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RAF Music at the forefront of RAF100 events in Washington DC

As RAF100 celebrations continue, RAF Music is very much at the forefront of the events.  The month of April saw Central Band of the RAF with their Director of Music, Flight Lieutenant Chris I’Anson, and Senior Drum Major, Band Master Terry Gardner, travel to Washington DC to give some high-profile performances alongside the Queen’s Colour Squadron.  Keen to celebrate the historic relationship formed between the UK Air Force and the US Air Force, Central Band performed at key events throughout the week.

The Great British Fly-In at Udvar-Hazy Air & Space Museum

Washington DC, 15 April 2018

Sunday 15th April saw thousands of people flock to the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazey Centre.  This museum, which boasts of being the most visited museum in the country, is a must for any air and space enthusiast, and on this day, was to host ‘The Great British Fly-In’.

A day to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the oldest air force in the world, it saw former RAF aircraft flown in and displayed for one day only alongside American counterparts in recognition of the UK and USA special relationship through air power.  Talks by RAF officers and Museum experts about the history of the RAF and its aircraft were enjoyed by the public, as were performances by the Central Band and the Queen's Colour Squadron (QCS).  Central Band, dressed in the brand-new ceremonial uniform released on the 1st April to mark the centenary of the RAF, entertained the crowds before accompanying QCS for their 16-man drill display.

Central Band of the RAF parade beneath aircraft suspended from the ceiling of the hangar.
Central Band perform at the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum, amongst the display of British and American aircraft.

Commenting on the week ahead, Central Band’s Director of Music, Flight Lieutenant Chris I’Anson stated,

“It’s going to be such a busy year, but everything we’re doing is terrific.  It’s a real treat for those of us who are involved at this time.  There’s obviously a huge history of music in the Royal Air Force, but to be part of it during the 100th anniversary – it really is very special.”

RAF Musicians meet pose for photos with museum visitors.
Central Band musicians make time to meet museum visitors.



The RAF100 Baton Relay, due to start its journey around Washington, was also on display and there were plenty of photo opportunities to be had by the public as well as a chance for Central Band members to meet the crowds.


Bands of the RAF and USAF join to celebrate RAF100

Washington DC, 16 April 2018

A real highlight of the Central Band’s tour to Washington DC was a joint concert with the USAF Concert Band at the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall.

Five officers stand on a stage with flags and insignia.
Queen's Colour Squadron and the USAF Honor Guard salute during the National Anthems.

This historic collaboration of two military ensembles culminated in an extraordinary performance celebrating both the RAF’s centenary and the 70-year strategic relationship between British and American forces.

 “This was more than just one night of two bands coming together. The RAF and the US Air Force have a shared history and have combined their forces on many different campaigns.  We are celebrating the long partnership between Britain and the US, and I look forward to continuing to celebrate this partnership.”

 Senior Master Sergeant. Jay Heltzer, US Air Force Concert Band trombonist.

A 12-man drill display from the QCS, accompanied by the Central Band, was an impressive start to the concert and set the tone of an evening that over 1,500 people from the local community attended.  Under the direction of Flight Lieutenant Chris I’Anson, the evening’s 2 soloists, RAF Central Band’s Corporal Lewis Musson and U.S Air Force Concert Band’s Tech Sergeant Forrest Sonntag, came together to give a stunning performance of Tom Davoren’s piece Ascension for solo euphonium, trumpet, and concert band.

Uniformed musicians perform a concert.

The first half of the concert featured both bands separately but it was the sound of the combined bands in the second half of the concert that led Colonel Larry Lang, Commander and Conductor of the US Air Force Concert Band, to comment,

“This has been an honor for me to have worked with the combined bands…I was so amazed at how well it came together because when they played together it sounded like it was one huge band…the same intonation, the same blend, the same feeling - it was amazing”.

Two of the evening’s pieces were conducted by retired US Air Force conductor and D-Day veteran of Omaha Beach, Colonel Arnald Gabriel, the second of which, John William’s Hymn to the Fallen from the film Saving Private Ryan, was a poignant moment in the concert proceedings and an experience that players and audience members alike could not fail to be moved by.

Uniformed musicians play music.
Colonel Gabriel conducts the combined bands.

Colonel Gabriel has performed in fifty states and fifty countries worldwide but clearly felt the joint performance of this piece was something special and after the concert commented,

“To me, it’s a very emotional piece…they played it beautifully. I was so proud of them.”

The concert was hugely positive for all involved, bringing together musicians from both sides of the Atlantic in celebration.  It was an occasion that left a lasting impression and hope to repeat in the future.

