On Monday 13 November, following our annual Remembrance Parade through the historic streets of Canterbury, 5 members of the PWRR Band and a guest from the Royal Yeomanry boarded a flight for our next overseas deployment, a country that we were all particularly excited about visiting. Officially classed as one of the most difficult and least visited places in the world, we were heading to the capital city of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, being met there by the Director of Music (DOM), who was hotfooting and joining us enroute from Ethiopia.
On our arrival and going through several levels of security, we headed to our hotel accommodation, where just by looking at the streets and our immediate surroundings, it became very apparent that we were embarking on something extremely special and unique. Being the first UK Military musicians to have ever visited Turkmenistan was a huge honour and responsibility, so we were determined to undertake as much musical defence diplomacy and international bilateral engagement as possible in the short time we had in this spectacular country.
Tuesday afternoon began with a visit to the rehearsal facilities of the National Youth Symphony Orchestra, where we teamed up with 3 highly talented musicians who were going to perform with us later in the week. Alongside each other, we seamlessly played Western and Turkmenistan music despite our obvious language differences – sometimes ‘where words fail, music speaks’. From there, it was off to our second engagement of the day, a meeting with the Military Band Service of their Armed Forces. Sharing humorous musical anecdotes through an interpreter (not to mention the finest selection of cakes on offer!), it became immediately clear that our planned combined concert on Friday, sharing the stage with 40 hand-picked Turkmen musicians was destined to be a huge success.
Wednesday saw us returning to a purposely built concert hall within the Military Band Service complex, to begin work on our selected, challenging concert pieces. This gave us the opportunity to deliver group & individual master classes to our Turkmen counterparts, focussing on the competency and high standards we constantly strive to improve and develop within our very own organisation. As well as building rapport, we offered advice, technical skills and tips – all designed to improve our colleagues’ practical performances on their respective personal instruments. This was a shining example of the sharing of musical knowledge and the efficient establishing of a professional relationship through soft power diplomacy, in its truest sense.
The programme featured music from both Nations, displaying the very best talent of both organisations on show. Whilst the conducting duties were shared between DOMs, PWRR musicians were tested to the full having to play Turkmenistan music, consisting of particularly tricky and intricate time signatures and rhythms. Like true Tigers though, they rose to the challenge!
Rehearsals and preparations begin for our combined concert
As Thursday dawned, The Main Event was upon us – musical support to The Kings Birthday Party, hosted by the British Embassy. The evening began with Reception music where we were joined once again by our friends from the Youth Orchestra, performing music across both cultures. Following a speech from the Ambassador and the formal cutting of a Union Jack birthday cake, we moved into full party mode….taking a packed dance floor from Robbie Williams right through to the Beatles. We even gave them a rendition of Rockin’ all over the World as an encore!
With hardly time to catch our breath, it was yet another early start returning to the Military Band complex for our final performance – our highly anticipated combined concert. In front of a 1000+ audience, it was an incredible privilege sharing the stage with our Turkmenistan musical friends, in the presence of the UK Ambassador. A huge highlight was CSgt Lorna Rance performing the solo saxophone duet ‘What a Wonderful World’ alongside a fellow Turkmen musician. Stood side by side, the piece displayed the power and connection that sometimes only music can achieve, acting as a great enabler for Defence Engagement, which Defence Attachés around the world might consider as part of their future engagement plans.
Following the closing National Anthems, gifts were bestowed on the Band members, with the DOM having the great honour of being presented his very own traditional telpek (sheepskin hat). Whilst the concert was the end product (and despite its enormous success), just as important was the journey it took to get there. From our nervous first meeting with its obvious wariness and caution, there very quickly developed a mutual trust, bonding and friendship, as is often the case when making music. It is sincerely hoped that one day, we may return to this incredible country and develop even greater friendships and mutual musical understanding.
The Band of The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment was formed in 1993 and is one of 19 UK-based Army Reserve Bands. The Regiment, however (also known as the ‘Tigers’), can trace its lineage as far back as 1572, with its modern formations coming into force in 1992, on the amalgamation of the Queen’s Regiment and the Royal Hampshire Regiment.
As well as providing musical support to the population of Kent and The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, we deliver essential music capability to events and engagements across the UK and overseas. We have recently performed at the Birmingham International Tattoo, Winchester Cathedral and for the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay. Additionally of late, we have undertaken deployments to Gibraltar, Cyprus, India, and Uzbekistan.
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