50 press-ups and 60 sit-ups under a watchful eye

Musician Martin Gladstone

Musician Martin Gladstone

Musician Martin Gladstone is a member of the Corps of Army Music and is currently assigned to the Band of The Royal Regiment of Scotland based in Edinburgh. He recently passed the Army Physical Training Instructors’ course in Aldershot and this is his story about those tough couple of weeks…

Test week

To say the first day at the Army School of Physical Training (ASPT) was daunting would be an understatement. 117 soldiers from all cap badges and backgrounds were sitting in Fox Gymnasium.  Everybody is there to prove they have the physical and mental determination to pass the initial fitness assessment.  Success will allow them to continue the nine week course and subsequently become All Arms Physical Training Instructors (PTI).

The morning consisted of an opening brief by Sergeant Walsh, the course co-ordinator, highlighting what was expected of us during our time at the ASPT followed by the eagerly awaited personal fitness assessment.

The fitness assessment was split in to two separate waves because of the large intake. The first part of assessment included the normal timed press-ups and sit-ups, however, the PTI assessment required slightly more – 50 press-ups and 60 sit-ups completed under the watchful eye of the ASPT permanent staff making sure there was no slacking and the exercises were performed correctly and efficiently.


Test week at the Army School of Physical Training – no walk in the park.

The aerobic phase of the test was carried out on the track, the first part being the 800m warm-up followed by the 2.4km ‘best effort’ run – to be completed in less than nine minutes 30-seconds.  The experience of 60 candidates running on a track at the same time is one I hope I never had to endure again!  After you cross the line, the waiting game begins. You are then told later that day if you have passed or failed.

The second of the tests, held on Tuesday morning, was the Military Swim Test (MST). This included jumping into the water, treading water for two minutes and swimming 100m, as well as getting out of the pool unaided. This was a straight pass or fail.

The final test of the week was the Annual Fitness Test (AFT) consisting of eight miles carrying approximately 25kg (a bergan and a rifle) – a lot heavier than the usual 15kg the Corps of Army Music carry!  This was a physically demanding loaded march over undulating terrain on the Aldershot training area. This had to be completed in less than one-hour and 50-minutes.  The AFT marked the end of the test week and a weekend to rest.  It was a great feeling to know that I had passed the PTI tests and could continue on the course.

Flag competitions

The week after the course was split into six sections, each with its own section commanders who were all Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) instructors.  As well as taking and participating in lessons daily, there were flag competitions.

Flag competitions were held every Friday morning. They included a variety of different activities ranging from athletics to battle PT. This was an opportunity to go up against other sections throughout the course to compete for pride but also for the flag of the RAPTC, which was presented to the winning section on pass off day.

It was a great feeling to know that I had passed the PTI tests and could continue on the course.

It was a great feeling to know that I had passed the PTI tests and could continue on the course.

Pass Off Parade

The pass off parade consisted of six displays, one display per section, to demonstrate the skills obtained throughout the nine-week physically demanding course.  The audience included family members of those who undertook the course as well as the Colonel Commandant of the RAPTC in attendance.  The parade concluded with the high horse display, performed by the permanent staff, newly badged personnel from the RAPTC and the PTI class one course.

It was a proud feeling to finally stand on parade wearing the crossed-swords across our chests having successfully completed the course.

Inspection time for The Band and Bugles of The Rifles

Emma Peacock

Emma Peacock

My name is Emma Peacock, I’m an Army musician and I play flute and piccolo in The Band and Bugles of The Rifles. I have been here two years, after completing Phase 1 training at ATR Pirbright and Phase 2 at The Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall.


Recruiting showcase

It has been quite a quiet time for the band recently so this has given us a lot of time to focus on individual music practice and lots of ensemble and sectional rehearsals, and to catch up with various administration tasks required to run a band.  My admin role is as recruiting assistant and we’ve managed to complete a lot of work recently.  We started off with a recruiting drive at ‘The Platform’ in Swindon.  Swindon Music Services were running a day of performance with many bands coming and showcasing their talent.  We set up a Band and Bugles stand and I spent the day in Ceremonial uniform speaking to many young musicians about The Corps of Army Music.  We managed to generate a lot of interest in Army Music.  It was also an enjoyable day for me as I spent it listening to some very talented youth music groups.

