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It’s not just a co-curricular activity. Our local marching bands are rising as world champions.
Marching bands are often seen as the instruments of pride and patriotism for a country, tirelessly performing at parades that usually take place during days of importance. In Malaysia, while most of those involved in parades (for example, during Merdeka Day) consist of our national troop units, a portion of them are students from school-level marching bands. These bands do not only perform for national celebrations and private functions, they have also marched their way to international championships abroad and brought home national pride and glory.
The British military played a heavy influence on these bands during their early years of formation, so they were known to be using instruments like the traditional British flute and drums. It was not until the ‘90s when these bands slowly began to adopt to a more contemporary American attribute, which led to notable changes in their marching styles, music and uniforms.
Victoria Institution’s Cadet Corps Band (VICCB) was the first marching band in Malaysia, with its formation dating all the way back to 1909. It is also the oldest marching band in the whole of Southeast Asia. Besides VICCB, Klang High School Cadet Band and St John’s Naval Cadet Band were also amongst the earliest bands formed in this country.
Fast forward to more than a century since its formation, VICCB is still actively performing and soaring high on both national and international grounds. Just last year, the team flew all the way to Denmark to represent Malaysia in the World Association of Marching Show Bands (WASMB). They took top honours in the Drum Battle and third place in the Show Band/Tattoo Competition.
While it is no doubt that these are outstanding achievements, it is even more remarkable to note that this success was secured by a group of young, passionate boys who are juggling band practice and their studies. According to Danish, a tuba player in VICCB, the team usually practices for an average of three hours minimum on a weekday and four hours during the weekend. However, as they draw closer to a competition date, these boys will then go through an intensive 10 to 12 hours of training.
“It feels unbelievable when we win, especially in another country,” says Radzey, who plays the trumpet. Fahad, bass drum player, adds: “When we’re competing, nothing else matters but the show. And it feels amazing to know that all our commitment and sacrifices did not go in vain.”
Besides VICCB, a number of other local marching bands have also made our nation proud in the recent years. In 2014, St. John’s Naval Cadet Band represented Malaysia at the 30th Grand Prix Marching Band (GPMB) in Jakarta, where they performed in front of Indonesia’s top marching bands. On top of that, last year Saint Joseph Show Marching Band (SJSMB) from Kuching, Sarawak triumphed as champions in the US Band Association’s Yamaha Cup at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The band remarkably bagged all of the awards for best colour guard, music, overall effect, percussion and visual for their drill show.
More recently, Keat Hwa Secondary School Marching Band (KHMB) from Alor Star, Kedah emerged as world champions in the World Championship of Marching Show Bands Competition that was held last August in Kuala Lumpur. The band won by a total score of 93.12, beating Chien Kuo High School Marching Band from Taiwan and Marching Band Bahana Sparadha from Indonesia.
Despite these amazing accomplishments, our local marching bands are clearly still far from getting the recognition that they deserve. While the moral support from the community can still be improved, the media coverage on our national and international success is still quite lacking. Perhaps it is time we realise that besides bringing glory to our nation, these marching bands are also a tool for youth empowerment.
According to Danish and Syam from VICCB, being part of the school’s marching band is more than just carrying a great legacy – it is also a platform to gain exposure from other teams and countries that builds up their willpower to improve and succeed. On top of that, similar to military practices, marching bands require a great deal of discipline and commitment, both of which would instil leadership qualities in the band members. In other words, marching bands allow space for character development amongst their members beyond what classrooms could offer, and that is certainly something that Malaysians should further encourage and continuously support.
By Dhabitah Zainal
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