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Hill girls trumpet bagpipe band - St Philomena's in Kalimpong achieves rare feat

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By RAJEEV RAVIDAS
  • Published 5.11.13
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Kalimpong, Nov. 4: Sister Marie Clare, the secretary of St Philomena’s School, had one question after witnessing an Army pipe band in full regalia performing in Calcutta back in 2004: why can’t girls play the bagpipe and march like men?

Nine years later, 16 girls at St Philomena’s here have provided the answer — Yes we can — that should sound like music to her ears.

A bagpipe weighs around 4kg and one needs rigorous training and stamina to march on with the instrument — something even boys fail to do.

“St Philomena’s is the first girls’ school in the Darjeeling district and maybe even in the state, to have a pipe band,” said Priyadarshi Lama, who trained the girls at St Philomena’s.

On Saturday, the 29-member pipe band of St Philomena’s, including 16 bagpipers, had their first public performance. Most schools in Kalimpong have brass bands, but only some boys’ schools have pipe bands.

Lama said the difference between the pipe band and brass band was the instruments used. “The brass band comprises trumpet, trombone, clarinet, saxophone, flute, horn and drums. The pipe band has bagpiper, bugle and drum,” he said.

Experts said it required a lot of physical strength and stamina to play the bagpiper and march. “I have seen boys collapse during training because of strain. A boy or a girl has to be physically very fit to play a bagpipe, which weighs about 4kg, and march as well. The pipers also must be given protein-rich diet because of their workload,” said Sanjay Rai, the trainer of the all-boys Scottish Universities’ Mission Institution’s pipe band.

Only the horn and the bass drum are heavier in weight than the bagpipe.

“But playing the bagpipe is more strenuous and energy-sapping. A 32-member band will have four horn players and a solitary bass drummer, while the strength of pipers can be 18 in case of a pipe band,” said Lama.

He said strength and stamina though are not enough. “A person has to be very disciplined and hardworking to play the pipe. We winnowed down the number of pipers from 85 to 16. We started training on May 1 and held our first performance in the school itself on July 29,” he said.

The girls trained for one hour each in the morning and the evening on weekdays and for extended periods during weekends.