Additionally, we ran an Insight Day for 3 musicians who were interested in joining the British Army.  After picking them up from the train station and some introductions they joined us for a full band rehearsal.  They showed great ability and potential for joining the Corps.  After lunch we gave them a tour of camp to show them the sort of environment they might train, live and work in.  They were very surprised to see how nice the accommodation was and it helped break some common misconceptions about Army life.  That afternoon Musician Wood and myself gave a short recruiting presentation and then we held a question and answer session. Later on that day, one of the Insight Day participants even got up and played in front of all the Corps trainees during performance experience training.  All in all, it was a very good day and I think those who attended got a lot out of it, as well as enjoying themselves.

Perfecting the display


Group photo with Gen Sir Nick Parker

Group photo with Gen Sir Nick Parker

We’ve also had two very big inspections recently.  The first was the Colonel Commandant’s Annual Inspection.  This is a big deal for us, with General Sir Nick Parker taking the inspection, so a lot of time had gone into perfecting the marching band display.  To announce his arrival the massed Bugle Platoon and two Bugle courses played a fanfare, and after this was a group photo, followed by the presentation of the new Sounding Retreat.

As usual he enjoyed it but had a few comments to make and changes had to be done.  After this was the Bugle Competition.  The buglers had been tested already that morning on drill and turnout and the top ten were then picked to move on to play a bugle call, The Last Post and then Mechanised Infantry.  From this the top buglers were picked.  In first place came Lance Corporal G Merchant, in second was Rifleman R Loudon, and in third was Rifleman A Creighton.  Well done to all who took part!

Band and Bugles of The Rifles

Band and Bugles of The Rifles

Gangnam Style!

A week later was The Corps of Army Music inspection, which meant we were on the drill square again to present the new Sounding Retreat.  After this we were in the practice room for a new part of the inspection. For this the Principle Director of Music sat in a rehearsal to watch the development of a piece from sight reading to performance.  Both the Director of Music, Major Lawrence Sale, and Assistant Director of Music, Lieutenant Lauren Petriz-Watts, conducted a piece and they seemed to run smoothly enough, with the final results being very good.

We have supported a number of Pass Off Parades of late in Winchester and supplied musical support  for a boxing night at The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst.  The evening went very smoothly, with some very good bouts.  In between the first and second half we played some background music.  This included ‘Gangnam Style’!

Recently we travelled to sunny Exeter in Devon to play for a Homecoming Parade.  For us it was a little strange as it was a heavy paced march, so we hadn’t taken any buglers.  Consequently, the coach journey down was very quiet! There was a good crowd for the parade and then we were welcomed to the gathering afterwards where the town mayor spoke to a few members of the band.

A couple of days later we headed down to The Royal Military School of Music in Twickenham to be duty band for a few days.  This involved us being the band for student bandmasters to practice conducting with.  This is always a good, but challenging, experience as the student bandmasters are learning and the music is usually new to us!  A few members of the band also helped out the phase 2 trainees with their repertoire band and marching band.

Having recently been issued our new General Service Respirator (GSR) it was time to try them out.  Once we put them together and checked that the vacuum was sealed we went over the drills.  The new unit seems really good, however most of the members of the Band and Bugles struggled to get them on in time, especially while wearing the issued gloves.  When the practice was over it was time to do the real thing in the Respirator Testing Facility.  This is a glorified shed which fills up with CS gas! If we complete the drills correctly we don’t feel the effects of the gas, however, do something wrong and you come out with very tingly skin, eyes watering and snot running down your face!  Luckily the Band and Bugles all performed up to scratch and came out with no harm done.


Find out more about Army music on the Corps of Army Music website

Read more of Musician Peacock’s blogs here

Short term training for Ethiopian National Defence Force band

Captain Frost

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.

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.

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.

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.

The bruises to prove it

Emma Peacock

Emma Peacock

My name is Emma Peacock, I’m an Army musician and I play flute and piccolo in The Band and Bugles of The Rifles. I have been here a year and a half now, after completing Phase 1 training at ATR Pirbright and Phase 2 at The Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall.

