Life changing experiences in Malawi, Botswana and South Africa

Corps of Army Music

Corporal Simon Lindley, Corps of Army Music Short Term training team member

Corporal Simon Lindley is a trombonist and singer in the Corps of Army Music. His current role is Force Development Assistant at the HQ of Army Music.  He and a number of other members of the Corps of Army Music recently went to Malawi, Botswana and South Africa as part of a short term training team to help develop the musical capabilities of  the Armed Forces in those countries.

Army Music training team visits Malawi, Botswana and South Africa

Malawi

The Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team (STTT) led by Warrant Officer Class One Shane O’Neill arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi after a 14-hour flight via Johannesburg. With lots of queuing in airports in between, we finally arrived at the Sunbird Hotel, where the team relaxed and prepared for a rewarding 2 days work with The Malawi Defence Force Band (MDF Band). The team arrived at the 2nd Battalion Malawi Defence Force camp in Lilongwe, home of the MDF band and were introduced by their Director of Music, Captain Levison Chisambi, himself a graduate of the Royal Military School of Music Bandmasters course.

The team quickly became acquainted with members of the Band and sat down to join in with their full band rehearsal. Part way through the morning the OCs of both our team and the MDF Band left to go on a recce for a joint engagement for a charity golf event for the Malawi War Veterans charity. Rehearsals for the engagement continued under the direction of Sergeant John Storey and myself.  After lunch we each took sectional rehearsals of the MDF Band working on music for the engagement, as well as covering some basic musicianship skills, and answering questions on a variety of subjects. After a hard day’s work we returned to the hotel for a well-earned rest.

With part of the day free before the engagement at the British High Commissioner’s residence the we took the opportunity to visit Lake Malawi, which was an amazing site and also visited a local village community market and saw first-hand the talented people had carved wooden gifts to sell for their community. After returning to Lilongwe the team headed to work where both the brass quintet and the wind quartet provided musical entertainment to all the guests as well as performing the all important national anthems of Malawi and Great Britain. We were then invited to enjoy some fish and chips and chatted with various guests before retiring to the hotel. A second day of training with the MDF band went ahead, with final preparations for Saturday’s joint engagement being the focus. After a full band rehearsal the team again took sectional rehearsals continuing to work with the MDF Band on music as well as covering instrumental maintenance. At the end of the day the team all had photos with our new friends in the MDF Band.

The War Veterans Commemoration Event at Lilongwe golf club, which was attended by many senior MDF officers as well as the British High Commissioner and the newly elected Vice President of Malawi, was a great success. The band provided musical entertainment all morning on the 18th green and then further music was provided during dinner by the wind quartet. At the end of this joint engagement with the MDF Band, the team said fond farewells to our new friends in the MDF band and returned to the hotel to pack for the drive to Blantyre in southern Malawi. Next day we  packed up and headed off in our two trusty vehicles fully loaded with bags and instruments on the six-hour drive to Blantyre… After some excellent navigation, we arrived 9 hours later with 4 tired drivers who had to show their off road skills on multiple occasions and good use of the emergency stop to avoid goats that appeared to have suicidal tendencies as we travelled through the country. After checking in to our second hotel, the team settled for the evening. On the 9th June we went to Blantyre hospital to work with the Sound Seekers Charity providing music for the event and working with hearing impaired people helping them to have fun and express themselves with various musical instruments, a very worthwhile cause and a satisfying day was had by all.

Corps of Army Music training team

Training by the Corps of Army Music short term training team

Johannesburg

Arriving safely in Johannesburg after flying from Blantyre, the wind quartet were straight out on an engagement, at the British High Commissioner’s residence in Pretoria whilst the rest of the team enjoyed their new surroundings. The team met with the South African National Defence Force Ceremonial Guards Band based in Pretoria for a day of training. After watching the Band perform a marching display and small ensemble performance we and the SANDF CG Band joined up for full band rehearsal under the direction of our Bandmaster and enjoyed another successful day. There is a high degree of satisfaction when both the training and rehearsals go so well.

