Britain does pageantry well. As part of the Royal Marines Band Service, I was lucky to be part of the Coronation Parade that led The King back to Buckingham Palace on the day of his coronation. I’m the Director of Music of The Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Collingwood, and our job was to lead the Royal Navy and Royal Marines marching contingents in the parade. For this, we joined with The Band of His Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth (The Royal Band) to make a marching band of 80 people, which then allowed sailors and marines from around the Fleet to practice their steps in rehearsal and on the parade itself.
We squeezed musical rehearsals into the gaps between parade rehearsals, which included going twice through the whole parade the Sunday before and a full dress rehearsal in London overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday. The logistics of such an operation were quite something; there were around 10,000 uniformed Service personnel in London on the day and we all had to be transported from our units, fed and watered. A host of others provided admin and logistic support, and we mustn’t forget the rest of the forces people doing their duty around the globe.
One of the interesting points for us was that, for the first time, all the Service bands would play exactly the same music at the same time. Although this sounds quite simple, the number of issues surrounding parade orders and acoustics (let alone technical failures) caused a bit of concern. However, it all worked very well and allowed the parade to be more compact than ever before, making a better show of it for the crowd and cameras.
Being part of a ceremony that has only happened 40 times since 1066 was a real thrill and a highlight for me was hearing ‘Zadok the Priest’ in the context it was composed for. Another was the three cheers we gave The King and Queen in the back garden of Buckingham Palace. 4000 people giving their full-throated congratulations rang around the surrounding buildings and will live long in our memories.
In all the debate surrounding the event, the opinion vented on just about every aspect, the protest and the celebration, perhaps the outstanding takeaway for me was the quality of the music. The performances in Westminster Abbey were of the very highest order, the concert in Windsor was brilliant, and the bands on parade sounded fantastic. All of them featured military musicians and all were built on strong foundations which we neglect at our peril. I was able to demand the highest standards from the Royal Marines musicians because we invest in our training and development, both in our own conservatoire (the Royal Marines School of Music) and in the operational bands. Before this, though, has to be the opportunity for every child to engage with music, and not just with generic pop. The fine motor skills, social development, emotional expression, teamwork, and self-discipline that quality music-making and learning offers should be universally available in a country with the sixth-largest economy in the world. Sport and the arts aren’t ‘nice-to-haves’. Each ensemble that played with such incredible skill and musicianship showed our nation to be in the top league on the world stage, and all the performers started in school. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I had at Hymers and my other schools and hope they are cherished and nurtured by everyone.
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