Friday, January 21, 2011

Madmen Across The Water

Last week, we had some visitors to Kandahar Airfield. Well, having visitors is not an unusual thing, but having another military band is. The Band of the Parachute Regiment, located in Colchester, England, United Kingdom, has been in Afghanistan for a few weeks making a tour of the country and they spent a good deal of time at KAF. Those of us in the 10th Mountain Division Band were able to spend plenty of time getting to know them and play some music together. Some of them also joined a few of our members on a couple of trips to work with the Afgan National Army Band located near here. We had initially planned to do a big afternoon concert together, but for whatever reason those plans got scrapped. We still managed to spend two mornings doing some concert band rehearsals together. Given that 10th MTN hasn't had to do any full concert band material since before we left the US, it was a bit strange to sit down in the Fest Tent amongst a combined group that totaled over forty members. We started off with a band transcription of Michael Giacchino's music from the recent J.J. Abrams Star Trek film, which was a lot of fun. We played through some other tunes that were written for concert bands (one of which, "Invictus" by British composer Philip Sparke, was commissioned by my previous band, The Army Ground Forces Band at Ft. McPherson, GA), and all I'll say about that is that the formula for concert band music is getting a bit stale--everything is an overture, start fast, have a slow lyrical middle section, then a big rousing finish and a loud BANG at the end. It's as if composers are afraid that they might be remembered for only one piece, so they should throw in everything they can to make sure it's all covered. But I digress.

Wednesday night, the Regiment's rock band "Ripchord" performed a scaled-down show at the Dutch Corner, a sort-of lounge area operated by the Netherlands. I didn't see the whole thing, but I loved their closing number, a song called "Fire" by the British indie band Kasabian. They promised that to get the full effect, we really needed to see the whole group--more guitars, background singers, and a horn section (pictured above). Fortunately, we only had to wait for Friday night as a joint performance was being planned with our rock band, Avalanche. It was a bigger--and louder--show, with Ripchord rolling through their set with enthusiasm, followed by Avalanche's heavy metal smackdown. The two bands joined for a big finale, and a good time was had by all despite some occasional problems with the sound system. (And Avalanche's NCOIC who got so into the performance that he hurt his back.) I was just glad I remembered to wear earplugs.

Saturday morning a few of us joined the BOTPR for a ceremonial performance...kind of. We headed to the bazaar area, which opens to numerous vendors every Saturday. The bazaar includes a school, and we were going to play some music for the students. Since their 2nd trombonist was gone with our staff to work with the ANA band, I filled in for him. It was a bit of a challenge sight-reading their selections, most of which I hadn't seen before, but I think I managed to pull it off without too many problems. We played through selections as diverse as the opening of the "Light Cavalry Overture," the "Post-horn Gallop" (featuring two trumpeters on post-horns, which are basically small straight bugles--no valves), "Wizard Weezes" from the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and Quincy Jones's "Soul Bossa Nova," famously used as the theme for the Austin Powers films. In a surprising move, we had a bunch of kids from a predominantly Muslim culture clapping along to the Yiddish tune "Hava Nagila." (!) We ended the performance by marching around the school building playing the march "Punchinello." This was not an easy thing to do, as the ground was covered with lots of small and medium-sized rocks, in addition to the fact that we Americans were not familiar with the British marching commmands. Afterwards, the British gave out some football (soccer!) jerseys and played a football (soccer!) game with the students. Many of those not in the game ended up playing on the merry-go-round, which is where I wound up as well. Who would've expected to be pushing a bunch of kids on a merry-go-round on a Saturday morning in Afghanistan? I later decided that that was my exercise for the day.

In all, it was a fun week and we enjoyed the chance to work with a different group of musicians and get to make new friends. Their French horn/keyboardist celebrated his birthday one night, and a few of us had a celebratory dinner at TGI Friday's, where I appreciated watching him dance on the chair like I had to for my birthday. We will hate to see them leave so soon, but we all enjoyed getting a chance to foster some international cooperation through music. Cheers!

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