On 12th June  the brass quintet performed at the British High Commission in Pretoria over lunch before the whole team headed to the Soweto Theatre to spend the afternoon working with local musicians. Next day, with part of the day free, the team took the opportunity to take in some of the recent history of South Africa visiting the Constitution Hill Museum and Court  and learning much about the country’s transition from apartheid to democracy. Later that evening we supported another Dinner Night before retiring for the evening.

The next day we began the drive north towards Botswana stopping en route to spend part of the day with Modderspruit Sunrise Hospice who work with children and families living with HIV and Aids. This was without doubt the most harrowing and moving part of the whole trip, but it was a privilege to be able to provide a little entertainment and ‘musical therapy’ for the children and families living with this disease.  The end of the visit culminated in the performance of the British and South African National Anthems, the children gathered together and sang their anthem as we played. Having performed anthems at both Wembley and Twickenham, I can guarantee that these pale in comparison to the passion and energy for life that the children sang with. Very moving.

Community engagement by the Corps of Army Music

Modderspruit Sunrise Hospice

Before continuing on to Botswana, the team took the chance to go on an early-morning game drive taking in some of the wildlife of South Africa in their own environment. After enjoying the spectacular sights and sounds, the team continued the journey to Garbarone in Botswana, arriving at the hotel late in the afternoon.

On the 16th June the team spent the day with the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) Band Garbarone, after introductions the team assisted with an Officer Commissioning Parade rehearsal and provided feedback to the band afterwards. In the afternoon the bandmaster took a full band rehearsal of the parade music, then later in the evening the team joined with the BDF Band performing a concert for the Officer Cadets.

Next day it was the turn of  the brass quintet who performed at a Queen’s Birthday Party at the British High Commission enjoying some traditional British food and providing background music. Our final day of training with the BDF Band proved to be an interesting one, despite major issues with a power cut the team still managed to provide some tuition to the various sections of the band. The team were later taken on a tour of the BDF zoo where they keep animals for the purposes of training and educating their soldiers about wildlife they may encounter in the field.

The team with a statue of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg

The team with a statue of Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg

After leaving presentations and photos with the BDF Band the team headed back to the hotel for a final meal and to pack for the journey home. The team packed up the vehicles and drove from Botswana back to Johannesburg for the flight back to the UK. The team arrived home full of amazing memories, life-changing events and feeling thoroughly satisfied that we had completed the trip and leaving the musicians we trained with plenty of new skills and things to think about over the coming months.

 

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Army Rock and Pop music mixes with Monster Trucks

 

Singer Corps of Army Music

Lance Corporal Suzy Pearce Corps of Army Music a singer in the Band of the Army Air Corps

Lance Corporal Suzy Pearce is a singer in the Band of the Army Air Corps, one of the newly formed Rock and Pop Bands of the Corps of Army Music. The Band were recently centre stage along with the monster trucks at this year’s TRUCKMANIA at Beaulieu, where the Army was also showing off some of its vehicles to the public.

TRUCKMANIA! With the Band of the Army Air Corps

Setting up

On Saturday 24 May the Band of the Army Air Corps (Corps of Army Music) travelled down to Beaulieu Motor Museum in Hampshire in order to provide musical support to “Truckmania” alongside other Army recruiting agencies.

The weekend had been long awaited by those drawn to monster trucks, and once we arrived our two vans were dwarfed by these huge vehicles and the deep tyre marks stamped into the ground. But for once it was nice to see these tyres actually on the trucks they were intended for, rather than watching them being flipped and pushed around by the Parachute Regiment during PT back in Colchester…

We were appointed a troop carrying vehicle which was parked on a grassy bank facing the main arena alongside the rest of the Army trucks, and there we began unloading.

Bands are often faced with problems when it comes to outside engagements, the weather being the most obvious, but today the sun was on our side, however, the lack of power was not. The question “Do you need power?” which came as the PA, amps, monitors, drum kit, guitars and keyboards got hauled onto the truck did cause a heavy silence and disbelieving glances throughout the band, but in true Army style a generator was produced from somewhere and we were able to continue unfazed. With the sound check complete we retired back to barracks to relax before the main event.