RAF100 Gala, Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

Washington DC, 18 April 2018

On the evening of 18th April, Central Band provided musical support for an RAF100 Gala held at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, which celebrated the reformation of 617 Squadron, The Dambusters.  With guests from the British Embassy in attendance and Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Hillier, the proud history of 617 Squadron was celebrated before a ceremony in which the Squadron Standard was paraded and Officer Commanding 617 Sqn, Wing Commander John Butcher requested permission to reform the squadron.

617 Squadron has reformed to fly the new F-35 fighter jets and are currently training in America; another example of the strong relationship between the UK and the US Air Forces.  

Addressing the audience, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier commented, “The relationship between the Royal Air Force and aviation in the United States and the United States Air Force is long and enduring.  I am therefore delighted the huge effort the United States Air Force has put into helping us celebrate our 100th birthday.”

Guests enjoyed a musical medley of RAF classics from Central Band including the famous and fitting Dambusters March before they were joined by the Queen’s Colour Squadron to perform a 16-man drill display.

Royal Air Force Squadronaires and the Airmen of Note

Washington DC, 18 April 2018

Musicians pose for a picture taken from above.
RAF Squadronaires and Airmen of Note (USAF) share the stage.

On Wednesday 18th April 2018, history was made as two of the world’s finest Big Bands took to the stage to perform together for the first time.  The RAF Squadronaires and the Airmen of Note (USAF) have reputations as the premier jazz ensembles of their respective Services, and are both steeped in history.  The ‘Squads’, as they are colloquially known, formed during the second world war when professional musicians were recruited into the Central Band of the RAF, whereas the ‘Note’ was created in 1950 to continue the tradition of Major Glen Miller’s Army Air Corps dance band.

The concert, which took place at the beautifully impressive Strathmore Hall, was another facet of RAF centenary celebrations in Washington DC.  The special relationship between the RAF and USAF was portrayed through a display of incredible musicianship from both the Squads and the Note as both bands performed a short programme in their own distinguished style, as well as coming together to perform as a double big band.

Uniforned musician plays drum kit.
Corporal Matt Walker on kit.

Under the musical direction of Corporal Andy Mears the Squads opened the show with Roland Shaw’s up-tempo arrangement of Men of Harlech, giving the audience a traditional flavour of the British Isles. The Note then kicked up a gear and featured some of their world class soloists in Master Sergeant Jeff Martin’s Sakura.  It was a pleasure for the Squads to invite Master Sergeant Grant Langford from the Note to feature as tenor sax soloist for Tony Faulkner’s Colfox alongside Senior Aircraftman Ben Murray from the Squads’ trumpet section.  Squads drummer Corporal Matt Walker swapped his kit for a microphone to give a poignant vocal performance of I’ll Be Seeing You, made famous by Dame Vera Lynn and a soulful rendition of Gonna Build a Mountain ‘a la’ Matt Munro.

High octane musical highlights were the double big band charts featuring the two ensembles as one; a version of Duke Ellington’s Caravan arranged by Corporal Andy Mears, and Basie/Ellington’s Battle Royale.  Soloists from each band exchanged friendly blows through jazz solos before lead trumpeters from each outfit, Corporal Andrew Lofthouse (Squads) and Senior Master Sergeant Brian MacDonald (Note) had a high-note competition to bring the concert to a close.

RAF Squadronaires big band play music.
RAF Squadronaires on stage.

It was an honour and a privilege for the Squads to share the stage with the Airmen of Note; a memorable experience which will be difficult to surmount.  New friendships have been forged and they all look forward to collaborating again in the future, hopefully on British soil.

Central Band of the RAF at the Lincoln Memorial

Washington DC, 19 April 2018

Band parade in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

The finale of the RAF100 USA celebrations took place at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC where the Central Band of the RAF performed with the Queen’s Colour Squadron to perform a special display for the public.

Marching band parade infront of the Lincoln Memorial.
Every Thursday morning at the Lincoln Memorial the US Air Force Honor Guard present a short display to entertain the public and create a unique tourist attraction. For this performance given by the RAF, the UK RAF Defence Attaché was in attendance.

Central Band musicians mingled with members of the public including American war veterans from the Vietnam War and students who were enjoying their university graduation on the steps of Lincoln Memorial.  The band then performed 2 routines including an incidental of The Best of the RAF followed by a 16-man drill display with QCS. The continuity drill was specially designed to incorporate the key themes of RAF100 and celebrate the formation of the world’s first independent Air Force.

Article written by Corporal Matt Edwardson, Senior Aircraftwoman Louisa Gawn, & Senior Aircraftman Chris James.

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