Mr H J Ludwig


Mr Ludwig joined St Mary's in 1968 as music master and band leader. Wasting no time, he started to put together a team of musicians. Stories circulated regarding how he found his players. “He picked up a bunch of guys playing marbles outside the gym, stuck a clarinet in their hands and made them blow.” That may not quite explain how we got some of our very talented members, but we shouldn't dismiss the legend entirely. Kevin Kannan recalls: “He made us line up outside the gym and walk past instruments we thought we could play in selection for the orchestra. I had never seen, let alone held a trumpet in my hand before that day. And made the first mistake of creating a disgusting sound when I put the trumpet to my lips. It most certainly was not a note; more like 'letting the wind free'! And Ludwig saying 'Kannan, that is your instrument from now onwards!'”

The first skeleton band consisted of my brother Vivian on violin, yours truly on piano, with Tony Menon and Luis Moniz on 2nd violin. Then came Ernest Flanagan and Marc Correa on clarinet, Edgar Pinto on sax, Kevin Kannan on trumpet, Mike Samarchi on bass, Harvey Almeida on percussion, Lucio Miranda and Brian Saldanha on 3rd violin, Albert James and Zoeb Ukani on clarinet, and Derek Pereira on guitar. In 1969, Peter Samarchi replaced Harvey on drums, and Carl Joshi came on as second guitar.

Ludwig drilled us 4 times each week, religiously. No feast, no occasion was too special. A practice would begin with Scale. A slow scale in C (D for the woodwinds). No musician likes to play scales. But this scale was different. The piano vamped, the double bass thumped a 1-5, the drums had a lively “oom-chuck”—the chuck being the wire brush on the snare drum and pedal cymbal on the off-beat. On the descending scale, Ludwig played a descant on the violin. Listen—.

The very next beat launched “German,” formally Untern Linden, a folk song from his semi-native Germany (semi-native because he had no hint of a German accent, reportedly hailed from Lucknow, and had probably spent most of his life in India). Next in the warm-up medley was Goethals —the University of Wisconsin's fight song, adapted as an anthem by Goethals Memorial School in Kurseong, whose praises Ludwig constantly sang while denigrating SMS (of course when he went to Goethals later, it was the other way around). And finally our own St. Mary's Anthem , which at the time was a rather unattractive corruption of the Irish pub song, The Merry Ploughboy. The Potato Song, he called it.

There were the march and waltz medleys, originally conceived for performance at sports. The waltzes began with Copenhagen, slipping into Hi Lili, My Baby's Coming Home, Skaters Waltz, Cuckoo, and Stay Ladies Stay from Ali Baba and the 40 Black Sheep . The marches were less organized. There was NEP1 and NEP2, presumably tunes that Ludwig picked up in Kurseong. Legion, the French Military Marching Song from Sigmund Romberg's Desert Song, and Merry Playmates.

Ludwig put together some new sequences while at SMS: pop tunes from Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. Delilah, I'll Never Fall in Love Again, A Man Without Love, Help Yourself. He teased Edgar Pinto about his love life, and gave him the lead line on the sax on some of these numbers. There was also a sequence we didn't practice often and never made it into the school concerts: Now is the Hour, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehn, The World is Waiting for a Sunrise, You Are My Heart's Delight (Dein ist mein ganzes Herz).

Thanks to the wind instruments, we'd get a 10 minute break once or twice during a practice. Ludwig would roll a cigarette and mouth off about politics or school policy. He was uniformly critical of everything. “When God made the world,” he said, “he forgot about Mount Abu. Just look at the hills—he left the rocks lying around in the open.”

Ludwig had a heavy hand to go with that heavy tongue. He had no use for my delicate “Trinity College” style. The hapless piano didn't have much resonance in its sound board, so it had to be slammed. With a cigarette between his fingers (that left some trademarks on the ivory), Ludwig demonstrated. Slam, bang, kaboom. “That's the way, give it some body,” he'd say as he added a sixth to the I and IV chords. “If you don't watch out, I'll have my monkey play at the concert. With his toes.” That warning came between copious slaps, and cracks on the head with his bow.

Vivian got special treatment. Being in the Senior Cambridge class, he was not “forced” to belong to the band, but he didn't have the heart not to join up. So there he was at every practice, with a Louis L'Amour western on his music stand, playing flawlessly from memory, pausing only to turn the pages on his book. Right under Ludwig's nose.