Recording the CD

Finally, after about twenty hours of recording, The Band and Bugles of The Rifles new CD was completed!  Over a weekend The Salamanca Band and Bugles of The Rifles and The Waterloo Band and Bugles of The Rifles joined our regular band to record some of the highlights from last year’s Swift and Bold concert held in The Royal Albert Hall.  This took a lot of time but seemed to go well and hopefully the CD will be out for purchase later in the year.

The massed band preparing and warming up for the recording.

The massed band preparing and warming up for the recording.

The next week we had some visitors to the band.  These were six 14-18 year olds who were on a ‘Look at Life’ course with us.  We showed them many aspects of band life, including a few full band sessions and a fitness session with Corporal Jessup.   We even managed to squeeze in a field craft session, taken by one of our bugle platoon.  They plastered their faces with cam cream and enjoyed the delights of a ration pack!  During the evenings we showed them the social side of band life.  One night this meant going bowling and another night Musician Wood and Musician Dwyer organised a very entertaining quiz.  Nevertheless, we still had to show them what the job entails, so took them on the road with us to Davis Street, London, for our annual Kings Royal Rifle Corps concert.  As always, this concert was really well received and the audience seemed interested to meet the next generation of musicians in the Corps of Army Music.

The day after the ‘Look at Life’ left us we all boarded minibuses.  However, for once we didn’t mind.  We were starting the long journey to Bavaria for adventurous training on Exercise Tiger Swift.  The trip started well, with our minibus driver, who shall remain nameless, stalling.  And, as per last year, we got lost again and this resulted in a lot of banter coming across the radio.  After eight hours on the road we stopped off overnight at Elmpt.  By that time our group were relieved to get out of the minibus as we’d had enough of Lance Corporal Barratt and Musician Wood singing!

Once we had arrived at the slopes we were assessed and separated into groups.  Those who had not skied before were left to learn how to put their skis on while the rest of us headed up the slope for some fun.  The first day went well with not too many falls; however our instructor, Tomo, liked doing jumps so I did manage to spend a little time face down in the snow!  We were staying in a lovely lodge in Ortwanger and in the evenings everyone met up for drinks in the little bar to catch up on the day’s activities.

Ski touring

The next day we returned to a slope that we tried last year.  I hadn’t had a very good experience there previously so was quite nervous, however after a couple of runs down felt a lot happier and like I had conquered a fear!  Our instructor decided that along with jumps, we would all ski on one leg.  This proved difficult as I have no centre of balance, however by the end of the week I could manage a few seconds.  Not only did we ski in Germany, but we made it across the border to Austria.  This was a lovely area with some beautiful scenery.  I was really pleased to be the only one in my group to get over a really bumpy area and make a jump!

On the first night of the trip Corporal Jessup’s red PTI belt had gone missing and throughout the week it seemed to appear everywhere on the slopes.  All groups (even his!) had it at some point.  He was starting to get suspicious of everyone and everywhere by the end of the week and when we all went out for dinner one evening after skiing he was even suspicious of the waitress.

The following day a large group went for a day’s ski touring.  This is the equivalent of walking up hill in skis.  I did this last year and was quite happy to not have to do it again this time around as I much prefer to go downhill.  When they came back they all seemed to have enjoyed themselves, yet a few were very relieved that it was over.  That evening Musn Dwyer and Musn Howes did a great quiz in the bar.  I actually learnt a few things, including that an octopus has three hearts!

The last day of skiing was upon us and we were all determined to make the most of the day. When we got to the top of the gondola however, we couldn’t see a thing as the clouds were so low.  This resulted in us getting a little lost and heading down a black slope with very little vision.  Thankfully we all made it down safe, despite a few people falling over and sliding down the length of slope on their bums!

Exercise Tiger Swift group photo.

Exercise Tiger Swift group photo.

With skiing now over the majority of the band and bugles now hold their SF2 qualification and are thoroughly exhausted!  While most of the unit were away skiing some decided not to go overseas and went to Wales where they did rock climbing, mountain biking, horse riding, go karting and kayaking.  Apparently they had good fun and the highlight of the trip was watching one of the Lance Corporals trying to get on to a horse which was much bigger than her while she couldn’t stop giggling!  Now we’ve returned to the unit we’re back to everyday life, but with a little more of an adventurous streak, and the bruises to prove it.

Pic 3 edit

Musician Emma Peacock wrapped around a tree!

