Musician Perry O’Brien is a member of the Band of The King’s Division. He was recently part of a short term training team along with members from the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band sent to Kuwait to assist with music training of the Kuwait Army Band.
The Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band were recently tasked to provide a short-term training team for the development and positive forward direction of the Kuwait Army Band. Aided by members of the Band of The King’s Division, a team of five personnel ventured to the middle-east.
Upon arrival at Kuwait Airport, we were hunted down in the crowd by Kuwaitis from the British Embassy. We were humbly escorted to the VIP lounge to drink Turkish coffee and Chai (drinks we were to consume thousands of during our stay) while our baggage was being retrieved and visas obtained on our behalf. We met with our point of contact who briefed us on local etiquette, discipline and culture before moving to the Moevenpick Hotel. We were very well catered for at the hotel and we could see that the Kuwaitis were very grateful to have us over there.
Our first day with the band added another 12 glasses of Chai (an extremely sweet tea with extra sugar but no milk). We met the band who demonstrated their day-to-day schedule and performed how they usually would. Their ensemble consisted of 2 ‘Maestros’, 17 trumpets, 2 Flutes, 12 Clarinets, 6 saxes, 4 Trombones, 3 Euphoniums, 2 Tubas and a 10-strong percussion section.
Our aim was to focus on the improvement of the ‘Maestro’s’ technique and confidence to enable them to carry on improving the band after we had finished our short time there. This was no easy job for the Director of Music Captain Riley as the Maestros did not speak English. Captain Riley was no silver tongue in Arabic, either! However, the local translators from within the band did a fantastic job of conveying his lessons to the Maestros.
Almost instantly – with the help of the team sitting within the sections, a stern approach to reducing dynamics and the number of musicians performing at one time being decreased – we established the progression of significant musical improvement and our ambitious goal of improving the standard of the Kuwait Army Band soon became vastly more realistic. They already produce an incredibly high standard of pipes and drums so there was no reason why the wind band element could not be as successful.
By the end of the first week, the Kuwait Army Band had demonstrated significant improvement and set up a meeting to perform for the Chief Of General Staff, Kuwait Army. With the help of the brass quintet and under the direction of Captain Riley, the performance was a huge success; The Chief of Staff was very pleased with the improvement of the band and it was clear to see that the work of the training team was having a monumentally positive impact on the standard of musicianship.
Back to the classroom
Over the next couple of weeks, we were hosted by British Officers of the British Military Mission. Our team formed a brass quintet to allow us to perform as a small ensemble whilst we were in Kuwait. We performed with dozens of talented British children to raise money for a charity supporting orphans in Argentina. We also performed at the Raddison Club for the public and one night in the desert near Iraq, with cyalume® (light sticks) being our only source of light – this was the most interesting performance I have ever been involved in.
We were also due to provide musical support at the Queen’s Birthday Party, but this was postponed out of respect for the late Margaret Thatcher.
We visited Kuwait English School and The English School to deliver educational workshops to classes of children. This added another interesting dimension to our already diverse visit. The children thoroughly enjoyed our lessons on all of the instruments, even if it was just the teachers that were old enough to remember “Pigbag”!
Our drivers were on call 24/7 and had our every need catered for before we could even ask. We were made to feel comfortable and welcome everywhere we went, visiting museums, bazaars, beaches, traditional cafés and impressive national buildings. There were only a few square inches of Kuwait city that we didn’t get to see!
Overall, Kuwait offered an extremely interesting and valuable experience to each one of us. Not only did the Kuwait Army Band benefit from the effective and positive direction we delivered, but we gained a wealth of knowledge in return. It was amazing to see the effect we could have on the Kuwait Army Band and to see their improvement as a direct result of our input. I suppose the 35 degree sun, incredible hospitality and interesting culture were the few added bonuses to a very rewarding mission.