Band of the Army Air Corps

The Rock and Pop Band of the Army Air Corps, Corps of Army Music, entertaining the crowds at Truckmania 2014

In comes the public

The gates opened at 10am on Sunday and the first truck the public encountered as they walked in was Optimus Prime from Transformers. Although it may not transform, it brought a smile to many an adult and childs face, as did the fancy dress Bubblebee happily posing with families. Even our Band Sergeant Major was eager to get his picture taken in Optimus Prime’s driver’s seat.

Optimus Prime

The Band Sergeant Major with Optimus Prime from The Transformers movie

 

Back in the Army area, people enjoyed looking at the various trucks and rocket launcher, although a clear favourite was the inflatable assault course which attracted quite a few excitable children…and dads.

One of the main events of the day was the awesome ‘Big Foot’, whose massive tyres effortlessly crushed the scrap cars which had been lined up for sacrifice. The crowd cheered enthusiastically every time Big Foot trampled them further into the ground, although there was a chuckle when one of the (now flat) estate car boot’s slowly opened in an act of defiance towards the end.

 

Big Foot

Big Foot entertains the crowd at Truckmania 2014

Throughout the day our musical sets were accompanied by revving engines, air horns and the hum of generators around us. The only unwanted sound was the silence of our own power supply when it inconveniently decided to take a break just before our last set. Luckily an engineer was on hand to help us and we began for the final time that day, much to the relief of our Bandmaster and the crowd that had stopped to sit on the grass and listen to us. It was particularly rousing to see the other members of the Army climb on top of their trucks and take a break for a little while to enjoy the music and clap along.

The weather turns nasty

Bank holiday Monday began with high morale at breakfast as the band assessed each others windburn from the day before. Unfortunately, the weather was too bad to play our first set of the day, so we took the time to visit the National Motor Museum which holds over 250 motor vehicles, reflecting the history of the car on the roads and circuits of Britain. One car which particularly caught the eye of visitors was “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” from Ian Fleming’s classic children’s book, complete with the wings folded underneath.

Spectators armed with multi-coloured waterproofs seemed undeterred by the rain and continued to enjoy the activities available. These ranged from Mini Truck World in the Grand Marquee where remote controlled vehicles could be seen in action, to the free dodgems which were also a highlight.

By lunchtime the rain had permanently set in, so the sponsors decided that due to health and safety reasons we were best to pack down and get on our way before the ground became too churned up to leave.

It was unfortunate that we were unable to give further musical support to the other Army stands who were continuing to work hard in Gortex, but we were still pleased with the response we had gained the day before.

The future

It was a great opportunity to participate in such an enthusiastically received event. We were able to demonstrate the new capabilities of the Corps of Army Music to both public and Army alike and we look forward to continuing this at similar events in the future.

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Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Bandmaster in Afghanistan

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn, Bandmaster from the Corps of Army Music

Part 2

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn is a Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music. She has performed music at venues around the world and in front of Royalty on many occasions. She is now assigned to work with the Afghan National Army at their Officers’ Academy in Kabul.

International World Women’s Day at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Two months in – five to go

Well, I am in my second month at Camp Qargha and everything is going well. My fears of coping in this small vicinity and with a small amount of comforts have been allayed. We are very lucky to be able to receive post from friends and family, and from internet companies that will deliver to a British Forces Post Office. Receiving post generates enormous morale for everyone here, whether you have received a letter from a loved one, or a box full of toiletries from your mum. It’s amazing how grateful you can be for a nice bottle of shower gel!

Women’s Day

At the beginning of March, I was very honoured to represent our site at the Afghan National Army celebrations for International Women’s Day. It was amazing to see how many women were involved in the Afghan Armed Forces, including the first Afghan female pilot. The Afghans are obviously very passionate about Women’s rights and quite insistent on developing roles for women in all services.

Generating lesson plans in multiple dialects

I have many responsibilities here at Qargha, but mainly deal with the production and development of lessons for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. As you can imagine the lessons for its 42-week course consist of anything from Foot Drill to Afghan Military Tactics. The British Army and partner nation forces mentors immerse themselves in the Afghan doctrine (policy) and write the lessons. Obviously, the lessons are written in English, and, although the Officer Cadets learn English as part of their course, all lessons have to be translated. The Afghanistan population speaks many different dialects, often depending on what part of the country they are from. Dari and Pashto are the two most spoken dialects, but the Academy has chosen for all lessons to be in Dari. Although I cannot speak Dari (apart from ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’), I find that I can recognize certain words and I have even learnt how to write ‘hello’ – سلام.

