The Official British Army Blog

Short term training for Ethiopian National Defence Force band

Captain Frost

Captain E Frost, Director of Music, The Band of The Parachute Regiment has just returned from a three week trip with a Short Term Training Team to train the Ethiopian National Defence Force Band.


Preparations for a Short Term Training Team (STTT) to assist the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) Band began in the middle of December 2012, when a request was received from the Defence Attaché in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the Corps of Army Music to provide a team.  I was tasked with commanding the team that was to include two other members of The Band of The Parachute Regiment (PARA Band) and one member of a TA Band.

The Corps of Army Music had previously provided three other teams to assist the ENDF Band between 2007 and 2011 so the task for the latest team was to build upon the training already delivered.  Liaison with the Defence Attaché established that the ENDF wanted to concentrate on developing their small ensembles, along with anything new that the STTT could bring to them.  The dates were set for a three-week period in February and March 2013 and the British Embassy in Addis Ababa agreed to cover all necessary administration.  All that remained was for me to choose the team.

The first task was to locate a member of a TA Band who had the necessary instructional skills and who was able to attend during the dates set.  After a request to all TA Bands a number of candidates were identified and after much deliberation Sgt Innes, from the Highland Band of The Royal Regiment of Scotland (SCOTS (H) Band), was chosen to be the woodwind instructor.  Drum Major (DMaj) Ryall and Cpl Kilcoyne, both from the PARA Band, were chosen as the brass and percussion instructors respectively.  Additionally, Sgt Innes would assist the ENDF with their understanding of Jazz and Pop music, particularly in relation to their own Ethio-Jazz, while DMaj Ryall would assist with the ENDF Band’s own Drum Majors, Majorettes and Marching Band drill and deportment. Cpl Kilcoyne would be assisting with instrument/equipment care and maintenance as well as IT hardware and software.  My role would be to command the team while teaching general musicianship to the ENDF Band members as well as relevant musical, organisational and command and leadership skills to their officers.

After a long flight the team arrived at Bole International Airport and after negotiating a tricky situation whereby Customs officials wanted to impound Sgt Innes’ saxophone – amid ‘helpful’ comments by other team members relating to whether the officials were music lovers or had heard Sgt Innes before – we were met by our liaison officers from the British Embassy.  We were then escorted to the Intercontinental Hotel, which was to be our home for the next three weeks, and then allowed to recuperate from the journey and adjust to the high temperatures in Ethiopia at this time of year.

Golf among the giant tortoises

Work with the ENDF Band started the very next day and the first two days of training involved meeting with the band’s chain of command, establishing the training required, observing the band in action, and devising a suitable training programme for the entire period.  It was immediately clear that in addition to small ensemble work time would need to be spent with the Marching Band as, like British military bands, this is the ensemble that performs most regularly.  Nonetheless, as the team had been asked to deliver something new as well it was decided that we would concentrate effort on producing a Corps of Drums display as it was felt that this could be a good focus for the band.  Equally, building upon the musicians’ understanding of Pop and Jazz music, a Big Band was formed from the best players available within the trumpet, trombone and saxophone sections.

Members of Ethiopian National Defence Force Band receive training from Capt E Frost.

Week one also included Music Appreciation lessons, delivered by me, on: western music and the components consistent in military music; Marches, their structure and key features; and an introduction to Big Band music and Dance Bands.  Time was also spent with the ENDF Band’s officers on conducting and rehearsal technique, band management, instruction in the use of Sibelius® software (hardware and software for this already provided by the British Embassy) and an examination of military bands from around the world and how they typify their respective nations.  Week one then culminated in an opportunity for the team to enjoy the facilities at the British Embassy compound, where members enjoyed a round of golf among the giant tortoises that roam the estate.

Learning marching band drill and deportment with Drum Major Ryall.

Cocktail Jazz and Frank Sinatra classics

Week two continued the training and included a focus on equipment care and maintenance.  This also allowed the team to advise British Embassy staff regarding equipment that could be procured on behalf of the Ethiopians.  It was also established that the training would culminate in a performance to the General in charge of the ENDF Band’s area of responsibility.  As the British Embassy Defence Attaché wasn’t going to be able to attend this performance he attended a ‘halfway’ performance to view progress and to understandably check that the training was providing value for money.  The team then formed a small jazz combo that performed at a families’ function at the British Embassy at the end of this week.  It was billed as Cocktail Jazz and was fronted by Sgt Innes with some top class improvisation, as this is an area he regularly performs in during his civilian role as a ‘gigging’ musician in Edinburgh.  Sgt Innes then finished the evening with a set of Frank Sinatra vocal items to iPod backing tracks.  This proved a big hit with all attendees, young and old, and saw much dancing and requests for favourite Sinatra classics.  Equally, the Embassy hosted a number of visitors from other nations that night and a group of Americans were particularly impressed to be visiting “…a British pub in an Embassy in Ethiopia, to hear a Scotsman from the British Army sing Sinatra – really well”!

Sgt Innes giving saxophone lessons.

The last week saw the training focus towards the final performance.  The Corps of Drums honed their display under the tutelage of DMaj Ryall (who had previously served in the RLC Corps of Drums) and Cpl Kilcoyne.  Simultaneously, the Big Band were put through their paces by Sgt Innes and myself, and we also introduced them to some simple showmanship to make their final performance all the more impressive.  The final day’s performance to the General included: a new Marching Band display, complete with manoeuvres simple yet effective enough for a 90-piece band to complete; new static performance works; a Corps of Drums display that included ‘sticking’ in the style of the Royal Marines Band Service; a performance by a Saxophone Quartet, ready for background music at function; and the much anticipated inaugural performance by the Big Band.  The latter was enjoyed by all attending – particularly due to some choreographed moves to the strains of Gershwin’s classic Strike Up The Band – and it was evidently enjoyed by the General who promptly ‘High Fived’ me at the end of the performance!  The band and the team then said our farewells in a traditional Ethiopian candle lighting ceremony and over a traditional lunch of national dishes.

The STTT thoroughly enjoyed working with the ENDF Band and it was heartening to see how much progress could be made in such a short space of time.  The Ethiopians were humble, respectful, attentive and appreciative of all training and this made every day with them a genuine pleasure.  The team also got the opportunity to visit some of the area’s cultural sites and restaurants, while also building a sun tan that looked out of place once the team returned to near 0°C temperatures at London Heathrow.

It is hoped that future teams from CAMUS will be able to assist the ENDF Band and that, with the help of the British Embassy in Addis Ababa, the relationship between the two organisations will go from strength to strength.