The Band of RHS

On Saturday 6th May 2017, the concert band, brass ensemble and big band of the Royal Hospital School took to the stage for an evening of music and pageantry.

The programme of music spanned a period of over 500 years, demonstrating the band’s versatility and ensuring that every taste was catered for.  Opening with a rousing new fanfare and introduction to the National Anthem, composed especially for the event, the band then performed the title music from the 2004 Disney film, The Incredibles, ably accompanied by the Corps of Drums.

A traditional march sequence then followed, and this year’s offerings were from the pen of the undisputed king of the American march, John Phillip Sousa.  A slick drum display was bookended by the perennial favourites The Thunderer and The Stars and Stripes Forever, featuring the wonderful piccolo playing of Year 10’s Pim Mahikote.

Year 13’s Tom Harmer, the current Head of Drums, said:

“This concert has been the culmination of months, if not years of hard work for me.  I leave to go to university soon, so I really wanted to go out with a bang!”

As the Corps of Drums left the hall to thunderous applause, the RHS Bandmaster, Richard Harvey, introduced the evening’s overture, Orpheus in the Underworld, with a brief synopsis of Offenbach’s opera, which covered all of the usual Greek mythological prerequisites of love, hatred, betrayal and retribution.  The band then exploded into a vigorous rendition of the classical favourite, which featured some beautiful clarinet playing from Year 12’s Saffy Henley, whose handling of the cadenzas would have left many a pro’ impressed.  The overture concluded with the Galop Infernal, more commonly known as the Can-Can, and the young musicians demonstrated discipline and control as they hurtled through to the final fortissimo chord without ever losing the sense of ensemble which is so often traded for volume and brashness by school bands.

Following her performance, Saffy said:

“When Mr Harvey first put this music in front of me last September I really didn’t think I would be able to play it, but I’ve practised really hard and I hope I did a good job.  One thing that has really inspired me was the visit we had from Derek Nash, Jools Holland’s saxophone player, who really gave me confidence to just go for it.”

Next it was time for the cornet section to shine, and this year’s Head of Band Rebecca Ashton-Beck was joined by Year 13’s Ben Banks and Alex Gray of Year 10 to play Leroy Anderson’s Buglers’ Holiday, which was followed by a soothing rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, arranged for the RHS band by the Bandmaster.  To finish off the first half, the band then performed a selection of big band standards, including String of Pearls, Satin Doll, Intermission Riff and Sophisticated Lady, which featured the dulcet tones of Year 12’s Giles Wilson on euphonium.

Giles said:

“I realise the euphonium isn’t usually associated with the big band, but it’s been great fun to play in a completely different style and genre.  Maybe I should take up the trombone too!”

The second half kicked off with the Brass Ensemble, an ensemble featuring some of the school’s younger, less-experienced musicians, who set feet tapping with Eric Osterling’s concert march, Bandology.  The audience was then whisked back to Tudor England with a performance King Henry VIII’s own composition, Pastime With Good Company, before the brass group finished their set with the nautical ditty Forty Fathoms, featuring Sam Banks of Year 10 on tuba, fresh from Grade 8 success.

The applause subsided as the Big Band filed onto the stage, and their set of American Patrol and the classic Count Basie number Hayburner sandwiched a very slick, professional performance of the Rat Pack’s Me and my Shadow, sung by the tuxedo-clad Ollie Moore and William Walkington.  The two boys, both in Year 12, showed great chemistry on stage and obviously relished their moment in the spotlight.

Ollie said:

“This was so much fun – I loved being Sinatra for the night, and to sing with a full big band behind you is amazing.”

As is traditional with RHS band concerts, the evening concluded with a full Naval finale, and as the house lights were lowered on the full sized White Ensign and Union Flags which hung magnificently above the band, the Corps of Drums re-took their place on the stage.  A beautiful setting of Eternal Father, Strong to Save was followed by an emotional performance on bugles of Sunset by Rebecca Ashton-Beck and Ben Banks, for whom the sun is finally setting on their time at the school as they prepare for their A level exams and life beyond.  It was then the chance for the audience to join the action, and they really did lift the roof with their enthusiastic vocal additions to Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, before the band rounded the official proceedings off with the school’s own march, Holbrook, the march past of the Royal Navy, Heart of Oak, and the regimental march of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, A Life on the Ocean Wave.  By way of an encore, the band sent the audience away with a swing in its step with a performance of Walters’ Hootenanny; a lively medley of traditional American tunes.

Following the concert, Richard Harvey, the Bandmaster, said:

“Every single performer on stage tonight should be incredibly proud of themselves – from the Year 7s with Grade 1 to the sixth formers working towards A levels, diplomas and beyond, this was a real demonstration of teamwork and dedication, and I don’t think a single member of the audience will be leaving here tonight having not heard something that uplifted them.”

In two months’ time, the band will be departing the UK for a tour of Western Canada, during which it will have the honour of performing in the Calgary Stampede Parade.