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CAMUS Training Team Sub Saharan Africa

In April this year, Musician Robbie Henderson was selected to be part of a Short Term Training Team in South Africa alongside ten other Corps of Army Music personnel.

The team met at the Royal Military School of Music (RMSM), Kneller Hall on Monday 2 June 2014, in preparation for the flight out to Malawi. Confident that everything was in order, we made our way to Heathrow and onwards to Malawi via Johannesburg. Although what was a long tiresome flight it certainly didn’t feel it, as to be with such great friends and colleagues made the time fly by.

Over the course of the three weeks, we were tasked to provide musical training to the Malawi defence force, South Africa defence force and the Botswana defence force.  On top of this we also had our two ensembles to provide musical entertainment for the defence forces and the British High Commission within the three different countries. 

Training the Malawian Defence Force was great fun for all of us as they were so eager to learn.  As a Euphonium player, it was a privilege to work alongside Sergeant John Storey from the Band of The Royal Logistics Corps. Together we made a considerable improvement to the Tuba and Euphonium sections of the Malawian Defence Force; we showed them how they could make the music sound “how you’d love it to sound”- in the famous words of Euphonium and Tuba professor Patrick Harrild.  Members of the team were able to assist in areas where the musicians struggled, and from our own experiences within CAMUS, were able to give them the best support they needed.

The team were given the opportunity to explore various locations within the surrounding areas of the three countries we visited.  We visited Lake Malawi which was simply breath taking, absolutely beautiful and well worth the 50 mile journey on rough roads to get there.  The journey was almost as amazing as the lake itself, with goats just casually crossing the road when they felt like it!  “Stealth speed bumps” and more crowded buses than in central London!

Before we left the Malawi Defence Force Band, we joined forces to perform at the local Lilongwe golf club.  We could certainly tell a difference in their quality of performance and general attitude to music which acted as a great reward.  The woodwind quartet also performed a recital to our audience at the golf club.

After biding a fond farewell to the members of the Malawi Defence Force Band, we travelled on to Pretoria in South Africa.  In Pretoria, we performed for the British High Commission, and again provided musical training, this time to the South African National Defence Force Ceremonial Guards Band.  Unlike the Malawi Defence Force band, it was clear that the Ceremonial Guards Band have had much more performance experience. 

Upon our arrival to the South African National Defence Force Ceremonial Guards Band, we were shown a breath-taking performance from their full marching band, and also the pop band.  We realised that the band could benefit from some more advanced teaching; this allowed us to exchange ways of tackling technical passages in a fast and furious piece; such as the well loved Bugler’s Holiday by Leroy Anderson.  Despite only being with the South African National Defence Force Ceremonial Guards Band for one day, I believe we inspired the band and it’s musicians to continue to improve in the ways we advised them. 

Also here in South Africa we were due to do a very touching engagement for Sound Seekers. Sound Seekers is a charity dedicated to helping deaf and hearing-impaired people in the developing world. For this special concert we used nine of us as a small marching band, and both our Brass quintet and Woodwind quartet. On top of entertaining everyone with music, we also let the children have a go on our instruments- they were especially intrigued by the trombone and its peculiarly long shape!

On our journey to Botswana from Pretoria, we stopped off at what has got to be the most moving, powerful and emotional engagements I’ve performed for - the Modderspruit Sunrise Hospice, which works with children and families living with HIV and Aids.  It was an honor to perform for children and their families who were so appreciative of us performing for them. Similarly to performing for the Sound Seekers Charity, we also let the children have a go on our instruments. This time it was our percussionist and his snare drum which brought all the attention.  Before we sadly left the Modderspruit Sunrise Hospice, we agreed to give each of them one of the Corps old Tactical Recognition Flashes (TRF’s), as a special, leaving gift. 

Our last band to visit was the Botswana Defence Force Band (BDF Band) which was different again to the previous two bands. We had a rehearsal with the band, led by Warrant Officer Class One (Bandmaster) O’Neill, where we taught them to be passionate about the music they play, and treat every single note with care and respect. As a final trip out as a group, we went to visit the BDF zoo, where they keep, animals for training purposes for the troops.

It was a sad moment when we were due to leave Botswana and fly back home from Johannesburg, although the whole team felt satisfied that we had made a tremendous difference to the three bands we had visited.  We left Africa with fond memories of the whole trip - great photos and great friends I will keep actively in touch with.