Army band tours the USA coast to coast – part one

Band of the Scots Guards performing in the USA

Band of the Scots Guards performing in the USA

Lance Corporal Rob Howe

Lance Corporal Rob Howe

Lance Corporal Rob Howe is a Percussionist in the Band of the Scots Guards and is currently touring the United States of America and Canada.

Pipes, Drums and Dancers

Ever since I joined the Band of the Scots Guards, I knew there was a opportunity to tour the USA and it was something I had been looking forward to for some time.

Since arriving at the band, I have seen three other guards bands complete the tour; Welsh Guards (2006), Coldstream Guards (2008) and Irish Guards (2010).

Before we even arrived at the airport, months of hard work had gone into organising the tour. Certain jobs were delegated to various members of the band by our previous Director of Music and the Band Sergeant Major. I was given the responsibility of media and photography, which I have a keen interest in.

Joining us on this tour are the Pipes, Drums and Dancers of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland under the leadership of Pipe Major Richard Grisdale. Interestingly, on our last tour to the USA in 1998, the Black Watch also provided the pipe band. They are a young and relatively inexperienced ensemble and have risen to the occasion superbly, being one of the most professional pipe bands we have worked with recently.

On Wednesday 9th January, the band flew to New York and then travelled by coach to Philadelphia. We stayed in a magnificent hotel in the middle of Philadelphia and were looked after very well. Musicians Dave Cook and Paul Smith really splashed out, spending $45 on breakfast in bed!

Standing ovation

The next day was spent rehearsing our show as it had been some time since we had rehearsed it with the pipes and drums. It also gave Major Vernon Yates, our new Director of Music the opportunity to put the final touches on the musical aspects of the show. This took up most of the day, but some managed to squeeze in a Philly Cheesesteak in the evening!

Friday morning was spent sightseeing by most of the band, visiting the Liberty Bell and running up the steps that feature in the movie ‘Rocky.’ Some found this easier to do than others!

The band had its first show that evening, performing at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. The afternoon consisted of a final rehearsal in the venue, kit cleaning and finished with a lovely buffet that had been put on for us. It took a while to get used to the chocolate chip cookies with rock salt though.

The show started at 8pm and we played to a packed out audience. One of the highlights of the night was playing ‘Amazing Grace’ with the pipes and at the end of the evening, we received a standing ovation. ‘Amazing Grace’ was written especially for this tour and features Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, Last Post and its American equivalent Taps.

In the first 10 days of the tour we travelled over 1,000 miles, performing shows in Philadelphia, Greenvale, Easton, Rockville, Gettysburg, York, Union and New Brunswick, stretching across four states. We received standing ovations in all shows and the reception from the audiences has been tremendous.

The band had the opportunity to visit New York City on our first day off. We managed to fit in most of the tourist attractions, including the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Times Square to name a few. The Band also visited the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero. This was a very moving experience and our tour guide reminded us what happened on that day almost 12 years ago.


Musicians get to do some sightseeing.

Musicians get to do some sightseeing.

We were also given a coach tour of Washington DC by our driver, Gabe. We visited many memorials and attractions, including the White House, Martin Luther King Memorial and the Marine Corps War Memorial.

At every show members of the band have been fundraising for the Scots Guards Colonel’s Fund. Charity wrist bands are a 1st battalion Scots Guards driven fundraiser. Proceeds will entirely go to assisting wounded guardsmen and their families. In the first 7 shows, we have raised around $7000, which is a great start.

The 1st Battalion, Scots Guards are currently serving on operations in Afghanistan and the Regimental Band wishes them a good tour and safe return.

In the coming weeks we are travelling to Canada, the Mid West and the Deep South. So far the tour is going really well and we look forward to performing our show and promoting the United Kingdom as well as the British Army across the USA and Canada.

Scarlet and Gold of London town

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Musn Batai is a musician in the Band of the Irish Guards. During a normal working day he performs on the oboe and may play at state and ceremonial events across the capital and around the world.

Ride of the Valkyries

After a serious week of preparation for the Scarlet and Gold concerts, the Massed Bands of The Household Division, part of the Corps of Army Music, gave fantastic performances on the 22nd and 23rd of November at Central Hall, Westminster, with a versatile programme. Great soloists and breathtaking ensemble work from all the members of the band delighted the audiences.

