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The recollections of a Band Leader on how Swami shaped their Lives through the Brass Band, by DJ.

“Music is God's gift to man, the only art of Heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to Heaven.”
– Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864).

Miracles reaffirm the human spirit’s faith in the Divine and most importantly in itself! Yet many a times miracles come disguised in forms that are so easy to overlook…

One wonders why, tucked away in the interior of arid southern India, a college needs to have a Marching Brass Band more appropriate probably to orchestrate international sporting events!! The Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning Brass Band is one of Bhagavan’s unique and subtle anvils that shape the lives of youngsters.

The recruits
The recruits

The Miracle
It is probably after years of practice and innate talent that a musician finally decides to perform in public. Hours spent trying to master the basics, then months on preliminary music lessons and finally years exploring the nuances of the instrument of one’s choice. But in Bhagavan’s Band, things do not exactly happen this way!! Each year, about a third of the Band members graduate, having finished their studies at the college. Their place is taken by new members mostly from the first year undergraduate classes. A majority of these boys have never had any prior formal music training or played any musical instrument. Having joined the Band in mid August with Bhagavan’s Blessings, they have time till November when the Institute Convocation on 22nd November marks their debut. As the Band marches into Sai Kulwant Hall, leading the procession consisting of the members of the Academic council, members of the Governing body and most importantly the Divine Chancellor, it is hardly obvious that they have had to juggle time between the busy Institute and the Hostel schedules to find time for practice.

Indeed each performance of the Band is a miracle of sorts!! One year, after the annual Sports Day celebrations at the Hill View Stadium, all the students had assembled in Sai Kulwant Hall attired in their colourful costumes praying that they get an opportunity to have a photograph with Bhagavan. While Bhagavan graciously mingled with the various groups the Band broke into “Tempest”, a fiery and lively

piece they had recently picked up. Halfway into the piece, things began to get a bit stormy!! With the clarinets and flutes lagging behind the trumpets by over a bar!!!

Each member of the Band became aware of this, but there was nothing that anyone could do. The situation was like that of a huge freight train gone out control, derailed and hurtling down the tracks till it is reduced to a pile of smoke and debris! Finally the music stopped … the Band boys put their instruments down, the gloom of public humiliation hovering large over their faces. Swami was at the far end of Sai Kulwant Hall slowly proceeding towards Poornachandra to retire for the morning. The deafening silence and anxious moments of suspense … when suddenly the entire Hall burst into a frenzy of applause!! The irony was that later many people expressed that they had never heard the Band play a peppy tune like Tempest before!

It will indeed be presumptuous to think that a group of thirty boys with no exposure to the nuances of western music can render to the satisfaction and approval of an international audience. Yet, every time they have prepared and performed with the sole goal of pleasing Bhagavan, hoping to see a smile on His face, everything else has been taken care of. If the Lord looks happy then all the multitudes gathered are happy, If He is dissatisfied then even a technically perfect performance cannot move any audience.

The Crucible
Hard work, tiring practice and emotional ups and downs … Bhagavan is a tough task master. Behind every performance lies an untold story of uncertainty and at times, tears…

One of the flute players narrates an incident wherein at one point of time he was so frustrated with his instrument that he wanted to quit. While all new members moved onto playing music he was having trouble playing the scale. Extra practice before and after college hours yielded no fruit. So complete was his disgust that one evening in the Mandir when Swami called all the new Band boys he did not even feel like facing Him…

Once, Bhagavan drove in while the boys were practising. One of the trumpet players not really knowing the piece being played well pretended to be blowing to his heart’s content. Before returning, Swami gestured with His fingers and made a comment to one of the elders, “Kuch log bas eisa eisa karte hain, no sound”!! (“Some people simply move their fingers and blow but no sound”). Though the elder did not understand the import of the statement, much later, the concerned trumpeter shared this experience, having learned his lesson!

At times, circumstances have been favorable and the Band has gone to Mandir very well prepared with the music. This over-confidence can prove to be dangerous giving that heady feeling that it’s going to be a wonderful concert where the hearts of the audience will be easily won over! But of course these are the times when Swami decides to bring everybody back to earth. The notes are ready on the stands, everybody is warmed up and rearing to go. While the heart waits with anticipation to begin the performance, Swami decides otherwise. The music is put away, the stands wound up and the boys return with a heavy heart.

Be it as simple as learning an instrument or being blessed with an opportunity to play in the Divine presence, Bhagavan waits till the moment when one is pushed to the brink. Then just when all hope seems to be lost and one just surrenders saying, “God this is the end I cannot take it anymore … I give up …”, out of nowhere comes His loving hand picking each up and making them soar much higher than can be imagined.

