Hot music training in the Middle East

Musn O'Brien

Musn O’Brien

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.

Maestro masterclass

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.

The band in Kuwait

The band in Kuwait

Short term training for the Kuwait Army Band

Short term training for the Kuwait Army Band

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.

5am start for a Passing Out Parade at Pirbright

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King

Army musician Lance Corporal Daniel King

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.

Going back to work after a period of time on leave is always hard! I remember waking up in the morning thinking, “Do I really have to get up today?”  After hitting the snooze button on my alarm clock for the second time the wife eventually kicked me, forcing me to get up.

Arriving into work you are greeted by the familiar “smiling faces” of other band members. Although having an extended 3 weeks leave was lovely, it is always harder returning than it would be after 2 weeks leave.

Sgt Rich Evans and Musician Dan Shave annoying me with their piccolo trumpets

Sgt Rich Evans and Musician Dan Shave annoying me with their piccolo trumpets

I walked straight into the office to check the calendar for any new additions to the yearly programme. It appears that over leave a small trip to Cyprus has been added for September. This is why I love this job!

Over the next couple of weeks our Director of Music (DOM) is leaving so he will be doing his handover to the new incoming Captain Tony Adams. For the band this means we have to prepare all instruments and property for a 100% check. All the instruments are laid out to be inspected by the new DOM.

The dreaded trip to the Bandmaster’s office is greeted by a smile and a handful of paperwork. Those 3 weeks off are feeling more like a Hiatus than a holiday. I’m only joking – two handfuls! He is a brass player after all.

WO1 (BM) Troy Tayor-Smith in his office

WO1 (BM) Troy Tayor-Smith in his office

As I write this blog, band members are pottering around getting out their instruments and checking that they still work after three weeks of them being in their cases. I have my own instrument so I was able to practice over leave… Believe that and you will believe anything. No, I did play it a couple of times over leave at my local church so my lip is still good! Not everyone in the band has their own instrument so they only use Army provided ones. 

As I type, I have the piercing sound of a piccolo trumpet trying to annoy me by playing as high and loud as he possibly can!

Due to the general quiet nature of the week we like to do a bit of physical training! So on the Monday afternoon, the band go down to the all-weather court for a bit of team sports! This week we played basketball. I don’t know how we manage it but we always seem to get at least one injury during the sessions! A few stubbed fingers and a lot of aches!!

The first job of this year is not until the following Friday and that is a 5am start for a Passing Out Parade at Pirbright. So it’s best to enjoy the down-time while we can!

Pie in the face polka

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.

Kneller Hall

Kneller Hall

Every year military bands get tasked with a week or two at the home of Army Music, Kneller Hall. The job is to provide musical support to the school.

There are two main courses that are held at Kneller Hall. The first is the Student Bandmasters course. Future bandmasters are selected to do a 3 year course, which will qualify them to become full bandmasters of one of the regular army bands. The second course is the Foundation Course. Every musician in the British Army goes through this. When musicians complete phase 1 training they go to Kneller Hall and are brought up to the minimum level of ability for army bands. You are also taught how to march and play which I can assure you is not easy as a beginner.

The duty band has three main tasks whilst at Kneller Hall. The first is to provide a full concert band for the student bandmasters (Conducting Band). Conducting band gives the student bandmasters the opportunity to practice the skills they are taught in front of a full band, it also gives the band the opportunity to play some more musical repertoire and see what the future bandmasters are like!

The second thing we do is help out with numbers in the foundation course band. Unlike regular army bands, the foundation course is often unbalanced in the way of instrumentation, other than the obvious “too many brass”, which is a problem in every single wind band in the world in my opinion. Only a few band members are needed for this in order to help with numbers and also to sit with sections that may require a little support.

The final task we are required for is marching band. Marching and playing is a huge part of our job and is easier to learn when the band is balanced and when you have experienced players next to you to help you out.

As an extra task during the week, on the Thursday night the band provided a band for the dining out of the Commandant of Kneller Hall, Colonel Cuthbert-Brown CBE. A small 18 piece played in Student Bandmasters’, Sergeants’ and Warrant Officers’ messes. The band was conducted by Student Bandmaster Estelle Gouws. During the dinner we played pieces such as, Les Miserables, Vocalise (Featuring an oboe soloist from the foundation course, I can’t remember his name!) and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pie in the face polka

For the after dinner entertainment Musician Jo Nethercott and myself performed a clarinet duet called “Pie in the face polka”. We both dressed up in German outfits and played around the tables and drank the guests’ port whilst we were resting. It was our first performance of the duet and it proved to be very popular, so my hopes of burning the outfit were very quickly dashed. Musician Dan Shave then played a solo, Virtuosity, and he even hit the high note at the end which was a novelty.

On the Friday night eight members of the band stayed behind to help the foundation course as they played for Richmond Upon Thames’ Christmas Lights Ceremony. This involved a small march through town then we played carols and Christmas songs on Richmond green. I have to admit… it was pretty cold!

And then a well-earned rest………………………….

Baton down

Lance Corporal Daniel King is principal clarinettist in the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS BAND). Here he writes about being an Army musician, a role which allows him to perform at many high-profile events across the UK and abroad.


The brass section

The brass section


I’m often asked what we do to prepare for a major concert. In this blog I will tell you what normally happens within the few weeks leading up to a concert.

A month or so before a concert the library is given a programme of music by the Director of Music (DOM) or the Bandmaster (BM). Because the music list is out early it gives the band members a chance to look over the music. Concert music is generally much more challenging than marching band and small ensemble music.

There are normally other programmes out at the same time so it is your job to prioritise which pieces need the most attention. It is down to the leaders of each instrumental section to determine what pieces your sections will struggle with. We are usually given time within the working day to have sectional rehearsals.

Within a band you have a lot of experienced musicians as well as younger musicians. The “old and bold” of the band have seen most of the music in the military band repertoire many times before and it is not uncommon to see them helping out the younger members.

The concerts are conducted by the Director of Music (DOM) and Bandmaster (BM). They normally share the amount of pieces between themselves.

In the main practice room the DOM and BM get busy rehearsing the band to ensure that the music is ready to the highest of standard ready to perform out in the public. Some pieces the band know very well so they take minimal rehearsal. Other pieces require lots more time. After playing the pieces in a full band scenario harder parts of the music become more apparent. We are normally given more sectional times at this stage so we can iron out the major difficulties.

The bandmaster in action

The bandmaster in action

I mentioned in my previous blog about the rivalry between the brass and woodwind. There is always ongoing banter about who causes the most ‘issues’ in the pieces. I can confirm that it is most definitely the brass and is obvious to everyone but themselves. They only have to use three fingers, whereas we have to use the whole of our hands. We are definitely the more intelligent.

When the concert day finally comes, we are all well rehearsed and ready to put on a professional show. The band will generally turn up to the concert venue three or four hours before the concert starts. After setting up we do a sound and lighting check. We then have a little time off to prepare our uniforms ready for the concert.