In part two of the Band of the Scots Guards’ (Corps of Army Music) tour of the USA, principal flautist Sergeant James Dutton tells us about more grand venues, defence diplomacy and visiting some of the greatest natural phenomena in the world.
Monday brought another travel day for the band – this time from Manassas Virginia northwards to Worcester Massachusetts. This represented the furthest north we had come since arriving in the USA, and an end to the retracing of a track up and down the East Coast that we had been following for the past couple of weeks.
It also heralded a rare luxury on this tour, being able to feel relatively stable and stay in the same hotel for three nights! By not living exclusively from a suitcase, it allows a little downtime for us and to recharge our batteries (and not just in our iPads).
The Mechanic’s Hall
Worcester seemed on the surface a town like many others we had visited – but it threw up a number of surprises. The show on Tuesday 29th was in the supremely beautiful Mechanic’s Hall a short walk from the hotel. This is one of the most historic music venues in the United States, and made a welcome change from the theatres that we had been getting used to.
Aside from the radical change of style of venue, we had to alter the show quite substantially, owing to the nature of the hall being designed for orchestral and chamber music performances. Logistically the biggest change was entering and exiting the stage because of the limitations of the narrow steps leading to the stage. Once on stage, room was at a premium! For the second time on this trip we cut the numbers of those marching – this time to 24. However the rest of the band formed up on the choir steps either side of the organ – in a position that was humorously named “Fraggle Rock”!
Despite the changes to the performance, once again it was a rousing success and the audience were generous in their praise. One of the most popular segments in the show is the “Tribute to the Armed Forces” – and the sight of a very elderly woman in the front row rising to her feet, with the help of her walking frame to acknowledge the applause from the audience during the service marches was a very moving sight.
The Boston blowout
The following day was a true day off – no travel and no show. As on previous occasions, we were treated to the opportunity to visit a nearby city for the day. This time it was Boston, one of the most historic cities in America, and the chance was eagerly seized on. I don’t think the drama of our entrance into Boston though had been anticipated! About 20 minutes from our scheduled stop one of the front tyres of the coach decided it didn’t want to remain attached to the rest of the wheel and exploded with a resounding bang and a pungent smell of burning rubber…thankfully the driver Jeremy (who is driving the coach for the Black Watch) proved supremely calm and brought us to a relatively gentle halt at the side of the highway. A Massachusetts State Trooper arrived shortly afterwards followed by a tow truck, which dragged us unceremoniously to a nearby bus depot…
The dramatic entrance didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the day, and several hours were spent exploring the attractions of Boston, including the Freedom Trail which winds through the downtown area from Boston Common to Bunker Hill Memorial.
Another notable feature of the day was the unseasonably warm weather – a near record high of 16C which felt more like spring than winter. However this was to change radically in the coming days!
Shows in Binghamton and Schenectady followed, before we made a 300 mile trip inland to Buffalo, right on the border with Canada and the nearest major town to Niagara Falls. The morning of our departure from Albany was greeted with blue skies and -12C…and the promise of snow to come!
After a brief overnight stop in Buffalo with a show in another magnificent university theatre, we left early for the crossing into Canada. Sometime had been built into the schedule to allow for possible delays, but in the end it proved very quick and took less than 20 minutes. This afforded us a fantastic unplanned visit to see Niagara Falls. In a temperature of -18C and blue skies, with thick snow and ice around it proved just as majestic a sight as it promised to be. At this time of year it takes on an almost otherworldly feel, with icicles perhaps 40ft-long clinging to the rocks and huge blocks of ice being carried inexorably over the waterfall’s edge. A truly memorable visit.
The show in Toronto took place in the world famous Roy Thomson Hall – home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. A truly magnificent venue, it was again a resounding success – and the audience proved just as generous in their donations to the Colonel’s Fund charity as in their praise for the performers – it was a record night for the charity collection.
Our show in Ottawa was also a great success. It was testament to the popularity of the show that someone made a four hour flight to be in the audience! We were delighted to be invited to a reception afterwards hosted by Lieutenant Colonel Fran Chilton-Mackay, the Director of Music of the Governor General’s Foot Guards Band. In 2009, we had the pleasure of working with them during the Bermuda Tattoo, so it was great to be reunited with some familiar faces. We had the morning off in Ottawa before we left for Kingston, so we layered up and braved the -23C of a typical Ottawa morning! The sight of the Rideau Canal frozen over and used as an ice skating commuter route through the heart of the city was probably one of the more unusual sights that we would see on this trip!
Defence Diplomacy also plays an important part in this tour, and we were very fortunate to receive an invitation to provide some background music for a drinks reception hosted by the High Commissioner at their official residence, Earnscliffe. Among the dignitaries present was the American Ambassador to Canada. A wind trio of Colour Sergeant Mike Hernandez (clarinet), me (flute) and Musician Elizabeth Smyth (bassoon) provided entertainment for the guests and were very well received. After another well attended show in Kingston, our brief journey into Canada was over and we had the prospect of another long travel day back in to the USA and Cleveland, Ohio.
Cleveland offered another magnificently well-apportioned venue in the Palace Theatre. The wings were so generous that we were able to form up as a full band offstage without having to wheel into position – a rare treat! Although not the wealthiest of cities, almost everyone in the audience donated what they could to the Colonel’s Fund, making it one of our most successful nights so far.
After two days spent in Cleveland, we endured two long travel days with shows in the evening in both Richmond, Kentucky and Detroit, Michigan before the first internal flight of the trip back down south to MemphisTennessee. This will be the furthest south and west we have been so far on the tour and will provide a change of scenery and climate for the band! We have been lucky so far to miss the worst of the winter weather, and watching the scenes unfold on the TV of the blizzards enveloping the North East of the USA, where we were only a matter of a few days ago, we can be thankful that we weren’t subject to the draconian restrictions on transport that were placed by several states.