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A Military Musical Spectacular

by Lance Sergeant Andrew Skelton
Band of the Coldstream Guards

Military personnel are accustomed to adapting and overcoming obstacles. However, it would have been impossible 18 months ago to foresee just how rapidly we would all have to make alterations to our daily lives, both at work and at home. During the long months of lockdown, we keenly missed interaction with others and the ability to communicate face-to-face. Communication is so integral to what makes us human and there is arguably no more powerful means of communication than music, the universal language.

Horse Guards Parade, the home of Trooping The Colour and so many other of our Nation’s great ceremonial occasions, laid eerily quiet during the lockdown months, bereft of the boom of a bass drum, the rousing melody of a march, and the crunch of drill boots driving into the gravel. Therefore, it was with great resolve that HQ London District, led by the Brigade Major, Lieutenant Colonel Guy Stone LVO, began to plan what for so long had seemed almost unthinkable: the return of music and pageantry to Horse Guards and with the addition of the most vital element of all, a live audience.

The intent was to produce a spectacle that would not only highlight the significant United Kingdom narratives of our time, but also offer a glimmer of hope as we all emerged from the pandemic. And so, the Military Music Spectacular, ‘The Sword and the Crown’ was born.

Musician Romana Hallstead, the joint winner of the 2021 Household Division Musician of the Year Competition, performing on trumpet for the first time on Horse Guards

The Massed Bands were put through a rigorous and intensive rehearsal schedule, each move and step carefully planned and scrutinised by Warrant Officer Class 1 (RSM) David Wright, the Regimental Sergeant Major of Household Division Bands, and the Assistant Senior Drum Major, Warrant Officer Class 2 Scott Fitzgerald. The opening sequence alone would see the Massed Bands perform not one but two spin-wheels, a challenging manoeuvre at the best of times.

Horse Guards was set, stands in place, music selected and rehearsed, and with an air of anticipation, as each evening the crowds queued patiently to take their seats. The distant strike-up of a band, as they made their way down Birdcage Walk from Wellington Barracks to Horse Guards, added to the sense of excitement.

The central narrative for The Sword and the Crown, ‘Global Britain’, was conveyed through the opening presentation of Fanfare for a Great Occasion, The Soldiers of The Queen, When the Guards Are On Parade and To Your Guard, a magnificent sequence of precision drill and stirring martial music.  The Massed Pipes and Drums of The London Scottish Regiment and the Aberdeen University Officers’ Training Corps followed, with a swirl of kilts and the sweet drone of the pipes to The 79th’s Farewell to Gibraltar.

Part of the mastery of WO1 Wright’s plan was the slick sequencing of the elements of the performance; no sooner had the pipes retreated before a combined band of Army Reserves, formed of both the Honourable Artillery Company and The Royal Yeomanry (Inns of Court and City Yeomanry), performed a sequence paying a poignant tribute to 100 years of The Royal British Legion.

The narrative then switched to the environment; the 1st Battalion Irish Guards are deployed on Operation CORDED, working alongside members of the Zambian Military and Civil law enforcement agencies in the Kafue National Park. The training programme helps develop the skills to counter the illegal wildlife trade and to benefit nature, people, the economy, and to support national and regional stability. A specially composed piece was prepared, Rangers Alert, to pay tribute to the work of all those involved in Operation CORDED and salute those Zambia partners who are engaged on the front line of this battle. The sequence unfolded, led by the Massed Corps of Drums of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and the Honourable Artillery Company advancing onto the parade ground in arrowhead formation, with the age-old sound of fifes and drums conveying a sense of taking the battle directly to those who would threaten the survival of some of the world’s most magnificent animals.

This year, we bid a fond farewell to Kneller Hall, the home of Army music for over 164 years. Legacy provided a heart-warming reflection on Kneller Hall, a building that holds so many memories for all the musicians on parade.  It seemed only fitting that the soloist for this piece should be one of the most recent musicians to have passed out of Kneller Hall’s hallowed grounds, Musician Romana Hallstead, a graduate of both the Junior Royal Northern College of Music and the highly respected Chetham’s School of Music. Romana performed on trumpet for the very first time on Horse Guards after recently becoming joint winner of the 2021 Household Division Musician of the Year Competition.

As the Military Music Spectacular drew to an end, the Massed Bands performed a selection of James Bond themes, specially arranged for the Military Music Spectacular by Household Division Staff Arrangers Lance Sergeant Chris Shelton and Sergeant Adam Barras. In a humourous nod to ‘Global Britain’, the Massed Bands created a huge 007 formation and then finally slow marched into place to finish the sequence, spelling out ‘UK’ across Horse Guards. A heart-stopping explosion of fireworks added a final burst of excitement to the evening’s proceedings.

Finally, West End vocalist, Rodney Earl Clarke, swept the audience along on a wave of emotion with a superb rendition of I Vow To Thee, My Country, followed by a beautiful setting of Great is Thy Faithfulness, composed by Major Paul Collis-Smith, Director of Music of the Household Cavalry Band, featuring the unmistakable sound of the State Trumpeters.

The Military Music Spectacular was an emotional moment on so many levels: a return to Horse Guards Parade for the Massed Bands of the Household Division for the first time in a year and a half and, perhaps more importantly, it saw people from all over the United Kingdom come back together again to enjoy music in a live setting. Moreover, it was a demonstration of the confidence and resilience of our Nation.

The finale


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