I felt very privileged to sit in the band as the principal oboe and had a great pleasure to be part of this musical spectacular. The concert started with the National anthem followed by Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries, with the Fanfare players on the balcony, decorating the venue and filling the hall with their glorious sound. The opening was truly powerful and instantly gave an insight as to what the audience was to expect from the rest of the concert.

Following Gounod’s March Militaire we played a piece, which was in my opinion one of the highlights of the evening – Alfred Reid’s Armenian Dances which were originally composed for a concert band and there are truly challenging moments for all the instrumental parts; in particular woodwinds. The Band played extremely well and demonstrated its excellent skills.

The other highlight was the world-renowned film music from Spielberg’s Oscar winning drama Schindler’s List. I would like to mention Lance Corporal Rebecca White who played the solo violin with a superb taste and fantastic musicality. My part was not particularly busy in the piece so I had a chance to glance at the audience and notice that they were clearly ‘blown away’ by the unity of the ensemble and the soloist’s sensitivity. It was a real gem in our programme.

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Star Wars

The show had a sudden change after the solemn melody as the Corps of Drums, 2nd Battalion, The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment marched on. They made a spectacular show with use of ultraviolet lights while using fluorescent yellow drumsticks as the venue’s lights were switched off. The following marches made everyone stomp their feet and enjoy the traditional military music. I heard people whistle or hum the well known marches even when we went out for the interval. Upon return the Band performed Star Wars by John Williams. This piece also received support from the fanfares and the lightning display which again made this musical event more effective. It almost felt like the moments from the film, ‘Star Wars’ were brought into the auditorium.

The pipes are always loved, it was not different this evening either. The well known tunes played by the Pipes and Drums of The London Regiment, were very well received and set the mood to a very light hearted overture from the MGM Classic film ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Beautiful marches

The film music led us to the Guards Big Band’s performance of three pieces. They were led by Colour Sergeant  Jason Libby. I must admit this was the first time in my life I wished I could play a brass instrument or saxophone and be part of this ensemble. The superior playing was breathtaking. The members of the ensemble were completely unified and clearly had a great time performing. Their enthusiasm made everyone feel part of their show. Third piece, A Foggy Day in London also featured a soloist/singer, Lance Sergeant James Scott.

After the magnificent performance of the Big Band, the concert reached its finale which consisted of pieces such as Bizet’s Farandole, Handel’s See the Conquering Hero Comes and a very effective arrangement by Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Beat. The arrangement was a combination of Will Ye No Come Back Again and Auld Lang Syne, with the bugle call Last Post.

The audience seemed to love the show and I have no doubt that they will return eagerly in the future to this unique musical spectacle. I really hope that I shall be in the band again to take a part in this great event, as ‘Scarlet and Gold’ is one of the rare opportunities for the members of the band to engage with the public in the concert ambiance and share the beautiful marches and versatile music from all around the world.

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Massed Bands of The Household Division perform the Scarlet and Gold concert at Central Hall, Westminster.

Sinfonietta – sound of strings

Musn Wright

Musn Wright

Musn Wright is a Musician in the Royal Artillery Band, part of the Corps of Army Music. As a violinist he is given the opportunity to perform with a small orchestra namely the Corps of Army Music Sinfonietta. During the normal working day he will perform on a wind instrument at key ceremonial events and in support of the Army worldwide.

One-size-fits-all, cream of the crop ensemble

An unusually cold autumn morning set me up perfectly for rummaging through my wardrobe for a different hat. As an Army musician, I’m sure many have seen the plethora of different head gear that adorn the tunics; from bearskins to busbies and mirror-like brass to the humble beret. But few will be so familiar with the metaphorical cap that many of us sit under throughout the year – that of trained orchestral musicians.

Granted, the image of a macho soldier lending their hand to the subtleties of a violin or cello, are not the first to spring to mind when one thinks of  “jobs available in the army”. However, our country’s orchestral heritage can be traced directly back to this. The first official orchestra in Great Britain was that of the Royal Artillery Band in Woolwich, who as a unit, very proudly celebrated their 250th anniversary in October this year.

Other small string groups can also still be seen, made up from musicians of both mounted and Foot Guard Regiments of the Household Division.

