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The story of how Swami nurtured the present day Institute band by Ravi M.

It was the month of May in the year 1985… After a gap of many years, Swami stayed back during summer months in Puttaparthi. That was the year of the 60th Birthday and He wanted us to go to the villages to do social work. Soon we were in the thick of the excitement of village work. Clad in the special brown clothes that Bhagawan had got made for us, we were working hard in village after village doing manual labour, laying roads and cleaning the streets.

Swami with BandOne cannot even imagine what it was like to be Swami’s student in those days. For one thing, Bhagawan would walk through the verandah several times during each session, whether in the morning darshan or in the evenings. There would be long sessions, during which He would stand amongst us and inspire us with incidents about Mira, the Gopikas and Radha, Hanuman, Swami’s younger days or examples of Faith and Love for God. Often, He would punctuate the session with a materialization and there would be exclamations of wonder! He would go into the hall for bhajan but would suddenly walk out and make a full darshan round again, collecting letters or walk slowly on the sands, gesticulating in the air and thrilling each devotee with His beautiful form…

So it was natural that during these days of social work, there was a tinge of sadness in us that we were missing those inspiring and delightful sessions. But Swami was even more concerned. Generally, we would return from village work to the Mandir when evening Bhajans were going on. We remember clearly how Swami would come out from the bhajan hall to greet and gift each group of boys with mangoes that He threw to each boy, Himself. On many occasions He came out and went back to the hall as many as five times! What concern and love! This pure and unconditional love and concern is indelibly etched in our memory.

On one Sunday during that beautiful summer, some of us were ushered into the interview room. Swami spoke to us, and we discovered to our pleasant surprise that we had been chosen to be part of The Institute Band. We returned to the Hostel to be introduced to our teachers from the Military Band from Bangalore, and were told that our training would begin immediately to ensure we were ready for the Birthday celebrations. There was little time -considering college, exams and the rest of the activities. Thus, we were blessed to be the first members of Swami’s Brass Band! What an honour! What a privilege and a blessing! Little did we know then, how much we were to receive from Bhagawan in terms of His personal interest, His time and the number of interviews. Not only that. We never could have imagined how many times we would play before Bhagawan. No one could guess that this simple beginning would grow into a mini institution where students would learn music, and enjoy Swami’s proximity for years to come. Only much later we found out that the Warden had in fact shown Swami a list of several names and that Swami had individually selected each one, Himself.

At the Hostel some were given clarinets, others bugles, trumpets, saxophones, kettle-drums and cymbals. Of course, there were the tubas and the trombones. All wind (i.e. blowing) Instruments.

During most of May and part of June we were at the practice sessions from 8 am to 12:30 pm, when we’d go for lunch. Then we’d practice again from two in the afternoon to five pm and again after dinner from 7:30 to 9:30 pm. It was a strenuous practice schedule! Most of us had very little background in music and could barely communicate with the instructors, who knew only Hindi. One of them was a bandmaster; another taught the trumpet but could also play other wind instruments. They taught us marching in true military style and also the more difficult but elegant slow march. So, first we would practice marching for a while, then play the scale individually, then in a group and then all together. Marching with the instruments was the next step. It was only later that we tried and slowly learned to march, while playing.

One of the seniors from Canada had learnt to play the trumpet in school, and was a key- board player in music programs at the Institute. During the 3-4 practice sessions thus far, while we struggled to learn how to correctly blow into the instruments and produce the correct sound, this boy was enjoying himself playing simple bhajan songs, especially Ganesha Sharanam Sharanam Ganesha.

A Humble Beginning
Less than 24 hours later, Swami drove over to the Hostel to see how we were doing. In fact it was only to grant us His Grace, so we could do well.

We fell into rows as we‘d been taught. Then we proudly marched to show Him how well we could march. He who had seen so many army men march for Him, been to many garrisons to bless Generals and their troops, showed eagerness and appreciated our tired marching and only said it needed a faster beat. Then we assembled in formation to await His next command as if there was much we knew! He spoke with the teachers and they told Him we had learned the scale. He seemed pleased and said that was good progress. So He asked each to play and show Him all we had learned.