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Small location could drive you mad

It is amazing how many different people you meet whilst on operations, in a camp that is only the size of a few football pitches. As I mentioned previously, there are partner nations here, such as Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian, Danish and American who perform many different roles.

I have to say, my favourite section is the dog section. I have a Springer Spaniel called Tyler and I miss him very much; fortunately I am able to visit the dog compound and give all the dogs a fuss.

esther3

Kenzie the Springer Spaniel who used to visit me. He has now gone back to Camp Bastion

I think the most interesting part of the job is being able to talk to the Afghans, both military and civilian, learn about their families, what type of house they have, and even the type of cars they drive (usually a Toyota!) It is only unfortunate that we are unable to explore the surrounding areas a bit more, and see life on the streets of Kabul for ourselves. Nevertheless, I am content with my surroundings and the beautiful view of the Kabul mountains as the snow slowly melts in the gradually warming spring weather. The job is not too bad either!

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Army music making in Ethiopia

Musn K Compson

Lance Corporal Kayleigh Compson, Corps of Army Music

Lance Corporal Kayleigh Compson is currently assigned to the Band of the Scots Guards, part of the Corps of Army Music. She is normally seen in red tunic and bearskin on major ceremonial events around London but volunteered to go to Ethiopia with a Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team.

Week 1

What we did for music in Ethiopia

On day one the Ethiopian National Defence Force Band (ENDFB) were on the parade square demonstrating their marching band and Corps of Drums. This helped establish a starting point for training and areas that we could develop and expand upon. We were very impressed with their marching and how they played together as a band. The Corps of Drums was very polished and impressive. This led us to break down into smaller groups for sectional rehearsals. Instrument maintenance is very basic within the band, so we also each gave a lesson on how to clean and look after instruments correctly, and to make best use of equipment they have within their stores.

On the second day our Bandmaster Warrant Officer Class Justin Teggarty gave the ENDF Band a Power Point presentation on CAMUS, our role and the effect of Western military music. They were all interested in learning about our bands and asked lots of questions afterwards about the different groups which the army has and were very pleased to see that the British army had pop groups. We then all came together and had our first full band rehearsal. We had brought along the hymn Abide With Me the band played this extremely well. Their own conductor conducted this piece and the Bandmaster would give useful points how to rehearse a band to get the best out of the musicians.

Next day arrived and we could hear all the sections practising the warm-ups we had gone through with them on the Tuesday. This was very pleasing to hear. The morning was spent with the BM giving them an insight into Western music. They enjoyed learning out how our music had evolved and they liked listening to our music over the years. We then went out on the parade square and the Lance Sergeant took them through some drill. This included slow marching and breaking into quick time, without any instruments.

Week 2

Solos were outstanding

On the following Monday morning we were introduced to their Big Band. The Ethiopian band has a great passion for jazz and big band music so we thought we would give them In The Mood (Glenn Miller) to learn and work on. After lunch we briefed the band about the ‘Flashmob’ idea (Something CAMUS has successfully delivered across the UK in 2013) and they were all really keen to do it. Their CO Colonel Kilbrom, had the perfect place for them to perform, and everyone including the staff were excited The big band were putting their final touches to In The Mood. They clearly had been practising as the piece sounded great and the solos were outstanding. We then took the Big band outside and they performed it to the remainder of the band. This was the first time they had performed a new ensemble to their peers and it went down a storm.

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ENDFB Big Band rehearsing Glenn Miller’s In The Mood.

During the trip the ENDF Band made history, and performed their flashmob at the Ethiopian National Defence Force Army Ground Force Headquarters. Once we arrived at the camp the band got into their positions and hid from the rest of the camp. I started off with a ‘drummers call’ to sound that something was happening. People came out of their offices, out of the coffee shop and surrounded the parade square. One off the Ethiopian Band drummers came to the centre of the parade square to play the solo at the start of Highland Cathedral. Section by section the band came out until eventually the whole band was there. The flashmob was a great success and the band said they would do this again around the city.

