Celebrating 160 years of the Guyana Police Force Band’s legacy
IT was Billy Joel who said “I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” This statement holds true for the Guyana Police Force Military Band, which has over the past 160 years of its existence, has won the hearts and admiration of Guyanese from all walks of life.
As the band celebrates its 160th anniversary this year, we will take a look in this week’s Government in Action into its history, how it has impacted Guyanese culture and the national and international recognition that has been earned.
Celebrating 160 years
On August 29, 2018, President David Granger hosted a special luncheon to celebrate the milestone of the Guyana Police Force Band at the Baridi Benab at State House. As he reminisced on the pleasures of growing up seeing the band bring joy to hundreds of faces across the country, he also pledged his support and that of the Government of Guyana to what he called “a national institution.”
President Granger noted that the Police Force’s Band has become a state establishment which has served the Guyanese people well.
“The Force has built up a formidable reputation not only in Guyana but also in the Caribbean and even as far as the UK and it has produced a great number of talented musicians. The band has had an important role in the development of Guyanese culture because it is the best band in the land. The fact that the band has been awarded a National Award signifies the seriousness with which the State has taken the role, which the band has performed,” he said.
The President expressed the hope that the band can become decentralised, with a presence in all of the ten administrative regions.
“The band doesn’t just have a proud past; it also has an important future. Youngsters who are interested in playing music in all of the villages and regions are encouraged to emulate the Guyana Police Force Military Band. It will be such a great thing to be able to go to a region and see that every region has a major police division and every police division has a band. Some of the members may be volunteers, young apprentices. I would like to feel that the Police Band, as a national institution, shouldn’t do so much travelling as it has to do now. It should be able to stimulate the growth of divisional bands throughout the Police Force. It is possible that young people can be encouraged. On the part of the Government of Guyana, I commit myself…This is a national institution and it deserves national support from a national president,” he said.
History of the Band
But one may ask, what is the history and rationale behind the Guyana Police Force Band and what has been its accomplishments over the past 160 years?
The band was established on August 22, 1858, and was initially named the British Guiana Militia Band. At that time, it boasted a complement of one band master, who was Mr Christian A. Ahrens, one band sergeant and twenty band privates.
According to retired Assistant Police Commissioner and former band master and Director of Music, Mr Cecil Bovell, the Band–the only one of its kind at that time– was a proper playing unit and for these purposes, was consigned to the Mayor and Town Council in 1870.
Though the Band faced many challenges, among the highlights of its accomplishments and history was playing at a cricket match in 1884 for Prince George, who later went on to become King George. Prince George was serving as Junior Officer aboard the HMS Britannia when it visited Guyana. A cricket match was arranged between the ship’s crew and a team from the Georgetown Club and the band was tasked with playing selected scores from the ship’s band library at intervals on the day of the match.
“The renditions of the Band passed all expectations and the captain, Prince George and his officers were so pleased and impressed that they cheered the band repeatedly. The people present were hysterical over such royal recognition of the band’s performance that they too started cheering the band for its excellent work and so that’s where we started,” Mr Bovell explained.
Three years later, the band moved from 21 persons to 35 persons due to its growing popularity. In 1924, under the direction of W Fawcett, it played at an exhibition at Wembley, England and placed second. In April 1935, the band master changed and Lieutenant Sydney Henwood took over. Sometime later, the British Guiana Militia regimen was disbanded and became attached to the British Guiana Garrison–the military base–but Henwood maintained its identity as the British Guiana Militia Band.
“Then in 1956, legislation was passed that the band must be attached to either the British Guiana Volunteer Force or the British Guiana Police Force for salary structure and so by 1957, the band was drafted into the Police Force. Members were given the option to swear in as policemen or resign. Ninety per cent of the band were sworn in and given regimental numbers. Henwood opted to resign and leave. By 1965, P G Small formed the core drums and the aim behind that was to ease the workload on the military band. In 1966, Mr Small was appointed band master with the rank of superintendent. In 1969, the band left for Expo ’69 in Grenada,” the former Director of Music noted.
In 1996, the band was awarded a national award– the Medal of Service– for long, dedicated and outstanding service to the nation in the field of entertainment and training of musicians.
Today, the band is headed by Superintendent Charmaine Stuart, who, in August 2016, created history by becoming the first female to become the Director of Music and Culture in the band’s entire existence and served as the Force’s Band Mistress. She has taken over a band that has approximately 35 members, approximately nine of whom are women, including the superintendent, who is a clarinet player.
The other sections of the band complex include the Steel Pan, String, Choir, Choral and Drum sections.
According to President Granger, the band has become a prominent feature at every major event in Guyana, whether it be the Independence Flag Raising ceremony, the Republic Anniversary, a national observance or even at the commemoration of the death anniversaries of former Presidents and other dignitaries.
“This band has produced a number of talented musicians. Even to now, it is difficult to imagine any major national function at which the Guyana Police Force Military Band is not present. From being a 700-year-old tradition on the battlefield for purely military purposes of advancing troops to battle, it has now become an important ceremonial and cultural tool which the whole country looks forward to,” he said.
The Head of State noted that the band has played a significant role in shaping the cultural and musical landscape in Guyana and this is proven in the number of requests which the band receives on a daily basis.
The band has doubled its pace in maintaining the Force’s commitment to the nation through music and culture and supporting local, national and international events. More recently, the Guyana Police Force Military Band has become synonymous with carol-singing at the Ministry of the Presidency during the Christmas season as well as visits for the Head of State’s birthday.
Woman superintendent, Charmaine Stuart, Director of Music and Culture at the Guyana Police Force Band, said the band has planned activities in Linden, Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara in observance of its milestone.