So each of us had our first opportunity to display our newly learnt music to Bhagawan. The bugles were also part of the band then and had the first chance. There was utter chaos and not a note emerged. Then it was the turn of the trumpets and they were nervous but each could muster only a note or two at the most. The same fate awaited the clarinets, which squeaked with shrill notes. More than anyone else, even our learned senior who knew music and had trained on the trumpet earlier could hardly play a couple of clear notes! The secret of the learning-journey we were embarking on was humility and here we were learning our first lesson!

We all stood there feeling embarrassed. But more than that, we felt that we had let Bhagawan down. Probably, there was no need to feel that way at all. Bhagawan is the Pranava Swarupa, the source of all sound. He loves music and is the greatest Teacher of Soul music. It was not just the band teachers who had to teach us the notes of a song. Our real teacher would be Swami Himself. Here He was, in the middle of His busy schedule, in the midst of His many tasks, darshans, bhajans and interviews, evaluating our level of knowledge in music before bestowing the blessing and grace to master our instruments. There was no dishonour in our performance, in the presence of our beloved Sai, our mother. Now, She would fill us with musical skill and knowledge.


The first performance
After a few months of diligent practice, interrupted by college, exams and assignments, we were somewhat ready to perform. Our very first performance was like a mini-trial before the main 60th Birthday procession. As part of His mission, on almost every Birthday, Bhagawan had made it a point to start some large scale Service Project with a long-term benefit for the poor and the needy. That year, He gifted and inaugurated 60 independent houses for needy families, in a colony named Subbamma Nagar, near Gokulam at Puttaparthi. We played on

Our first Performance at Subbamma Nagar
Our first Performance at Subbamma Nagar

this occasion but were a little nervous. Swami quickly put us at ease with a reassuring smile and by keeping time with the music. Swami is always so calm and tranquil and has a way of comforting and calming all around Him. After a tour of the houses, He came and listened to a tune we played. Just before leaving, He assured us that the whole performance would be better when we wore the ornate Band Dress.

The Birthday Procession
The big day had arrived. Bhagawan sent word to the Band leader that we were to report to the Mandir by 5 am. We were ready at 4:45 am, had a short prayer and then a brief practice at the Hostel. It was cold as we rushed towards the Mandir. As soon as we entered the Bhajan Hall, Swami graciously came down from His room and arranged a sumptuous breakfast and hot tea for the entire band group and other members of the procession. Imagine the teeming thousands clamouring for His darshan, rushing to find a place in the Shanti Vedika while Bhagawan, on His Birthday, was spending so much time to make us comfortable! After supervising the breakfast session, He left saying that He would dress up and come back to begin the Procession. Little did we know that a big disappointment awaited us.

When we began to line up, we were instructed to bring up the rear of the long procession. This meant, the Vedam boys would precede Bhagavan, who would be followed by the Bhangra (Punjabi) dance boys and the band would be the last group! After all that practice, this was hard to accept. We would not be near Swami, so He would not hear us play during the procession at all. As this news spread through the Band, all were downcast. There were all kinds of feelings of hurt in our hearts. However, we knew that there was little that could be changed at this stage when the proceedings were about to begin. The senior boys counseled the others but everyone was praying to Swami to alter the arrangement.

Swami came down from His room looking radiant and beautiful. We completely forgot our misery when we saw Him. All we wanted to do was gaze on His Divine Form. But Swami had heard our prayers. With one look, He took stock of the situation. No one had to tell Him anything. He beckoned to our Band leader to lead the entire group forward. We rushed forward, delighted with the promotion. By the new arrangement we were now positioned right in front of Bhagawan! We were in ecstasy and played wholeheartedly and Swami seemed pleased.

That then, was the first time the Institute band played at a major function. The procession started from the Mandir, with Sai Geetha in the lead. Swami rode majestically in a beautiful horse driven chariot. The pageant of colours and music, along with the dance and Vedam, made it a memorable and joyous event. After we arrived at the overcrowded stadium, Bhagawan mounted the stage. He immediately sent instructions that we were to be seated on chairs. We marveled at Swamis attention to detail even on a day like this, even when He was the focus of the worship of so many thousands!

