Next cut: The British Army’s music ensembles

Next cut: The British Army’s music ensembles


norman lebrecht

January 06, 2018

Elisabeth Braw reports in the FT that cuts are planned for the best drilled musicians in the world:

The British Army has 22 ensembles: eight symphonic wind bands, one other wind bands, six multi-capacity wind bands, three brass bands, three pop bands and one string orchestra.

A country’s military music-making matters and reflects its military prowess. In countries such as France, Britain and the US, military music is not an afterthought but a bona fide career for accomplished musicians. Although they are trained soldiers, the musicians spend most of their time rehearsing and performing…

Read on here.


  • ElizaX says:

    This is terrible news. If you can’t march a band of trumpeting soldiers down the blasted streets of a conquered city, just what can you do? What are the poor people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya going to listen to now that we have decimated their countries?

    A suggestion: since this obviously matters so much, can’t the Saudis finance a few of these ensembles in exchange for the weapons and expertise we are supplying in order for them to obliterate Yemen? Seems like a fair deal to me. Maybe we could do it on a strict body count ratio: for every 1000 dead Yemenis, they could buy us a trumpet or a piccolo.

    • Vienna calling says:

      What matters is that jobs for excellent musicians are being cut. No big deal as long as there’s a chance to write a hilariously unfunny comment that completely misses the point. Well done.

      • Alan says:

        Agreed. Must have taken Elizax (sounds like a haemorrhoid balm) hours to pen this PC piece of tripe! Plus, bandsmen were also stretcher-bearers and performed at charity fund-raisers.

        • ElizaX says:

          What on earth is “PC” about my comment? I was simply pointing out the fact that the UK has destroyed several countries……….and is responsible for deaths in the hundreds of thousands. (And we did this for oil, money etc – not for any good……)

          Support for the UK military, which promotes itself through commemoration days, public displays and marching bands etc, is one of the means by which ordinary decent people are encouraged to look the other way when it comes to our truly abysmal crimes. So as much as I feel for the individual musicians employed, I certainly do support a general reduction of military activity, even when it takes this apparently peaceful form.

          And in case you really don’t know, it is indeed true that we helping to annihilate Yemen at the moment. We not only supply the weapons, we have also sent UK military personnel to help the Saudis target their bombs etc. In other words, the UK is complicit is massive humanitarian crimes. This is not widely discussed or even reported in the media, of course, but it is very easy to verify.

          • Alan says:

            Irrelevant completely. Try a different thread for your views. I love good military music (my father was a bandsman pre-WW2 so I grew up with the genre). But the thought of the Band of the ………Guards (take your pick, they are all highly skilled musicians) triumphantly marching through Yemen, Afghanistan, etc is so ludicrous I actually had to giggle. And by the way, I don’t believe in war and every year on Armistice Day I shed a tear when “Nimrod” and Last Post are played and think deeply about the slaughter of men and women and the genocides that are being commemorated and not celebrated. To enjoy military music is not necessarily to praise war.

          • Sue says:

            Predictable comment from a lefty cry-bully.

          • Maria says:

            The British military does not send itself into these countries, politicians do, and one former PM in particular has form on this. I wonder who you voted for and where you stood on that issue at the time?

            Many of the “trumpeting soldiers” you sneeringly refer to are, in fact, trained medics, not the gloating conquerors you seem to crave.

        • Alan says:

          Don’t know what a “lefty cry-bully” is so can’t really comment on that one and don’t know to whom it is directed.

          • steven holloway says:

            The primary activity of the right-wing trolls seems to be thinking up new and incomprehensible terms of insult for those of opposing viewpoints. These are then embedded in utterly irrelevant political diatribes regardless of the subject under discussion, this last being what makes them trolls. Sue’s a peach when it comes to this, but only one of many on this site.

