegetable served, mostly based on seasonal availability.

The senior cadets (Grade 8 to 12) were divided into four houses – Chera, Chozha, Pandya and Pallava- named after the ancient Thamizh Kingdoms.  We along with the teaching staff dined on tables which were also placed house-wise.  The waiters were permanent and they served us with love and affection.  They formed an integral part of each house.  They would be the cheer-leaders for most of the inter-house sports competitions and would slip an extra piece of meat or an egg in case we won a competition.

The Cheras were served by Natarajan who was better known as the local banker.  He also reared cows and sold the milk to enhance his income and his banking operations.  The Chozhas were served by Vasu who was more of a neatness freak.  He realised the need for education and got his daughters through graduation who are well settled now.  The Pandyas had Venkatachalam, the most vociferous of all and also the most active.  The Pallavas had Madhavan, who despite his bout with asthma, never allowed his sickness to interfere with his job.

We were served ground pork curry with bread for dinner on the first Friday of every month.  The meat came from the Yorkshire Pigs the school farm reared.  Many cadets on joining the school were reluctant to eat pork due to religious reasons and also because they had never tasted it before.  As the school years went by, many shed their herbivorous status (other than the real hardcore ones) in favour of an omnivorous one.  The very same pork curry, with all its flavours intact, is served to the members of the Alumni and their families during the Alumni meet.  Everyone, including little children of the Alumni look forward to this dinner.

CadetMessAmar22

We were served with tea at 5:30 in the morning, before Physical Training.  During the long recess at 11′ o clock it was again tea with biscuits and in the evening before games it was tea and snacks.  The taste of this tea is beyond words, and could never be replicated.  We tried hard to analyse the secret of this addictive tea – it could be the tea leaves, could be the Amaravathi waters, could be the vessel in which it was brewed, could be the cloth used to filter it – the possibilities were endless.  It remains a mystery to all of us to date, but it attracts most alumni to the school every year and they gleefully indulge in consuming cups of this divine tea.

Breakfast for us was mostly continental with bread, butter, jam and eggs on all weekdays.  On Saturdays it was Idli-Sambar-Chutney and on Sundays it was Dosa.

The Bill of Fare began with Monday and it was the day we were served fish curry and rice for lunch and mutton curry with roti for dinner.  The dessert for dinner used to be fruit custard.

Mysore-Pak which owes its origin to the Royal Palace at Mysore, was served on Tuesdays.  It was rock-hard indeed, but it melted in the mouth sweetly.  It was a concoction of ghee, sugar and gram flour.  The sweet added colour to the drab vegetarian dinner we had on Tuesdays.

We all awaited the fried Tilapia fish served for lunch on Wednesdays.  The fish came from the catch of the day at the Amaravathi Dam, co-located with the school campus. What made it very special? Was it the way it was marinated or crispiness of the fried fish or its unique freshness? Indeed it was the very best of all fried fish – it could any day compete with my mother’s fish fry at home.

When I got married, we established our first home at Devlali, Maharashtra.  During our settling down days, Marina said she intended to make Dosa on the coming Sunday and she inquired as to what I wanted with it.  My most relished combination with Dosa was chicken masala which was served for Thursdays’ dinner at the school mess.  “What an unpalatable combination?” was Marina’s reply.  I told her that the Dosa (3 to 5 mm thick) made on a granite griddle, served with chicken masala was the best combination for Dosa that I had ever had.  She did not believe me until we relished it that Sunday evening.

Dosa, a thin pancake, is made from a batter of ground lentils and rice.  Its origin can be traced back to the Thamizh Brahmins, who are strict vegetarians.  The batter is fermented overnight and is poured over an oil-coated hot granite griddle like a crepe and turned over to cook both sides.  The modern version of the crispy, paper-thin variety is rather a deviation from its original.  Some restaurants in South India still serve the original thick Dosa and is called Kallu (Stone) Dosa.

Fish cutlet was the specialty for Friday Lunch.  The main ingredient again was the fresh Tilapia from the Amaravathi Dam.  The secret recipe for this cutlet still remains unsolved – even our classmate Vijaya Bhaskaran, Executive Chef at Le Meridian, Bangalore, has failed to replicate it.   Jalebi was the dessert for the dinner, which owes its origin to Arabia and was brought to India by Persian traders.

Saturday was the movie day and hence we were served dinner early.  It was Biryani – either chicken or mutton – but what every cadet looked forward to was the sweet dish.  It was Khaja – a delicious flaky pastry, shaped out of a layered dough and dipped in sugar syrup.

One can very well imagine the effort taken by the mess staff for ensuring that quality and taste of food served to the cadets is of a high standard and they need to be commended for their care and culinary skills. The fact that one of the key attractions for most Alumni to get back to the Alma Mater is the food being served, says it all.

Venkatachalam
Post Script
:  I dedicate this post to Mr Venkatachalam, our waiter of Pandya House, who passed away on  11 August 2016.  He will remain in the hearts of all those who were served by him, with all his love, affection and dedication, in Pandya House.  Our friends from Pandya House will remember him for ever.