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Military Band

History of Military Music

Military bands in the United Kingdom are the musical units that serve for protocol and ceremonial duties as part of the British Armed Forces. They have been the basis and inspiration for many military bands in the former British Empire and the larger Commonwealth of Nations as well as musical organizations in other countries.

Early development, medieval era and 17th century

British military music was unsophisticated until the Crusades (from the late 11th century). Trumpeters and drummers in the field sufficed as a medium for communication, as did pipers, and later fifers, whose further remit was to frighten the enemy. Casualty clearance and first aid became their dual roll.

The oldest military band in the British military is the Royal Artillery Band, which traces its origins back to 1557 at the Battle of St. Quentin. King Charles II of England studied French Army music during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. Upon regaining the throne, he began implementing French musical traditions. 1678 saw the introduction of six hautbois instruments in the Band of the Horse Grenadier Guards. Most British regiments of the line adopted this new instrumentation by 1690.

18th and 19th centuries

During the 17th and 18th centuries, soldiers marched to the beat of the drum from the day they were recruited in their localities. Drummers, many of them teenagers by the time they were recruited, were also responsible for punishing soldiers who were sentenced to be flogged with whips. The average age of the 304 drummers at Waterloo was 25, with about 10% being boys under 16. The Artillery Band, which were mere "drumme and phifes" for close to 200 years until 1762, was made 'official' that year. Regimental bands in the Foot Guards were first formed between 1783 and 1785. The 1st Foot Guards Band was known as the Duke of York's Band and the 3rd Foot Guards band was known as the Duke of Gloucester's Band. In 1854, during the Crimean War, a parade in Scutari (nowadays Turkey), to celebrate the Queen Victoria's birthday was held, during which twenty British Army bands performed the national anthem. As a result of the bands playing God Save the Queen in different instrumentations and key signatures, the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall was established that year as the primary training school for all musicians of the army's bands. In the corps of drums of the line infantry units, while fifes and drums had been played for centuries, beginning in the 1850s bugles began to be adopted in such formations. Until 1837, Army bands sported the Turkish crescent as part of the band percussion section, a tradition introduced from the Ottoman Empire and its military bands in the 18th century.

20th century

By the early 20th Century, regimental infantry and cavalry bands in the British Army, were well-balanced, highly versatile groups of musicians. Their battlefield role dwindled with the advancement of technology and modern warfare. At the time, bugle and trumpet calls were still used to signal on the battlefield, with all other aspects remaining unused except for ceremonial events. During both the First and Second World Wars bandsmen would act as stretcher bearers, dispatch riders, and serve in other non-combatant roles, while the field musicians remained in the heavy weapons or combat support role. With the reduction in size of the army, the need for battalion and event to an extent, regimental bands became obsolete and were seen as a strain in the national economy rather than a cultural symbol.The same case happened to bands of the Royal Navy (including Royal Marines) and the Royal Air Force, even as both services began to follow the lead of the army with the formation of their schools of music in 1902 and 1918, respectively.

During the Second World War, aware of the growing need of women in service in the armed forces each service branch would create all-women's military bands. None of such bands exist today, but since 1991, when the RAF Music Services began including regular women musicians, all the branches of the British Armed Forces have bands made up of experienced musicians of both genders.

In 1947, the Royal Artillery Mounted, Portsmouth and Salisbury Plain bands, along with the bands of six of the larger Corps, were granted the status of staff bands, most of which were based at permanent locations. In 1984, four staff bands were disbanded and the remaining bands were reduced considerably. This hit regimental and battalion bands particularly hard, reducing their size to just 21 bandsmen. Most of the infantry regiments which then had three battalions instead opted for two bands with 35 bandsmen each.

Cadet Bands

There are various volunteer reservist bands affiliated with the British military, mirroring and styling themselves after regular forces bands. The various uniformed military cadet organisations have their own bands that use the same aforementioned formations. All Army Cadet Bands follow this path and generally follow the traditions and adopt the dress of their parent units.

Syllabus and Training

Cadet Bands conduct training within their respective units on a weekly basis under the guidance of their Adult Instructors (CFAV) and will come together twice a year (Easter and October) to conduct training on a National level under the guidance and supervision of the HQ for Army Cadet Music.

During the training events at their unit or at a National level, they follow the Army Cadet Music Syllabus of which mirrors the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM) and Trinity College Syllabai. 1 Star Cadet Syllabus follows ABRSM / Trinity College Level 1 Qualification and continues up to the 4 Star Level of which follows the equivalent Level 4 syllabai through ABSRM / Trinity College. This allows our Cadets to achieve qualifications through both of the music schools of excellence, alongside their Cadet qualifications.

For information on musical requirements through the ABRSM or Trinity College, Please click on the following links;

ABRSM
Trinity College London


Major Tex Calton MBE, SO2 Cadet Bands