He served each and every boy
He served each and every boy
The Mother’s Lap
To the mother, the child is all. Faults and good qualities all rolled into one bundle of love. One wonders how time and again even when renowned musicians are present, Swami is so happy to see His students perform their little bit. What more can be sweeter for the child than to lap up all the love being showered by the doting mother? Maybe it really does not matter if there are wrong notes, false starts and train wrecks during a performance as long as the forgiving eye of the Divine Mother sees the purity of intention and sincerity of purpose.

As Sports Day approaches, most of the students spend more and more time in the ground preparing for the grand event. The Band is no exception, putting final touches to the marches. One morning, before Bhajans, Swami came to the ground while the Band boys were practising. He heard the marches for a few minutes and then appeared to be returning when the car stopped. The driver got down, opened the boot and took out two crates of apples. Swami sent word that He had distributed apples to all the students in the Mandir and knowing that the Band would be practising He had Himself got the apples for them. These are those rare moments when one is dumbfounded and all one can do is to surrender to the warmth of Divine Love and soak it all in.

On another occasion, Bhagavan graciously hosted a lunch for all students and teachers involved in the Lion Dance and Slow March procession. This marked the culmination of almost a month of practice and many hours spent in Poornachandra Auditorium where

Unforgettable memories
Unforgettable memories

Swami Himself looked into every minute detail. As the hundred or so boys sat on the Poornachandra stage Bhagavan Himself distributed food items to each individually! Most of the students present on that day have graduated and are spread all over the globe. Yet, that afternoon remains etched in their hearts with indelible fondness and gratitude.

Yes, there are bruises and heartaches. Moments of disillusionment and utter loneliness. But the Lord is benign witness to it all. Stepping in when all around seems to be only dead ends. A fleeting glance, a gentle smile or just a “Where are you from?” washes over like the cool spring and soothes like a gentle balm. One is ready to take on music (and life) with renewed vigour.


The Universal Monarch
The Universal Monarch
The Royal King
“Swami, we want to play the new Slow March”, the Band leader prays to Bhagavan.
“Vaayinchandi (play)…” He nods assent.

Within the first few measures there is a gentle frown on the Divine countenance, “No not this one … too fast … where is Slow March?”

There is a murmur all around, a hint of confusion before finally the Band launches into “Music from the Royal Fireworks”.

Bhagavan is beaming as He gently sways to the strains of Handel’s centuries old composition. Yes, He is the King and nothing but the very best meets His approval.

As the fanfares burst forth, music and celebration alert all the devotees gathered who strain to catch a glimpse of the distant chariot. The Slow March and flag bearers herald the Lord’s arrival. He stands tall as befitting the Monarch of the Universe, calm, looking at the multitudes, showering His blessings. Everyone is transfixed by the amount of compassion and love pouring from His eyes.

The Laughter
With all the hard work and serious moments can the lighter times be far away? During the International cricket match hosted in the Hill View Stadium, Swami spent many hours each day making sure everything was perfect. One morning, He wanted to hear the Band boys individually. When it was the turn of the flute player, he played the first few measures from “The Theme from the Star Wars Saga” which has a few bars of trilling. Seeing the player’s fingers doing the trill, the all knowing-but-mischievous Swami looked around with mock incredulity and asked, “Why is he so nervous? Look how he is shivering …” All around people burst into laughter.

As the Band graduated from playing tunes from memory to playing sheet music, it was decided that they would use music stands during the March Past. During one of the evening practice sessions Swami sat down and all the students gathered around Him. He beckoned the Band boys who were still lined up in front of their stands to the centre of the field. After a few moments, He instructed them to play. This caught them totally off guard and one of the senior boys took courage and said, “Swami we left the notes in the ground…” Smiling He replied, “Yes I know, look they are flying all over the ground!!!” That was the last time music stands were ever used in the ground.

The Story Continues…
The Band is just an excuse. One of the countless ways that Bhagavan is touching the lives of people. With the best musicians from all over the world ready to play at the slightest indication, does He really need students to learn music?

Music is but a pretext; one of the many ways He instills among His boys the appreciation of responsibility and hones group dynamic skills. The many hurdles and apparent setbacks in the path just aid in building one’s self confidence.

Yes, it is all an excuse, an excuse for Him to spend time with us …

(DJ has been a student of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning from 1994 to 1999. He has also been the Band leader for several years. Currently, he is teaching in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the Institute.)

  Volume3 Issue1 Jan 2005         Optimized for Netscape and Firefox. Best viewed in Internet Explorer - 1024 x 768 resolution.