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Preparation, Performance and Pride!

In our series of feature articles about careers for musicians in the British Army, euphonium player Captain Andrew Porter takes us on his professional journey.

I proudly became a Commissioned Officer in the Royal Corps of Army Music (RCAM) in April 2021. My first and current posting was to British Army Band Tidworth. The Band is a Brass Band, one of three in the Corps. Coming from a brass band background I was fortunate that this fine band would be my first as a Director of Music.

Looking ahead in our diary, and hopeful route out of the Coronavirus Pandemic, I could see a period performing in London on Public Duties. Immediately this became my point of focus – I knew I had to deliver spectacular, polished performances, alongside immaculate turnout and on point drill. Guard Mounts or Public Duties are ordinarily the specialism and domain of the Household Division or ‘Guards’ Bands. Having previously served as the Band Master of the Irish Guards for four and a half years, and in the expert’s back yard so to speak, I was keen to take a Regional Brass Band into London and show off every aspect of what we can do and to leave a positive lasting impression. This was important as we would be the first Professional British Brass Band to perform on a Queen’s Guard Mount!

My first challenge was the balance of music. Original Brass Band music is typically exciting, challenging to play and at times to listen to, especially if not an arrangement. The musical voicing in a brass band is always rich, but sometimes criticised for being two-dimensional, so I had to find well-constructed, colourful arrangements of popular works. A second consideration was historic anniversaries and major events.  In essence, music that was accessible to all yet challenging, exciting, upbeat and fun to play had to be identified, along with the historically contextual music.

I had an idea that I would use film scores as arranged music and knew that ‘No Time to Die’ would soon be in cinemas. I also knew that the latest Indiana Jones was being filmed in the UK. Living in Morecambe and a boxing fan, I was also aware that Tyson Fury would be fighting during our time on Public Duties. Therefore I picked music related to each – James Bond Collection; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the Night (Eye) of the Tiger. Each arrangement has been masterfully arranged to suit a Brass Band perfectly. Lastly, we performed on Battle of Britain Day and in the week of the anniversary of the Operation Market Garden campaign, so performed music related to each, for example 633 Squadron and Arnhem.

For original music, I wanted to reflect who we may share Public Duties with. I subsequently found a great composition by Peter Graham called Gaelforce. This is a technically demanding work with great melodic writing and being an Irish folk song-based work, complemented our time on the forecourt of Buckingham Palace with the Irish Guard Band. Lastly, I chose a general piece to reflect all the Service Personnel, an original work entitled Walking With Heroes.

Of course there was much more music than this. I had a list of around 21 that I reduced down to 14 as well as marches – 18 down to 12. Rehearsing the music was the fun bit. We programmed lots of rehearsal time both indoors and outdoors to replicate the experience of playing outside, and all within the COVID health and safety restrictions required of us. Time was spent individually working on the music; in sectional practice; in collective practice, slowly, progressively and constantly adding sparkle and polish to the music. Behind the scenes the Band Library team worked tirelessly to reduce the Sheet Music to March Card Size, often going from A3 down to A5 and then laminated. Without their hard work, we wouldn’t have had any music to perform from.

The second challenge of marching band and drill requirements happened concurrently with the music and often as a bit of a relief – or was it the other way round? You’d have to ask the band that! We sharpened every movement and were prepared exceptionally well by the Band Sergeant Major in the workings of the Guard Mount. We then combined this with the Soldiers from 4 REME (the Mounting Guard Troops) which culminated in our Fit For Role Inspection, conducted by the Commanding Officer of Regional Bands and the Brigade Major on behalf of the Major General – both Subject Matter Experts in all aspects of Public Duties. We all passed and the Duties could begin.

My Bands time spent on Public Duties has been so enjoyable and very rewarding. We all feel proud of producing consistently strong performances. I reflect with the Band immediately afterwards and we look for ways to keep things tight and on point, before rehearsing these on the day of the next Duty. We are always working hard and not resting on our laurels that’s for sure! I have enjoyed watching the faces of my musicians, and the joy and pride they project, especially those that have never done it before or are sharing the experience with family.

There are two musicians from Uganda in our Band and on the first Guard Mount, they got to share the Duty with their friends from Uganda in the Household Cavalry Band. Being so far from home and seeing each other professionally for the first time, since their Musical Training, clearly meant so much to them. The Band also has some family members within the Household Division Bands, myself included, and we have had the opportunity to share our performances with colleagues and family from those bands, which has been wonderful to do.

British Army Band Tidworth has thoroughly enjoyed doing Public Duties and have done so with great enthusiasm and utmost professionalism. I am exceptionally proud of them and what they have achieved and am pleased to have been the first Director of Music to have marched a Brass Band onto a Full Guard Mount.

About the author

Captain (Capt) Andrew Porter comes from Northern Ireland. He studied Euphonium at Chethams School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music. Before joining the Army he played with the Leyland Band and Yorkshire Building Society Brass Band.

Capt Porter joined the Army in 2003 and has had an enjoyable, varied career, seeing many countries and delivering memorable performances in the process. His first posting was to the REME Band before going on to the Bandmaster Course in 2008.

His first assignment as a Bandmaster was in 2011 to the King’s Division Band. After this, he spent a nine-month assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan working as the course development Warrant Officer. Upon his return, he was assigned to the Band of the Irish Guards for 4 and a half years. During this time he performed on many Guard Mounts and Trooping the Colours; arranged music for Beating Retreats and recordings; led the ensemble of excellence, Guards Brass and coordinated the annual Scarlet and Gold concert.

Capt Porter stayed in London on his next assignment as SO3 Ops Trg and was pivotal in a lot of the musical plans for the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral arrangements. Upon completion of this assignment, Capt Porter went to Wales as Officer Commanding the Band of the Prince of Wales. During his time here Capt Porter was announced as RCAM Senior Soldier of the Year and presented to the Countess of Wessex, before receiving a Queen’s Commission in RCAM to British Army Band Tidworth.