Pakistan’s Military Bands: Mesmerizing Melodies and Much More

Pakistan Army School of Music

The Army School of Music was founded in 1952 under the administration of Captain Donald Keeling, who was the Director of Music from UK. It was inoperative from 1953-54. Then under Captain Baker it was resumed in Lahore. In 1956 it was shifted to Abbottabad (which has become its permanent quarters) and was linked to the Frontier Force Regimental Centre. Since 1965 it has been linked with the Baloch Regimental Centre.

The main objective of establishing such an institute was to impart musical training to officers & soldiers of the Army, Air Force and Navy, as well as students of friendly Allied countries. A total of 640 students can be trained per year. The school started out with a few facilities but in the past 60 years has developed immensely and it is now considered one of the best internationally recognized music institutions. The high standard, discipline and code of conduct have been instrumental in producing the finest musicians and are also the reasons why trainees from foreign countries are eager to come here.

The Training

After the students are selected according to the set criterion, they undertake training in their respective courses whose duration varies between five months up to nearly two years. Each faculty is headed by a qualified officer of the rank of a Major with an experienced staff.

Military Band Faculty & Courses

This faculty is in charge of training all Regimental Military bands including trumpeters of authorized regiments. There are five types of Military Band courses namely:

  1. Band Master Course
  2. Military Band Beginners Course
  3. Military Band Advance Course
  4. Trumpeters Training Course
  5. Tech Trade Training Bandsmen

Pipe Band Faculty & Courses

This faculty is in charge of training all pipe bands of infantry battalions including buglers. There are also five types of Pipe Band courses namely:

  1. Drum Major Course
  2. Pipe Major Course
  3. Drummers Training Course
  4. Pipers Training Course
  5. Buglers Training Course

Facilities Included

There are many facilities available for the students such as computer laboratory, music-library, recording room, conducting room, outdoor training sheds, Aural training, quality bagpipes and high-tech equipment which includes mixing console, keyboard and CD/DVD copier.

Services of the School at National and International Level

The school has been rendering many services both at national and international level, which are as follows:

National Level

  • Organizing band competitions among regiments.
  • Provide music and/or supervision for national events such as 23rd March parade, Independence Day, Defense Day and functions at Pakistan Military Academy such as passing out parade and concert before their convocation.
  • Performing at the National Horse and Cattle Show (a spectacular cultural show of national importance which was initiated in 1964, highlighting our agricultural & industrial achievements).
  • A concert band of 20 men is maintained to perform at state functions.

International Level

  • Training of 5-30 students from friendly countries
  • Joint services participate in various festivals abroad.
  • Organizing and supervising music of certain international sports events held in the country such as SAF games and World Open Squash Tournament.
  • Orientation visits to SAARC countries to receive training.
  • Playing music when foreign dignitaries arrive.
  • Writing musical scores for Bands of foreign countries.

Past International Performances

Military Orchestra

In 1992 they performed in Turkey with their celebrated Mahatar band. In 1995 they performed in China. In 2000 they performed in Karachi when ‘IDEAS’ (International Defense Exhibition and Seminar) was held for the first time. In 2006 they performed at the birthday ceremony of the Sultan of Brunei. In the same year they participated for the first time in the Berlin Music Festival. While in 2007 they took part in Malaysia’s 50th Independence celebration.

In 1992 they performed in Turkey with their celebrated Mahatar band. In 1995 they performed in China. In 2000 they performed in Karachi when ‘IDEAS’ (International Defense Exhibition and Seminar) was held for the first time. In 2006 they performed at the birthday ceremony of the Sultan of Brunei. In the same year they participated for the first time in the Berlin Music Festival. While in 2007 they took part in Malaysia’s 50th Independence celebration.

Patiala Military Pipe Band

Our 30 member pipe band, since 2006 has represented Pakistan a number of times in world-class events such as World Pipe Band Championship (which is being held in Glasgow, Scotland since 1930. Recently as many as 225 bands from 17 countries from all over the world participated with an audience of 30,000). Pipefest (which is being held in Edinburgh, Scotland since 1995) and National Tartan Day Parade (which is being held in New York, USA since 1998 in recognition of Scottish heritage).