Marching on the 60th birthday
Marching on the 60th birthday

The 60th Birthday thus saw the birth of the Institute Brass band. We were fortunate to be the first members of this core group. This is significant especially in the context of this year being the 80th Birthday year of Bhagawan. A humble beginning nearly 20 years ago, with Bhagawan’s Grace, has resulted in the highly rated, vastly improved Institute Brass Band of today.

Some of us who have been here for a while notice a beautiful pattern in each task or project Swami undertakes. He generally forms a handpicked core group. Then He showers a lot of His time and attention on the group, encourages them, and builds them up. The probable reason is that they have made and may make in due course more sacrifices of their time and individual ambitions to achieve the group objective of pleasing Bhagawan by wholeheartedly dedicating themselves to the work allotted. Not only that, this also motivates the other students to aspire for selection to such extracurricular roles that present an opportunity to interact with Swami and experience first hand, the greatness, the depth and the LOVE of His Divine Personality.


The later years
Starting from the 60th birthday, it became a customary for Bhagawan to call us to play at various functions. During Christmas we played

Blessing the boys with the cherished Padanamskar
Blessing the boys with the cherished Padanamskar

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” with the famous Maynard Ferguson himself. Swami blessed the group with photographs at the end of the function. Of course, in those days we enjoyed the privilege of having Padanamaskar too!

The other major event for us was the Sports Meet or the Intercampus Meet. We had to play for students of all three campuses to practice marching and it was quite strenuous. But we were richly rewarded when before each final (on 11th Jan), Bhagawan subjected Himself to a “rehearsal” and would walk behind us while we welcomed Him in, while playing and marching to a slow march tune. Those were wonderful days and the memories are sweet. Probably, He gave us that chance and privilege because He knew that on the final day, we would not be able to enjoy the proximity of the Lord. That is how Gracious and thoughtful our Sai is.

Gradually, as we improved our abilities, some members were called upon to participate in music programs held on festival mornings in the Mandir. Some of the trumpet and saxophone players were quite proficient and had other good chances in addition.

Performing on the PC stage with Ferguson
Performing on the PC stage with Ferguson

The full Band had the opportunity to perform on several occasions on the Poornachandra stage, in the College auditorium and several other places.

The Main Band occasions, of course remained the Convocation, the Birthday and the Sports Meet.

The Lost Stick
During those days of strenuous practice, we would never know when Swami would suddenly drop in to see us. One such day, Swami arrived unannounced at the Hostel. We had practiced a lot and some of us were relaxing in the quadrangle. One of the (kettle) drummers had gone to receive an outstation telephone call. He had just dropped his drum sticks near his drum and one stick had rolled onto the sand. As Bhagawan walked into the quadrangle, He casually picked up this stick. All of us were happy to have Him amongst us. Taking up our

On stage with Swami on the 60th birthday
On stage with Swami on the 60th birthday

instruments, we lined up before Him and waited eagerly to play some tune for Him. A small drama enfolded when the drummer rushed back after hearing that Bhagawan had come. He could find only one stick. He searched frantically for the other stick, all over. Only some of us had noticed Swami pick up the stick. But Swami gestured to us with a smile to keep mum. Swami held the stick behind His back and asked us to begin playing. Band marches usually begin with a crisp drum roll, so we were waiting for the drummer and the poor chap could not begin simply because he could not find the second stick! He was embarrassed and feared that Swami and us boys would be upset with him for the delay. In fact, he thought that Swami, who was so busy, would leave and we would lose this chance to perform before Him. Just when he was at his wit’s end, Swami innocently He turned to this student, pulled the stick from behind His back, and asked, “Hey, is this what you are searching for?” We all burst out laughing! The drummer was relieved. He took the stick sanctified by the Divine touch and gave us the drum roll so we could play our tunes for the Lord.

At this point the reader should realize that while we practiced for the big public performances, it was really these small occasions that we secretly cherished. We were happy playing for our Swami in such an informal setting in the hostel where we had the Lord entirely to our selves.

The New Band Dress
We must share an incident that brings out the love that Bhagawan showers on His college students. A few years after the Band was constituted, Swami called us into the Interview room and suggested that we needed new Band uniforms because He felt these were old and because the 65th Birthday celebrations were fast approaching .