But for the rest of us it was German discipline. Mike Samarchi was a big guy in Class 9, with a shock of Beatles hair. One Sunday morning his team was playing the A Division cricket finals, so he decided he wouldn't come to band practice. Mistake. Band practice didn't yield to anything. Ludwig sent for him, walked him around the room unleashing a flurry of king sized smacks, reducing Mike to tears. I was a little guy in Class 6, and I was awestruck.

Mike had a great touch on the double bass. He stood right behind the piano soundboard. He, the drummer and I were responsible for keeping the beat, so we had to make eye contact constantly. And since my bass notes and Mike's part ran in parallel, we colluded on adding ornaments to the score sometimes. Ludwig couldn't formally allow us to take liberties, but he liked the touches and pretended never to have heard.

Derek “Baker” Pereira was another big guy. He and Carl Joshi played electric guitar, but spent much of their time trying to get their amplifier to work. One Sunday morning Baker brought in his .177 air rifle. Ludwig had a .22 of his own. “Let's see that,” he said to Baker. “Go stand behind that date palm.” Ludwig aimed and fired off a few pellets at the tree. Baker could have wet his pants. He couldn't decide whether he wanted to look to see what was happening, or stay totally covered.

One afternoon Fr Bonaventure and the Principal dropped by while we were practising. Bonny was about 65, his long Sunday sermons used to drive Ludwig nuts, and Ludwig complained that when Bonny sprinkled holy water, it would hit him in the eye. Now Bonny picked up a baton of some sort, and in his heavy French accent, eyes twinkling at the orchestra, said “Oh that was lovely, come on, let's play it again: one, two, three ...” He started to conduct, and dutifully we started to play. Ludwig was livid. He shut down the performance and made it clear to the visitors that they'd have to leave.

The gym was Ludwig's workshop. It was also the concert hall at the time. Before the 1968 concert, Ludwig ordered music stands and stools to be custom made, each suited to the height and instrument of the player. They were painted grey, and school crests were painted in green and gold on the front of each stand. The grey stools had green borders around the seat.

When it was all done, to military standards of perfection, Ludwig came up with a special touch. He painted on the seat of each stool an original nickname, in great big brush strokes. The paint wasn't quite dry by concert time, and it left some indelible memories on our pants.

The concert was simply perfection. For a man in his 60s, Ludwig stood ramrod straight. He never spoke a word to the audience or to us, just led the proceedings with the violin. In 1968 we were putting up the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta Aladdin. The orchestra opened the show and we played between acts.

Ludwig had some classic sayings. To the clarinets on playing a wrong note: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”  Basic living advice: “Never suppress a sneeze.” He even had advice on ... call it indigestion: “Wherever you be, whether land or sea, let the air go free.”

He ran the Singing period for middle school. On Day 1 he separated those who would sing in tune from those who wouldn't. The non-singers stood in formation doing absolutely nothing while the singers worked through those Engelbert and Tom Jones tunes. Later Ludwig decided he ought to give the idle fellows something to do, so he had them pick up a bunch of head-size rocks and deposit them on the other side of the gym stairs. They figured they were helping a building project, so they quite enjoyed it. Till the following week, when he had them transfer the rocks back.

It was during the last choral session that we were introduced to these lyrics to Red River Valley:

“From this stage you will see we are going
Do not hasten to bid us adieu
But remember the boys of St Mary's
And we'll remember you too”

... in which we were instructed to substitute “boys” with something endearing like mochis or gariwalas.

Ludwig stayed two years in Abu. The musicians trained those two years went on to anchor the orchestra for another 4 years under Br McCarthy and Mr AP Correia, after which it “disbanded” (sorry!).

He was harsh, irreverent, and many other unsavoury things. But for all the cracks from his violin bow, I remember Ludwig with fondness, and not the slightest hint of resentment. I learned a lot from the man, and I'm left with deep gratitude and respect. He taught me the difference between playing by rote from scripted music and playing from a sense of harmonic structure in the head. In 1981, several years after finishing school, I took a detour off a trip to Delhi, on an overnight train to Dehra Dun, to visit him. He was in his 70s then, living in a single room on a remote stretch of Rajpur Road. He came out squinting against the sunshine while he tried to place me. “Who's that? Oh, Paderewski!” A nickname he gave me the first time we met—Paderewski was a Polish composer/pianist. We didn't talk very long, maybe an hour. I was much too young to find the words that might have been said to someone I was probably seeing for the last time. A month later I flew overseas to study, and we never communicated again.

I've been able to contact another of the Ludwig pianists, who played at Goethals in the 1950s. I hope this article will bring together some of the other Ludwig-trained musicians from other Indian schools, to share Ludwig stories. Maybe they'll hit one of the song titles above in a search engine, and we'll find each other.

—Val Noronha (1973)