The Pied Piper of Beirut: Forging links with the Lebanese Armed Forces

Corporal Kat BrydonCorporal Kat Brydon talks about the latest visit by the latest Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) training team to the Lebanon.

On Monday 18 May 2015 a group of five CAMUS Musicians embarked upon a Short Term Training Team (STTT) visit to Lebanon together with Pipe Major Josh Bruce from the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming.

The main focus of the trip was to work together with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Band to assist them with their musical training and development. In recent years CAMUS musicians have travelled to several nations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East to deliver similar STTT packages, but this was their first visit to Lebanon; a country which has a very turbulent and colourful history.

Currently Lebanon’s Capital Beirut is undergoing major redevelopment and is relatively safe for foreign visitors to explore but much of the country is suffering from terrible violence spilling over from the conflict in neighbouring Syria.

The team received a very warm welcome from the band and was entertained with a performance of two of the band’s favourite pieces. The Team set to work with a full band rehearsal using some familiar repertoire which they brought with them from the UK under the direction of the team’s leader Warrant Officer Class One (WO1) Bandmaster (BM) Rob Smith.

The team

The band was then split down into sections for some more instrumental specific training with Tuba expert Drum Major (DMaj) Jason Bate, Cornet specialist Sergeant Stuart (Casper) Roberts, Woodwind specialist Corporal Kat Brydon and Percussionist Musician Ben Matthews. WO1 Smith also delivered conducting master classes to the LAF’s Directors of Music, who needed to quickly familiarise themselves with the scores to the new repertoire brought from the UK.

As well as working on their concert wind band repertoire, the LAF Band were keen to expand their marching band and drill capabilities. They were given a fun session of marching band instruction under the guidance of DMaj Bate where they practised new manoeuvres.

One of the main priorities of the STTT is to assist in the establishment of a new bagpipe capability within the LAF Band. This was delivered by Pipe Major Bruce to the LAF musicians who had been specially selected to learn the pipes. They started by learning to build their own set of bagpipes from their component parts and then made incredibly rapid progress in learning to play the pipes.

On Saturday the STTT visited a community based, non-profit music group called The Lebanese Band Association for the Promotion of Music (LeBam). The team were delighted to find that the group had many gifted and enthusiastic musicians, drawn from all sections of the Lebanese community. They come together each week for structured instrumental lessons and band practice.  The group’s instructors were very pleased to show the team around the facilities and let them sit in and observe the instrumental lessons, before being entertained by a rousing bagpipe recital from Pipe Major Bruce. Some of the children even had the chance to try out the bagpipes which caused much amusement.

Rehearsals

After the weekend break it was time to get back to work with the LAF Band and do the final rehearsals and preparation for the concert which took place on Wednesday 27 May at the Officers’ Club in Jounieh, a coastal town slightly to the north of Beirut. The concert was the culmination of all the musical training carried out in the previous week and featured performances by the band’s newly created saxophone quartet, woodwind quartet and brass group amongst concert wind band pieces including Bohemian Rhapsody and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The new bagpipe ensemble performed the traditional favourite Amazing Grace which was a remarkable achievement considering they had only had the pipes for a week. After the concert the STTT were invited for a buffet lunch with the LAF Band’s Officers and then they said their farewells to the band members who had become good friends over the past week.

The team returned to the UK after a very successful period of training with the LAF Band. For Army musicians it is a great privilege to have such an opportunity to travel to other countries and connect with so many people both military and civilian who share their passion for music. Through their hard work and enthusiasm the LAF Band achieved a huge improvement in performance standard in a very short amount of time and it was a privilege to be part of this CAMUS STTT.