Bhagawan has this unique way of getting involved in a manner that gets everyone excited about the task ahead. We must remember that He is God. He is beyond this world and completely detached. But while He is actually so completely detached, He appears so very involved and present. That is the personal aspect of God. This is purely out of compassion towards us, His students. This also helps us understand how genuine and pure His Love is, and how totally He gives, though He has nothing to gain.

Even the Band uniform recieved His attention
Even the Band uniform recieved His attention

A week later, tailors were called to take measurements .The tailors began the job in the Poornachandra auditorium. Bhagawan resided in the Prashanthi Mandir in those days. But He kept inquiring about the progress of the work nearly EVERYDAY. Not only that, when the dresses were ready and we were called to try them on, Swami Himself came to the auditorium. We really could not believe that the Lord Himself would come to see the new uniforms. But of course, we were thrilled. As soon as we had put the uniforms on, we rushed down the stage, not to look in the mirror, but to show our dear Lord how we looked in the shining new apparel. Oh what a stampede there was. You wouldn’t believe it! We swarmed around Swami trying to attract His attention and draw a comment towards us! What proximity! What joy! And our Swami never disappointed us. Humour flew from His lips. To one boy He said, “When you walk with this dress, it is so loose it looks like an elephant flapping its ears.” Another boys’ pants were really tight and short. He said he looked like a “ Dancer” and a “monkey”. To one He said, “The sleeves are as big as the trouser legs should have been”. About one whose clothes were too loose, He said, “Half of all the material has been used to make only your dress”. When to another He said, “You look too good ..you should go out and give Darshan”, there was a roar of laughter. We were holding our stomachs and had the time of our lives.

As usual, before He left (after giving tailors suggestions on altering the clothes), we asked for Padanamaskar. He would not generally refuse if He was pleased with us. So we were surprised when He refused. We pleaded with Him to grant our wish. He said that He wanted to grant our wish but the only reason He was refusing was that our new clothes would get spoilt with all the dust there and that there wasn’t enough time to have them washed before the Birthday. We marveled at Bhagavan’s ability to think of even such a minor matter. It was true that the clothes would get dusty and stained if we took a full namaskar. Now, here was a problem for the Benign Lord and His students. Neither would relent. Finally it is God who gives in and finds a way out when there is love and yearning. Indeed He did, in His inimitable way. He pointed to the stage and asked us to let Him go up the steps. We moaned, for we thought He was about to escape without granting our prayer… But once the Lord gives His word, He keeps it and finds a way to satisfy His devotees’ wishes. He went up the stage, stood at the edge of the stage and asked us all to take full namaskar without bending at all! Here was the Lord of Lords, the object of adoration of the sages and the saints, concerned about our clothes getting dusty!

Maynard Ferguson
He is an old devotee of Swami who took great pains to help the Band grow. Soon after the band began, he visited Parthi and Swami

Ferguson with the band boys
Ferguson with the band boys

asked him to teach us. He spent many useful hours with us. Apart from being a well-known Jazz trumpet player in USA and Canada, he has played with several Indian musicians too and greatly appreciates Indian Classical music and its exponents. He can probably play any wind instrument with ease and he often demonstrated this during the sessions. Bhagawan brought him to the Hostel in His car and introduced him to the boys in glowing terms as one of the world’s greatest trumpet players.

He taught us the very basic skill of listening to the scale or shruti as we call it and to hit the note perfectly, clearly. With wind instruments one can really be off the note, either sharp or flat and this can be jarring or unpleasant to hear, more because you have both melody and counters being played together, for effect.

He also emphasized the importance of learning Music Notation. In India we are so used to “picking up” a song “by ear” that it was initially hard to play by reading especially while marching. But he explained that notation defined not just the note in the scale but also its length, the rhythm and how it was to be played in Harmony. Then we would not make any mistakes as we would not be playing from memory. This is especially essential for players of harmony parts.

Checking the Jazz Drums
Checking the Jazz Drums

He also came up with a brilliant idea to get an entire set of gold plated wind instruments for the Brass band from the USA. This worked out perfectly and in July 1987 the Instruments arrived. These were from such prestigious companies such as Leblanc Corporation, Remo Incorp., Yamaha International, Avedis Zildjian Wagner Corp etc. Swami visited the Administrative building to see and bless the Instruments. That is how we have a beautiful photo of Him, holding the drum-sticks of the Jazz drums.