Tri-Services Military Band

For the first time in the history of Pakistan, our Tri-services band participated in the International Military Music Festival (IMMF)’ at Moscow, Russia. Lead by the Commandant of the Army School of Music, Lt. Col Abdul Wahab Khan, making him the first Pakistani conductor to perform abroad. Lt. Gen Valery Khalilov (who is the chief of the military band service, chief military conductor of the Russian orchestra since 2002 and a gifted music composer) highly praised our band’s performance in press conferences and TV interviews as well as on the radio.

The Happenings of 2015

Pakistan’s First Camel Mounted Military Bagpipe Band Perform on 23rd March

A group of the Pakistan Desert Rangers constitutes the band which was formed in 2014 and is the first of its kind in the country. They made their debut on Pakistan’s National Day parade held on 23rd March in Islamabad leaving the audience awestruck. The eye-catching uniforms, bagpipes and the decorative neck and leg bands worn by the camels (all of which are made in Sialkot) were something out of the ordinary.

They are stationed at Moj Garh (100 km east from the city of Bahawalpur), where an ancient fort serves as a base for soldiers. Now the Army has built a huge farm for the 170 camels, where they are trained and looked after by a specific team of handlers, veterinary doctors and medics.

One of the rather difficult aspects was to balance oneself on the hump of the camels and play the bagpipes as they march ahead, but Band Major and Sub-Inspector Muhammad Iqbal managed to overcome that hurdle and completed the training. Furthermore some of the camels are specifically trained for acrobatic acts; one of most challenging one is where the riders form a pyramid across three camels.

Pakistan has become the second nation to have a camel-mounted military bagpipe band. The first was the Sultan of Oman’s Royal Cavalry Band. However to reach an international status they hope to get specialized training from the Army School of Music.

Interesting Fact: Pakistan is the Second Largest Manufacturer of Bagpipes and Associated Apparel in the World!

There are two possible stories of how bagpipe manufacturing began in our region. One thought is that in 1920 a Scottish trader had visited Sialkot to see if business was possible. Another was that in 1930 an Army officer brought his bagpipe to be repaired; the craftsman (who was already making reeds for musical instruments) not only mended it, but made two just like it. Whichever is true, one thing is for certain that since then bagpipes and uniforms (this includes kilts, jackets, shawls and caps made in traditional tartan patterns such as Black Watch, MacKenzie & Royal Stewart) are being made. There are several large factories and 100 smaller ones that are operating. Our bagpipes are handcrafted and hand-assembled, and the price range is between $100 and $1000. Furthermore toy bagpipes are made for Scottish tourist markets as well.

Tri-Services Military Band Performance at International Military Music Festival, Russia

After a hiatus of 4 years, once again in September, Pakistan’s Military band consisting of 78 members but this time accompanied with 20 members of the Frontier Corps, Khyber Pakhtun Khawa (FC KPK), who present Chitrali & Khattak dances participated in the (IMMF) to commemorate Moscow’s 868th birthday.

The festival takes place every year, where the best Russian and international bands perform together, to showcase the military traditions native to each country as well as to promote peace and goodwill amongst each other.

Our band played traditional tunes which included our national anthem and patriotic songs. This left the audience captivated.

Tri-Services Military Band Performance at 10th Annual Cape Town Military Tattoo, South Africa

In November, Pakistan’s Military band attended the 10th annual Cape Town Military Tattoo, which is governed by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). Each year all military bands within SANDF perform with a few others. The spectators were enthralled by our performance. Our band also gave a public appearance at the beautiful Victoria & Alfred Waterfront there.

So one must salute our Military bands which are indeed doing a commendable job, and making us proud nationally and internationally!

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Hajra Saeed

Hajra Saeed has been writing for the past 20 years. During her career she has contributed to various leading newspapers and magazines, but currently writes for the special supplements of ‘The Nation’. She has written on a wide array of topics; however areas of interest are social issues, religion, philosophy and presenting a positive image of Pakistan. Has experience in copy writing, content writing, technical writing, screenwriting and teaching. Likes to read, do online courses as well as social work.