A feast of colour and patriotism

This year’s 80-minute military music tattoo lit up the Madan of the Royal Opera House Muscat with a feast of colour and patriotism. Featuring guests from China and Poland, the spotlight was firmly fixed on Oman’s achievements over the past forty-eight years. As usual, people began to pour into the arena well ahead of time to secure a good seat, and the ticket system worked well, ensuring everyone got in. There was introductory music from the Big Band and Lennox Jordan’s popular Steel Band, to entertain waiting aficionados. A Jamaican Calypso on Steel pans was followed by a Big Band Jazz sound, Mr. Papi, conducted by band-master, Douglas Hill. The bands combined to play ‘La Vida Loca’, a rhythmic arrangement of ‘Game of Thrones’ with fine tenor solos from Muntasser, and concluded with the energetic Soul Bossa nova, ‘Austin Powers’.
The proceedings were introduced by the inimitable compères, Douglas Robertson and Jumaa al Fauzia, and the show began with an Opening Fanfare, “Oman and the World” composed by Ian Mitchell for splendid military trumpets. Silent Drills Squad of the Royal Court Affairs Security Unit, dressed so smartly in green with gold stripes, marched in perfect formation to the accompaniment of the Royal Cavalry Band.
The first of their numbers was arranged by Darrol Barry, former Composer and Arranger-in-Residence for the Royal Guard of Oman for sixteen years, who sadly passed away in June. Other arrangements were by P. D’Arcy and Douglas Robertson. The “Rifle Display Without Music” drill was superb for its perfect synchronisation with only rhythmically pounding feet to keep them together. The distinctly Celtic flavour of the programme featured women cymbal and brass players, while the bagpipes were played by men.
First guests of the evening were the “Nadarzyn Volunteer Fire Brigade Orchestra” with “Folk Dance Ensemble of Academy of Physical Education in Warsaw”. A syncopated drum entry began the Germanic, “Grand Duke Fredrich Von Baden” by Haefele in a distinctly European style of music, featuring anvil bells, three majorettes in white and fire gushing from the tuba bell!
The “Fireproof Polka” was a stately, patriotic dance from the traditionally dressed Ensemble, moving into the livelier ‘A-flat Polonaise’ by Chopin with eight couples skipping in sets. The band highlight of, “One More Mazure Today” had the musicians playing a jaunty, jazzy number while dancing in comic, stylised moves, bending and crouching to everyone’s delight.
The theme tune to ‘Hawaii Five-0’ raced on with jazzy big-band sounds and glitzy strobe effects, while Henry Mancini’s slinky score to ‘Peter Gun’ had some fine trombone and horn playing. A brilliant arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan”, had snares beating out the repetitive rhythm under the trombones’ main melody, followed by the full band, still dancing in formation. They marched off to another Haefele number with a rousing sousaphone solo.
The inter-service Combined Pipes and Drums played an inevitably Scottish set as they marched to ‘Pipe Major’ arranged by Colin Fairbairn, ‘When the Piper Plays’ and a familiar version of “The Water is Wide” renamed, ‘The Smith’s a Gallant Fireman’! Mozart could not be located in his Rampage while the Kesh Jig came from Ireland. It was followed by another jig, a ‘Drum Salute’ with white sticks twirling, and a march-off to an arrangement of a traditional Omani tune. Eager anticipation for the return of the Steel and Big Bands was rewarded with Douglas Hill’s slick brass arrangements of ‘St. Louis Blues March’, with trumpets taking the sassy melody, answered by the five raspy tenor saxes and ‘C’est La Vie’, introduced by the Steel Band and featuring great trumpet solos by Hilal and more tenor sax solos.
The second celebrities of the performance were named, “The Wind Band of the Water Supply and Drainage Company of Shijiazhuang High Tech Development Zone” with their accompanying Dancing Team. A huge band of thirty wind-players marched with exact precision to Xin’s, “Ode to the Motherland”.
With electric piano, bass and drums on stage, their next pentatonic composition, Pla March, sounded distinctly Chinese. In true patriotic splendour, “The East is Red” by Li Huanzhi was arranged by their Director, Lou Hang. They presented a gorgeous tableau, with eight dancers entering to a slow fanfare introduction and bursting into a cascade of beautiful music and sensuous movement as they danced under an elevated red flag. More splendid still was the iconic ‘Golden Lion Dance’. Both lions comprised two gymnasts, head and back, who often stood on shoulders to suggest a rearing animal, shaking and pouting.
They were led by a petite acrobat as ring-master, flipping and jumping, spinning and tumbling to the amazement of the crowd. With solo traditional Suona (double-reed horn) the final ‘Welcome March’ was magnificent, watching dancers twirling lanterns and now six lions dancing on back paws with their summersaulting trainer!
Men of the Inter-service Military Drum Corps were as deftly synchronised as ever, creating patterns on the floor as they marched to the evocatively named, The River, Just Chillin’ and The Shots. There were fluorescent lighting effects on the drums and fireworks exploding from the snare.
The men and women of the Combined Marching Display Team reflected a colourful blend of uniforms as they played and marched in precise formation to, ‘On the Wings of Glory’ composed by Darrol Barry, Scottish favourites and an American marching-band tune.
The grand Finale involved all the performers of the night assembling in the arena to ‘The Land of Civilisation’, conducted by Brigadier Ramis Al-Owaira. The sliding trombones pumped out the tune of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’, followed by a female bagpiper way up on the Opera House rooftop. The whole company resumed with two interlocking melodies in, ‘Welcome to the City’.
Drum riff, brass and pipes concluded the whole production with, ‘Right Man’ arranged by Darrol Barry as everyone marched off. But it was the lions who stole the show, and were the night’s roaring success!

GEORGINA BENISON