Corps of Army Music 25th Anniversary

Royal guards from the army marching towards the Buckingham Palace​ in London.

Corps of Army Music Bygone

In wishing CAMUS (Corps of Army Music) “Happy Anniversary” I’ve been looking back at its founding fathers’ ideals and deliberations from the 1800s, when radical decisions were made to wrench the financing and management of Regimental Bands from out of the hands of Regimental Officers and foreign Bandmasters, a practice that had been in existence for a century. These, essentially ‘private,’ bands (financed by Regimental Officers) varied in instrumentation and were very much under the influence of the man in the middle who not only tutored/conducted things musical, but was the conduit between Commanding Officers and agents of makers of instruments and musical accoutrements of the period. Indeed it was customary for a newly appointed Bandmaster to condemn all instruments, now at his disposal, in order to re-equip from his chosen supplier, such as Mr Charles Boosey, co-founder of a world famous musical instrument manufacturer.

It was the Duke of Cambridge who, after the Crimean War (1853-86), decided to set up a Military Music Class to ultimately replace the ‘hired foreigner’ with trained and competent soldier musicians. This Class was set up in Twickenham in 1857 at Kneller Hall, the former home of Court painter, Sir Godfrey Kneller.


(extract) “To create a College whence a supply of trained musicians may always be available for the Army and Navy….. the Ecole Militaire Musicale at Paris is a celebrated college, and many of its features would be found suitable for adoption in England…. all in the respective services are trained in one school and on one principal….they acquire a unity of style in playing…. “


Having commenced the dis-establishment of private Regimental Bands, together with ‘relieving’ regiments/commanding officers from the expense of running their own bands, funding for Kneller Hall was planned, thus:-

  1. Inviting each regiment to contribute an annual subscription, for which it would receive, free of all other expense, one or more pupils, trained on any instrument its band might require.
  2. Asking the Royal Patriotic Fund (set up by Queen Victoria in 1854) for finance in return for accepting orphans of Servicemen (for musical training).
  3. Applying for half of sums paid by Musicians in the Army purchasing their discharge.

Without going into detail, Kneller Hall provided Army Musicians, trained in the art of Instrumental excellence and knowledgeable about the genre’s repertoire, who were able to perpetuate such skills far and wide – no wonder it flourished.

Through the founding patronage of Royalty (HRH The Duke of Cambridge was the grandson of King George lll) it followed that the public face of the Monarch was constantly surrounded by Pomp and Pageantry that developed musically from an infancy of mounted drummers and trumpeters, to sophisticated bands of brass and wind instruments that were given the unique sobriquet, Military.

After WW2 when normality returned to the country, the first one of a public concert season held at Kneller Hall was on 7th May 1947 with an audience of 445; when the final performance came on 24th September the total attending that year had been upwards of 26,000; this rose to 34,000 by 1949; such was the appetite for acoustic public concerts.

One hundred years after it’s establishment in 1857, HM Queen Elizabeth visited the now Royal Military School of Music, to open the newly built, pupils’ living accommodation.

Army Soldier at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, London.

Training Ethos in the Corps of Army Music

The purpose/courses/principals hadn’t changed that much in a century, much developed/sophisticated/honed yes; however the ethos remained whereby 2 main courses were the mainstay:-

  1. 3 year course to train Bandmasters to be Managers and both proficient and qualified in Conducting, Harmony, Orchestration, Aural and finally able to give practical instruction on all wind band instruments.
  2. 1 year course for young Instrumentalists, primarily to provide a foundation in the military band repertoire, together with the understanding of basic harmony, instrumentation and aural to enable them to take their useful place in a regimental band.

On-going Kneller Hall

50+ years on and we see a Corps of Army Music celebrating 25 years since its conception. The celebratory concert at KH on 20th July 2019 showed all the expected pomp/variety/colour and excellence of music, old and newly composed, to an enthusiastic audience of over 4000.

Originally a Corps in name only; ie a Corps for managing and administrating the careers of its members; it is about to create various bands around the country who will wear the same CAMUS uniform; currently ‘under wraps’ but soon to become familiar in a region near you.

Something that has been familiar to all military music lovers ie Kneller Hall, will close its doors in 2020. The Army’s Royal Military School of Music, centre of excellence, will move to Portsmouth to co-locate with HM Royal Marines Band Service own Royal Marines School of Music.

Army and Navy carrying out musical training in the same location; for the last 163 years, a conception tried many times to be brought about.  We wish all concerned a successful outcome.

What, you may ask, is the intention for Royal Air Force Music Services?  Follow this column to find out at a later date.

Cyril Foster

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