From the history–The Band that became the pride of Hyderabad

Zeenath Khan

This single picture has stirred a spate of writing activity within me. Words in their thousands and tales imagined and real. Some fit for public consumption and others that I dare not reveal. Before you read the rest of this article, I urge you to sit back, put your feet up and click on the link below…

Now pay attention to the photograph. On close inspection you will spot the words Madras Regiment inscribed on the base drum. I’d explained the move of this merry band of musicians to Hyderabad in my earlier article on the Powell family. ( 19th December 2020).

The large cauldron like drums placed on the ground on either extremity are called timpanis or kettle drums. Don’t mistake the instrument beside the timpani on the left for a xylophone. It is a Glockenspiel—composed of metal tubes, whereas xylophones are made from wood. Other than Band Master Powell, only one other gentleman dons a cross belt. I presume he is the Second-in- Command. The other musicians are in khaki shorts and knee-high socks. On their heads rest askew pointed berets adorned with a pair of brass buttons apiece. Band Master Powell’s distinguished cap is called a P-cap.

Seated next to John Fredrick Powell is Major Charles Henry Luschwitz, Director of Music for the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad. It is interesting to note that Charles Henry inherited his post from his father, Joseph Henry. Conflicting stories exist as regards how Joseph Henry Luschwitz, a talented German musician, wound up in Hyderabad. One suggests Salar Jung I heard him play in Vienna and asked him to move to Hyderabad. The other that Salar Jung I lured him away from the 2nd Baluchi Regiment of Karachi where he served as their Band Master. Whatever the truth may be, we know for a fact that Mehboob Ali Khan, the sixth Nizam, promoted Joseph Henry from Band Master to Director of Music.

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Returning to the photograph, behind the lady in the splendid wide-brimmed hat lies another unusual instrument: the tubular bells. They had to be played by striking the tubes with a mallet. In the far right-hand corner, a standing musician, bow in hand, flanks his bass violin.

Symmetrically opposite, also standing, a musician holds a euphonium. From the far right-hand corner in the last row protrudes a wide rimmed tuba. The long black instruments are clarinets. Towards the left of the tubular bell is a horn. Also visible are flutes and saxophones.

Not only were our band of musicians merry and possessed of the most magnificent instruments, they were most sought after. After all, in the years between the World Wars, social life in Hyderabad was rather hectic. The Nizam’s Police Band marched between the British Residence at King Kothi and the palaces of Hyderabad’s royalty and nobility to perform at official functions, receptions for foreign dignitaries and banquets. How that tuba and the horn must have blared. How hard the drummer, bass drum strapped around his middle must have banged his drumsticks while his band-mates piped in with their respective instruments. All the while, Band Master Powell with his baton dancing in the air must have conducted the rendition of various British Military Marches, amongst them Colonel Boogie and Semper Fidelis. I learned from his grandson Dennis that John Fredrick had taught his band the music for operatic overtures by Rossini, Bize and Franz Von Suppe.

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After Independence, marching bands throughout India changed their tune. Indian Band Masters composed Indian Marches inculcating elements of Indian and European music.

Popular on this list: Saare Jahan se Accha, Gangotri, Sher-E-Javan and Kadam, Kadam Badeja. Unfortunately, over the decades the Police laid less and less importance in the imparting of musical training to its sepoys and constables. The marching bands of the Indian Army and Navy still maintain a pride of place and play at military functions and parades. And of course, in modern day India, band-baaja cannot be mentioned without the word baraat.

Over eighty years have passed since our merry musicians posed for this wonderful photograph, they no longer march in our world, their instruments long consigned to the graveyards of scrap and the cremation of domestic stoves. Nonetheless, a glance at the unmistakable pride in these fifty-odd men’s faces compels us to pay homage to the brass band musicians of yore. All we must to is close our eyes and concentrate. Over the din of fireworks and restricted revelry, you might hear the faint strains of their instruments from beyond. And, most likely, tonight they will favour this ancient Scottish ballad.

My thanks to Dennis Augustine Powell for enlightening me with the history of marching bands. Happy 2021 to both old acquaintance and the new.

Zeenath Khan is based in Mumbai. She writes columns and blogs and is in the process of writing a book on Hyderabad.

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