Mr. Ferguson told us inspiring stories of great musicians he knew and about how much they practiced. He was humble, friendly, always willing to teach, but more than anything else we remember with great admiration how when He spoke of Swami, his eyes would light up. Swami was his hero, and friend and he loved to speak about how Swami jokingly called him “Pakoda”. Bhagawan would give him at least one interview each visit before he left and would bless him with detailed guidance in matters regarding his family, his work and his health.

We have one memorable recollection of what a great musician Mr Ferguson was. When one day Bhagawan drove to the Institute auditorium where we were practicing with Mr Ferguson, we found we were totally unprepared to present any particular piece to Him. Bhagawan came in and asked us to play, as if He were expecting something good. Now everyone knows that Bhagawan often asks for new songs and Mr Ferguson sensed this. So he quickly went round the group and instructed us to play a short combination of notes that was fairly simple.

Then he did Pranams to Swami and began to play. And how he played that day! With the combination of notes we played repeatedly as

Ferguson trains the boys in the college
Ferguson trains the boys in the college

support, he improvised and came up with such amazing displays of tunes and medleys that the stage was alive and the air was electrifying. He started to weave an intricate pattern with his trumpet, now with the muzzle on, now without it. The high notes were terrific and overall, the music was just great. We felt that he likes a good challenge and that Bhagawan’s presence and our being somewhat unprepared made him take control and produce a peak performance!

As Swami’s students we have always been taught by the best in the field whether it be academics, sports, or music. It is some wonder that these eminent persons worked with us so patiently, considering that though we were keen to learn, the fact remained that most of us were novices .We also saw how much they wanted to do for Swami and we were aware that in normal circumstances we’d probably never even get near them, leave alone having their personal attention and guidance.


Answered Prayers
One day we were practicing in the hot sun. After a long march, some of us took shelter under a huge banyan tree behind the Eswaramma High school. Probably the heat made us feel Swami’s absence all the more. Many of us sat down to have some cool refreshments and while we rested, somehow, the topic of discussion was that Swami had not been coming to see us for quite a while now and that we should write letters to Him seeking His blessings. No sooner had these ideas been floated than to our utter surprise, (because it was one ‘o’clock in the afternoon), we saw a red Benz car slowly drive into the stadium! We shouted ‘Swami’ and sprang to our feet. There was a cry of joy from many. We readied ourselves and got into a semicircle so we could most effectively surround Swami. No one wanted to let this opportunity escape.

Bhagawan drove straight to us. He got down gracefully and said lovingly that He had been wanting to come over and see us but had been busy with a number of projects. Thinking that another day would pass away, thus, and that we would be disappointed, He had foregone the little rest He took in the afternoon to come and spend some time with us! We were nearly in tears. Indeed He had heard our call! That afternoon He spent over forty-five minutes with us. He made us play all the tunes we knew. Slow marches, fast marches, bhajans which we had recently learnt, carols and what not. Then He asked us to play individually while He listened with attention. He made us feel as if we were great musicians. Then He said that He would like to see us march. He suggested that we march on the cemented portion of the stands because it was tough to march on soft ground. So we ran over there while He drove there to watch us march. This incident especially satisfied us, as we were all witnesses to how Swami responds even to the smallest prayer.

Dear Readers, we enjoyed our stay in the hostel, because Swami created many opportunities for us to interact with Him. The Brass Band

The most cherished moments
The most cherished moments

was one such extra curricular activity that not only helped us to develop a worthwhile skill but also, and more importantly, brought us into frequent contact with Swami. The impressions, the narrated incidents and interactions written here are etched in our memories for life. They are sweeter than the sweetest honey because they are personal glimpses into Swami’s life. As students, we were so completely attached to being with Him that we deeply cherish the memories we have of those precious moments that He chose to spend with us. Now, with the Sports and Cultural Meet in January fast approaching, it is only appropriate to reopen these safely stored precious memories for the sake of all Swami’s devotees and to share what we were so fortunate to experience.

( Ravi was a student in Swami’s college from 1982 to 1991. He was in the band since its inception till 1991. Currently He is a Senior Technical Officer in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences at Puttaparthy)

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