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Trooping of the Colour

The iconic spectacle of Trooping of the Colour puts musicians from the British Army in front of a worldwide audience. Here, Musician Andy Humphreys takes us behind the scenes as he prepares for the big day for the first time

This year marked my first Trooping of the Colour as a member of the Band of the Scots Guards.

Having watched this impressive spectacle a number of times on television over the years, I was somewhat apprehensive when I found out I had been selected to be part of the Massed Bands this year. Ordinarily, the event takes place on Horse Guards Parade but this year, like last, it was to take place within the walls of Windsor Castle. This was going to be a steep learning curve for me!

I joined the band of the Scots Guards in August 2020 as a French Horn player. I had previously been serving as a reservist with the Salamanca Band and Bugles of the Rifles whilst studying for a Master’s degree at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. As you can imagine, this was a big change for me and I still feel as if I am just getting up to speed with the job. Polishing boots and ironing uniforms has now become an integral part of my life, which is worlds away from my life before COVID-19.

As the Trooping of the Colour this year did not follow the usual format, we found ourselves undertaking extremely intensive rehearsals in order to execute the parade with military precision. Initially, this involved several weeks’ training for the Massed Bands as a single entity. We rehearsed the music together before marching on to the square to learn the drill movements including how these had been altered to make them socially distanced.

This was one of my first experiences of slow marching in drill boots, so I was glad of the extra time before joining the Guards companies on parade. First, we tackled the slow troop, which I found to be the most challenging part of the whole parade, often having to stop playing during rehearsals in order to make sure my drill was up to standard. This was compounded by the need to expand the spacing within the band whilst slow marching so that we could countermarch in a COVID safe way. From this, we started rehearsing the Quick Troop in the same fashion.

The Quick Troop involves a drill movement called the spinwheel in which the band rotates 180 degrees around an invisible centre point. Naturally, this movement relies on every person within the Massed bands having perfect dressing otherwise it impacts the rest of the band for the manoeuvre. It sounds complicated, but I found this to become easier as time went on. After these few initial rehearsals, it was time to join up with the Guardsmen who were marching on the parade.

These rehearsals took place in a location where we could practise on both tarmac and grass since the parade was to take place on the lawn within the quadrangle of Windsor Castle. However, this grass was certainly not as smooth as the lawn we would eventually be marching on so the first rehearsals proved challenging. The rehearsals from that point onwards required us to wear firstly Bearskins and Barrack dress, then No.1 dress, and finally Summer Guard order – the iconic red tunics and white buff belts. The weather during the first week of these rehearsals worked against us with intermittent rain plaguing the full run-throughs – but soon the sun came out which was a relief and also helped us get accustomed to standing on parade in the heat. We spent multiple days running the parade from start to finish and spending the evenings analysing video footage to help us for the next day. Slowly but surely the parade took form and I started to become more confident in my own abilities within the Massed Bands.

The Massed Bands were smaller in number than when the parade normally takes place on Horse Guards Parade. The majority of the musicians involved were drawn from the Band of the Scots Guards (since it was a Scots Guards Troop) as well as additional files drawn from the Bands of the Grenadier, the Coldstream Guards, Irish Guards and Welsh Guards. As a result, there were only five French Horn players on parade which meant my musical contribution was extremely important.

Because of my previous experience working as a professional musician and studying for a Master’s degree, I was nominated to play first horn alongside the section principal LCpl James Kerby. I found this challenging too as the length of the parade and the stamina required for it were completely new to me, with this issue being compounded by being one of only two people playing the first horn part. I should also mention that due to the precise nature of Trooping the Colour, I had to memorise most of the music in order to not distract from what was going on. But after over a month’s training, it was finally time to present the Queen’s Birthday Parade to Her Majesty, the nation and the world.

The sheer exhilaration of forming up outside Frogmore Cottage before the parade began distracted me from the long march up the hill to Windsor Castle. There were television cameras dotted along the route which, in previous years down the Mall, would have thronged with crowds for this world-famous occasion. After entering the quadrangle, I found myself completely focussed on the task, juggling music and drill to the highest standard. Luckily by now, my slow marching had dramatically improved so I managed to complete the parade without putting a foot wrong.

I found it a great honour and a privilege to be involved in Trooping the Colour. A year ago, I never thought I would have the skill set or opportunity to play for Her Majesty the Queen in such an intimate yet prestigious environment and this experience has definitely been the highlight of my career so far. Also, this experience has helped me to become worthy of the uniform I wear by teaching me new skills and reinforcing the ones I already had. It was a difficult and rewarding experience and the chance of a lifetime.

About the author

Musician Andrew Humphreys
Musician Andrew Humphreys

Musician (Musn) Andy Humphreys started playing the tenor horn at age 8 at primary school.

He quickly changed to French horn and progressed rapidly to be the principal horn of the Devon Youth Wind Orchestra (DYWO) and obtain a place in the National Children’s Orchestras of Great Britain at age 11.

After this, he was awarded a Scholarship from the Department of Education to be part of the South West Music School. This was a springboard for him allowing him to become a member of the Southwest youth orchestra and subsequently gain a coveted seat in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.

Musn Humphreys went on to be awarded a full scholarship to study at Wells Cathedral School and later won a place Guildhall School of Music & Drama, transferring after a year to the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.

While studying here, he decided to join the Army Reserves and after passing training, joined The Salamanca Band and Bugles of The Rifles based in Exeter. Alongside studying Musn Humphreys managed to support the band on a part-time basis through tours to Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan for The Queen’s Birthday Parade as well as a tour to Cyprus and countless sounding Retreats.

After graduating from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Musn Humphreys gained a full scholarship to study an MMus at Trinity College of Music and Dance Trinity Laban. While studying here Musn Humphreys still supported the Salamanca band and the Honourable Artillery Company Regimental Band as well as working as a freelance musician.