      • steven holloway says:

        Absolutely spot on, Vienna — a nice and pithy riposte to her irrelevant tosh. I must think she has no idea as to the fine quality of the military musicians and their performances. I have LPs of the Band of the Grenadier Guards conducted by Lieutenant Colonel Rodney Bashford, who often visited his sister, our neighbour in my childhood. Magnificent playing. They were based at Kneller Hall, home of the Royal School of music, the foundations of which were laid in 1857. The hall is a magnificent mansion, orignally the home of painter Sir Godfrey Kneller. The school will disappear when the Hall is sold off by the MoD in 2020. We are about to lose an awful lot. I am highly and constantly critical of aspects of U.K. foreign policy and its use of the military, but that is not the issue here. Elizax’s notion of the bands marching through conquered cities is sheer absurdity.

        • Alan says:

          Agree absolutely. I am sure that lots of people are indifferent to military music but that is a matter of choice. I do not live in the UK but whenever I visit (over 55 years) I make a point of seeing the Changing of the Guard and have never ceased to thrill to the quality of the music. They have never disappointed me. I remember as a boy watching the band at Buckingham Palace play “thank heaven for little girls” after the birth of Princess Margaret’s daughter. But in all the years I have never the urge to bayonet someone afterwards.

    • Steve P says:

      As a former military band musician, I approve of this funding formula.

    • Sanity says:

      You probably ought to do a bit of research into the huge numbers of military-trained musicians who hold positions in major orchestras both in the United Kingdom and abroad.

      I know you’re thinking you’re being really right-on and progressive; but you’re actually being really, really ignorant. Bands don’t march in theatres of war. The overwhelming part of the bands’ work is ceremonial and, indeed, raises a huge amount of money for charitable causes.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Similar reductions have been happening in the US for years.

    About all the public takes notice of, however, is that there are no longer buglers available to play “Taps” at the numerous military funerals. To cover, they have developed an electronic device anyone can hold and somewhat appear to be performing.

    “Bands don’t march in theaters of war. ”

    I don’t know about UK bands but US military bands do get sent to war zones.

    • Dominic Stafford says:

      US military bands do not go to combat zones as musicians. They go as guards etc. British military bands go as stretcher bearers, in general. They do not march victorious down vanquished streets playing Rule Britannia…

      My brother is Professor Of Composition at Kneller Hall.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        “US military bands do not go to combat zones as musicians.”

        I’d say your brother has been feeding you some face-saving stories.

      • Jeff says:

        US military musicians do deploy as musicians, performing in the theatre for the troops, conducting funeral honors, fostering relations with local civilians and music organizations, etc. While there may sometimes be secondary duties (not usually guard duties but more like helping out at the gym on base), the primary mission is musical.

        Source: I am a US Army bandsman.

        • Jeff says:

          Please note, however, that the musical mission does not involve “triumphantly marching” through any streets…

  • Anna says:

    When times are tough this does seem one of the more obvious cuts to make. Military bands have had excessive funding for years.

    I worked in a musical instrument retailer and band members would regularly buy instruments that then just sat in cupboards just because they could. If the player left the band, the band wouldn’t think to sell the instrument. They bought the very top of the range of everything all the time in terms of expense, often when it wasn’t necessary or ‘the best’. We tendered for contracts that were a huge boost to our income but balked at the excess. We also balked at the huge administration (and therefore administrative cost) of these contracts that were entirely unnecessary and often much more administratively complex than many other countries’ government funded organisations we dealt with.

    I also have to say that most Band members were often NOT excellent musicians – it was a great job for a GOOD musician – and I’m pleased they could get a career – but not the career for the top ones in many, many cases. They enjoy excellent salaries and benefits and a fantastic pension for the level of their musicianship. They also are often required to learn completely different instruments from those they originally played as some kind of ‘development’ idea. Wonderful in theory, but in practice no top orchestra would do the same because it’s a massive waste of resources, and you’re never going to be as good on it.

    I support hugely musical organisations sponsored by the government, but the huge excess spending across the board from military bands is one area that could be legitimately cut. The many thousands of pounds my former employer made from them really did not have to be spent in the way it was.

    • Jeff says:

      And what’s wrong with “good” but not “excellent” musicians making a living in music? I have happily eaten the food of many a “good” but not “excellent” chef. As a military musician myself, I am fully aware that I am no Maurice Andre or Wynton Marsalis, but with two music performance degrees I am grateful to be employed in my field.

  • Tom says:

    Good man Jeff! The most sensible person commenting by far. Listen to people who actually do the job before commenting on what you think military musicians do!