A young boy attends his first ever Samelan in a foreign land. Some things are familiar to him. The daily routine, the lessons, the people and of course, the abundant langar. However, when Guru Ji arrives to grace the Samelan grounds for the duration of the camp, something piques his interest. A loud blaring with musical intonations rising and falling in chorus and step with the beating of a large bass drum resonates in the air. Musicians dressed in military style robes form a procession leading the cavalcade that Guru Ji sat it. Who were these people? What were they playing? Curiosity built and the seeds of wonderment were sown into the young boy, named Gur Sevak Singh.

Photo of Sri Dasmesh Band at the 2016 Malaysian Samelan.

As dramatic as it may sound, the above was exactly what happened to Gur Sevak when he was 5 years old and saw the Sri Dasmesh Band perform at a Samelan held in Malaysia. Over the years, while attending Samelans with his siblings and cousins, the performances by the band were among the special highlights and always inspired him to one day make his mark in the art. Finally, in 2015, when Sri Dasmesh Band participated in the World Pipe Band Championships in Scotland for the first time, Gur Sevak was determined to be a part of it the next time they entered into a competition of such a high level!

Photo of Sri Dasmesh Band celebrating their qualification to compete at the World Championships in 2015

Since then, Gur Sevak has been making monthly trips to Malaysia to practice with the band. He also works on the art daily, practicing alone at home and reviewing selfie-videos to learn from his mistakes. Although a challenge, he has been blessed with a few mentors that would provide guidance via emails, calls, face-time or even personal training sessions whenever possible. One of the mentors is the current Sergeant Major of the Sri Dasmesh Band, Mr. Tirath Singh who encourages Gur Sevak to hone his craft and welcomes him warmly whenever Gur Sevak makes the trip to Malaysia. Another mentor is Mr Wey Shi from Singapore based Lion City Pipe Band. Although a competitor to Sri Dasmesh Band, the bonds forged between bands during competitions helped provide Gur Sevak with a local contact to get occasional advice and guidance when faced with an obstacle in his training.

Gur Sevak practicing at home.

To learn the art of bag piping and to be a part of the band, Gur Sevak had to work and save up to afford the equipment and attire. A single bag pipe alone costs between S$1,500 to S$2,000! The attire worn by Sri Dasmesh band members is intricate, with a combination of Sikh and Scottish influences to mould a unique identity.

Gur Sevak in full uniform performing at Naam Ras 2016.

Bag piping is not an easy art to master. Gur Sevak shared that it takes years of practice to build the stamina required for sustained blowing of the instrument. Playing the bagpipe is effectively playing four different instruments. The chanter, two tenor drones and a bass drone. All the while bowing into the bag pipe to keep the air pressure constant which would enable the player to belt out clear musical notes. To top it all off, the Band members have to march in step while playing and taking instruction from the Sergeant Major!

In the last 3 years, Gur Sevak has earned his Novice grading in an individual performance and has been performing with the Sri Dasmesh band at local events such as the Sri Guru Singh Sabha Centennial Celebrations. For now, the band has aspirations to compete in the 2019 World Pipe Band Championships in August and are working to raise funds for the trip!

Gur Sevak (third from left) with Sri Dasmesh Band members at Naam Ras 2016.

While joining the Sri Dasmesh band is a childhood dream realised, Gur Sevak’s penchant for the arts is not limited to music. Gur Sevak is an avid bookbinding enthusiast as well!

Inspired by the character Mortimer, a bookbinder with magical powers, in the novel Inkheart (and movie of the same name), Gur Sevak discovered the practice of bookbinding and sought to understand more about the art form. Since 2013, Gur Sevak has been improving his craft through trial and error, making books for his friends and family. As bookbinding practitioners are few locally, Gur Sevak has to be creative in finding material from scraps and spending time on Youtube looking for tutorials on book binding.

Gur Sevak also posts some of his work on his Facebook and Instagram pages. Earlier this year, he made a unique hand-drawn and -bound diary complete with the entire 2019 calendar!

Gur Sevak explains that books are made of ‘signatures’ of 16 pages made from 4 pieces of paper. He would stack multiple signatures and sew them together with a thick needle and thread, taking care to have an even spacing between the holes and a clean threading. He sews them together with a coptic stitch, adds floral design paper to the insides of the front and back cover, applies glue and covers the binding with leather for a beautiful finish. He also learnt to thin the edges of the leather to make it easier to fold inwards. Aside from leather, he also uses canvas as a cover.

While Gur Sevak has plans to one day attend a diploma in bookbinding in the US, for now he hones his skills by creating gifts for loved ones. Check out his instagram to see more of his work, such as a notebook for his mum and a hard cover for his sister’s copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Photo of the signatures being prepared for a notebook for his mum.
Hard cover for his sister’s copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix using his father’s old leather jacket for material.

While many of us enjoy the more mainstream arts, Gur Sevak has found his talents in paths less travelled and amazes us with his talent and dedication. With so much already accomplished, we look forward to seeing more of Gur Sevak’s creativity coming to life in time to come!