British Army Bands 2019

This weeks article is a feature kindly provided by our observer of Military Music, Cyril Foster.

Fake news?

Recently reported in a Sunday Newspaper, following a document that had been spotted in Defence procurement files, purporting to fund the Corps of Army Music (CAMUS) to the tune of £6.5m for Military Band Supplies. Only 2 years ago, up to 8 of the Army’s 22 bands faced closure. The assumed implication, by the newspaper was that some sort of reprieve was in the offing.

British Army Bands

Earlier band reductions

By the first part of the 20th century, under the Regimental system, each Regiment, some with multiple Battalions, all had their own bands that travelled, nomadically, with their parent units –in war or peace. Music of the period was performed when deemed appropriate wherever they happened to be and when inappropriate they turned their hand to stretcher bearing, vehicle driving et al (more recently chemical warfare decontamination). The result was parochial music played with passion that was loved, mainly for the cap badge the musicians wore and not the quality of music presented by them.

The 1980s witnessed band size trials; senior officers analysed the looked-for downsizing by listening, in turn, first, to a band of 34, then 28, 25, 22 and finally a paltry 18.

‘Size 34’ was favoured, as Regimental bands of the Cavalry and Infantry were so scaled – until it was deemed possible to make ‘enough noise’ with a 22 piece band (a louder Time Beater?).

The cuts ensued sure enough; so when the next round of reductions descended, it was deduced that the decision to have such small bands was indeed wrong

The ethos became ‘larger but less’ with bands swelling back up to being at least 34 strong.

In 1994 CAMUS was formed. After further re-thinking and re-sizing, the Corps comprised 7 Symphonic Wind bands, 2 Wind bands, 6 Multi Capability bands, 3 Brass bands, 3 Specialist bands and one String Orchestra.

Latest Optimization 2019

The concept, ‘less is more’ (that’s a cryptic palindrome) might still prevail – but who knows?

In summary

The aspiration at the Ministry of Defence is to see the continuance of State Ceremonial remaining at the highest level. It follows that CAMUS represents a world class Army on the World stage. News coverage of ceremonial events in support of welcoming globe trotting leaders, offers instant impressions of a country’s ability to ‘put on a show,’ when these elite are greeted with Guards of Honour, Marching Bands, Mounted Bands and Escorts. The UK has got it off to a fine art. Tourism flourishes in the Nation’s capitals, partly because of this, and Service bands in the UK’s Capitals currently maintain these lofty targets of excellence. Countries with strengthening economies, especially the oil rich, are working hard at it, although they started out a century or two after UK.

The British do have an immeasurable pride in State Ceremonial or as someone put it recently ‘The lustre in the Crown’. That said, make no mistake, UK has to be on its guard to maintain its own ‘world-class’ high benchmarks; and that’s it – more or less.

Cyril Foster

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