Pip­ing their way into M’sian hearts

Next gen keeps Sikh march­ing band go­ing

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Malaysia Day - By GRACE CHEN Pho­tos cour­tesy of Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band

RE­MEM­BER the vi­ral video of five young Sikhs play­ing a bag­pipe and drums to cel­e­brate the vic­tory of the Malaysian foot­ball team against Myan­mar dur­ing the re­cent SEA Games?

Two of them, Tripert Singh Khalsa, who played the snare drum, and Ti­rath Singh, on bag­pipes, hap­pen to be from the Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band, the same Sikh march­ing band that piped their way into the au­di­ence’s hearts in the Na­tional Day pa­rade at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur

Cut­ting a strik­ing fig­ure in white tur­bans and tar­tan-draped kurta, the march­ing band evokes images of march­ing war­riors.

Much to the au­di­ence’s de­light, the march­ing bag­pipe band is not only con­fined to play­ing Scot­tish mu­sic, although that is its main reper­toire. They can also per­form im­pres­sive ren­di­tions of Rasa Sayang and Shang­hai Bund.

For the record, Sukdev Singh, 62, who founded the band with his brother Harvin­der, 54, makes clear the out­fit has no as­so­ci­a­tions with the armed forces. Ad­mit­tedly, the idea was in­spired from watch­ing the po­lice bag­pipe band re­hearse at the Malaysian Po­lice Train­ing Cen­tre in Jalan Se­marak where they grew up.

But it was not un­til the boys fin­ished their ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion in the United King­dom did they be­gin putting the band to­gether in 1987, start­ing out as a drum corp.

“The band is a re­flec­tion of the ‘Malaysia Boleh’ spirit. When we started out, there was nowhere we could send our mem­bers to learn how to play the drums or bag­pipes. We had a big break when a spon­sor sent one of our mem­bers for drum train­ing in Scot­land for a month.

“In the early 1990s when the In­ter­net boomed and peo­ple started post­ing les­sons on­line, it was a quan­tum leap for us. This is why I say we can be con­sid­ered an In­ter­net band,” joked Sukdev, an air­line pi­lot.

Thirty years on, the band is see­ing pi­o­neer mem­bers’ off­spring tak­ing over the var­i­ous roles rang­ing from the low­est rank as pipe ma­jor to the high­est as drum sergeant. The band is fully run by vol­un­teers.

Pipe sergeant Rajdeep Singh Gill, 27, who joined in 2014, was told it would be a “oneway ticket.”

In view of the time and ex­pense re­quired to train a mem­ber to play the bag­pipes, only vol­un­teers who are will­ing to com­mit to long hours of prac­tice are en­cour­aged to join.

“You learn very quickly here what dis­ci­pline means,” said Rajdeep.

The tra­di­tion in this out­fit is for a se­nior to nur­ture a ju­nior. If a ma­jor wants to be pro­moted to sergeant, he has to en­sure his charge is com­pe­tent enough to take over his role.

“If a vol­un­teer leaves the band, the se­nior loses face,” said Rajdeep.

Vi­ral video stars Tripert and Ti­rath, who moved an en­tire sta­dium to dance with their flash mob, said be­ing part of the band was like hav­ing an ex­tended fam­ily.

“In most bands, friend­ship starts and ends at the gate of a prac­tice area. Re­la­tion­ships are kept pro­fes­sional. With us, it’s dif­fer­ent.

“Most of us start off with the band at a very young age, so we grew up to­gether.

“Af­ter ev­ery Satur­day evening prac­tice, we spend time to­gether do­ing non-mu­si­cal things like play­ing fut­sal and go­ing for din­ner to­gether. The founders be­lieve a band that works, eats and plays to­gether, will stay to­gether,” said Tripert.

The band’s big­gest achieve­ment was com­pet­ing in the World Pipe Band Cham­pi­onship in Glas­gow Greens, Scot­land, in 2015. The band also won gold medals at the Kuala Lumpur High­land Games and the South-East Asia Pipe Band Cham­pi­onship in Sin­ga­pore last year.

The Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band af­ter a per­for­mance in Glas­gow in 2015.

Rajdeep Singh lead­ing the way.

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