Three miles to get to school

On one of our days off we travelled to the Menagesha Suba National Forest Park. This forest was the first National Park in Africa and dates back to the 15th century. After almost three hours of travelling in our 4×4, we finally got to the forest. We then travelled a further 5kms through the forest by vehicle and then walked the rest of the way through the forest and up the mountains. The views were breathtaking from 3080m above sea level. The air was very thin and we all admitted we found it harder to breath. Along the way we managed to get talking to some children who lived up in the mountains.

They were more than happy showing us around, telling us about their lives in the mountains and how they have to walk three miles to get to school each day. On the way back from the mountains we travelled through vast areas where transport was horse and cart, children were carrying wood for fires, women and children were walking for miles to get to the water pumps, carrying at least 3 water containers each. We all were extremely shocked, and the mood changed in the vehicle to be more subdued. We had only seen city life in Ethiopia so far, but today we saw what living in Africa is really like.

Week 3

We were now on our final week of the three-week tour this week was all about putting the final touches on to the performance that will be shown on Friday morning. We started off with full band where we were working on the Mask of Zorro. The band was only used to marching so all their music is played at the same tempo and in a similar style. For the parade on Friday we wanted to start the marching display off with a fanfare. The fanfare we chose was from the opening of Olympiada by Samuel Hazo.

The afternoon was spent with some new recruits from the Somali region of Ethiopia. These recruits are based at the camp for two years to learn how to play an instrument, read music and march. The Bandmaster gave them a presentation on ‘Practice and Performance’. All the information was completely new to them but it was a presentation that will be a great help to them in the future. This morning started off with a session of full band where we worked on the fanfare from the day before. This will be played outside on marching band so the percussion were trying to learn it off by heart.

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ENDFB Marching band rehearsal

We then went outside and Lance Sergeant Vertigan took us through his ideas for the marching display. The band hadn’t really done any complex moves before so this was exciting for them. The Drum Majorettes had a lot of pressure on them for this display as they were leading the band.

We had a recommendation from the embassy to go to an Ethiopian restaurant. We were not disappointed when we got there. The food was amazing and an Ethiopian band and dancers performed all night, even when the power went out. We were all shocked at how energetic their dancing is and even a couple of us got up to have a go. Our dancing didn’t last very long as we soon realised we weren’t very good at it. We all went home feeling extremely full and had a great evening. On our final day we all had mixed emotions. We were all looking forward to the final ceremony but also knew that this was the end of a fantastic three weeks.

Emotional goodbyes

We had grown close to the band and were sad to be leaving them. We got to the camp and did a rehearsal of the ensemble pieces and the marching band. The band then put on their extremely bright green and red uniforms and started warming up before the guests arrived. Lots of guests were coming to the show, including the Defence Attaché of the British Embassy, Colonel Mike Scott. The Commanding Officer of the camp Colonel Kilbrom, all the training instructors of the band and all of the Somali Police recruits were there to watch.

The ensembles were played perfectly, we all couldn’t have been more proud of them. The guests then had some traditional coffee while the band got ready for marching band. The marching band was a great success they had remembered everything we had taught them. Their marching and the music were faultless. As the parade came to a close the Defence Attaché presented some of the seniors of the band with some certificates we had made for the band. We then all went up one by one and got presented a traditional Ethiopian shirt, and the women also got a scarf. We all were extremely grateful and humbled to be receiving gifts. The guests left and we were told to put on our gifts as we presented the band with our presentation. We had got them a CAMUS plaque and we had made a picture collage of photos we had taken throughout the three weeks. They like the photos and were all keen to find themselves on it.

It was then time to leave; we packed up our office and said some very emotional goodbyes. The STTT have had an amazing three weeks here in Ethiopia and we have all said we could come back here in a heartbeat. Not only have we given our knowledge and experience to the band, we have made some great friends here. We all are looking forward to returning to the UK but secretly wish we were staying for longer.

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The Corps of Army Music Short Term Training Team Ethiopia 2014

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