SINGAPORE - When Singapore's oldest school band was launched 60 years ago, it had only three types of instruments - the bugle, drum and a high-pitched flute called the fife.
And with neither coach nor conductor, the 48 boys in the St Patrick's School group had to teach each other how to march and make music.
On Monday, 120 boys, headed by their resident conductor, gave a concert at the Esplanade to mark the award-winning band's 60th anniversary.
Among the audience of 1,600 will be several of the band's pioneers, such as Mr Edmund Rodrigues. "Getting it going was a challenge," said the 73-year-old, who played the bass drum.
While the school's records list the band as officially starting in March 1953, Mr Rodrigues admitted that it was only three years later that it got off the ground. Most other schools in Singapore only started setting up their bands from the 1960s.
The St Patrick's band bought their instruments using a $20,000 donation from the businessman father of a band member.
Mr Rodrigues was one of the few among the original members who could read music. "We were a raw group, and most played by ear," he said. "Those who could read music would teach the rest."
He went on to teach for 38 years at St Patrick's, a Catholic school which in its early days attracted a significant number of Eurasian students.
Another early bandmember, Mr Robert Scully, said what was important was the camaraderie the boys shared.
"We were a group of young guys, good friends. It was a fun thing," recalled the 72-year-old, who was a merchant ship captain for 20 years. He played the side drum. "When I hear how the band has grown and won so many competitions, I feel really proud."
Some bandmembers went on to study music or made it a career, including the group's conductor, Mr David Anthony Glosz, who has been in charge since 1984.
The 53-year-old played the clarinet and is the band's second conductor.
He has also conducted bands in at least 20 other schools, including St Andrew's Secondary and Catholic High School.
Under his baton, the St Patrick's band has been earning top recognition at the Singapore Youth Festival competitions since 1990, winning record consecutive gold and gold with honours awards.
"But it's never been about winning," said Mr Glosz. "I'm most proud when I see old boys come back and perform. I'm proud when one of my ex-students messages me and asks if his Primary 1 son can join the band."
He added: "We take anyone who wants to play music and learn an instrument."
He revealed that more than half of the 54 Secondary 1 students who joined the the band this year did not have a music background.
Their concert on Monday also featured performances from alumni, including former drummer Marvin Khoo.
The 30-year-old, who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and is now also a school band conductor, said: "It was the fun of performing with people that led to a love for music."
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