So back to this cold autumn morning. What we have is musicians from the Royal Artillery Band and the seven bands of the Household Division descending upon the Royal Military School of Music in Twickenham, for a one-size-fits-all, cream of the crop ensemble. Known as the ‘CAMUS sinfonietta’, its anticipated annual occurrence and careful selection of players offer it up as a very distinct jewel in the crown of military music. And the extra sparkle comes in the form of the finest woodwind and brass players, trawled from all corners and cupboards of the corps of army music. Indeed this year, as in some previous, we have the pleasure of some guest players from the RAF.

Our first rehearsal was the usual mixture of emotions. A meet and greet of those that have seen each other recently and those who, as in any working environment, may be grateful that they haven’t. But tensions over who spilt whose coffee last year soon subside as we recalibrate ourselves for the task in hand. And this year it’s quite a task, yet with even less preparation time than last, owing to such a busy month for bands. After several hours playing I feel much more relaxed into the larger string section than normal, and by the sound of the rest of the orchestra it promises to an exciting program of music to get stuck into and bring some passion and energy to both venues in the concert series.

HRH The Countess of Wessex meets LCpl Shellard clarinet soloist

HRH The Countess of Wessex meets LCpl Shellard clarinet soloist

The two venues for this years CAMUS  Sinfonietta concerts were the Newbury Arts Centre and the prestigious Menuhin Hall at Cobham.

The audiences at both venues were a mix of music lovers, military top brass and even royalty at the Menuhin Hall. Yes we had the privilege of our Colonel in Chief , HRH the Countess of Wessex in attendance. Nothing like a spot of royalty to ratchet up the pressure and encourage the best possible performance.

So to the music…

The woodwind section of the Sinfonietta

The woodwind section of the Sinfonietta

Our opening piece was an overture by the lesser known Rosenberg. And quite an opener it was, possibly an eye-opener for those less familiar with 20th century composers of his ilk. It’s a sort of marmite music with not much between loving or hating it. I’d say the audience were split on both nights. No matter the stance taken on the style of music, there would have been no doubt as to the ferocity and commitment it was delivered with. The conductor, Lt Col Meldrum, could easily have been mistaken for an evil wizard as he tried desperately to conjure every ounce of the composer’s intent from the bold phrases and the gut-wrenching harmonies. Well that was my take on it. A passer by or those less familiar with the concert hall might have thought Paul Daniels had just pulled an orchestra out of a hat. However, I suppose unless you’re a musician it would be difficult to grasp the effect a conductor can have on an orchestra.

Alongside the great variety of musical observations to be had, there was plenty on show for the non-musical military contingent who seemed equally transfixed by the performance.

For example, the discipline and timing involved in synchronising the bowing and rhythms of a well-oiled orchestra could match the prowess of a top class drill team or air display without a second thought. Likewise, the hawk-eyed observation and self control required in those pin-drop moments that see a full string section playing together quieter than a whisper, wouldn’t be out of place in an ambush or reconnaissance role.

LCpl Shellard performs at Arlington Arts Centre Newbury with the Sinfonietta

LCpl Shellard performs at Arlington Arts Centre Newbury with the Sinfonietta

I’d say my two favourite works of the program were ‘ Banks of Green Willow’ and Gordon Jacob’s  ‘Mini Concerto for Clarinet and Strings’. In the latter we had the pleasure of LCpl Alan Shellard from the Band of the Grenadier Guards as a soloist.

The ‘Banks of Green Willow’ by Butterworth offered a welcome respite from some of the more jarring chords found in the first two works. Its flowing folk-based melodies, painted with expert writing, would certainly have warmed the audience on such a cold evening. Notable colours oozed from the orchestra in the form of Lance Corporal Chris Spencer’s opening clarinet motif, Lance Corporal Rebecca White’s stirring solo violin moments and Warrant Officer Class 1 Guy Bennet’s harp contributions. I did think ‘fair play’ on his behalf as most sergeant majors wouldn’t admit to knowing what a harp was, never mind strumming their own in public.

The response from the audience as the energy in the hall wound up to an impressive, if slightly sweaty, finish of Bizet’s 1st Symphony was most encouraging. So presuming they were as generous to the Soldiers Charity ABF (whom the concerts were in aid of) as they were with their applause, the entire project will have have been of great worth. It’s certainly one I would gladly take part in again.

Public events featuring the bands of the Corps of Army Music