The empty Maidan in front of the Royal Opera House Muscat was bathed in cool light from the rising full moon as members of the public ambled onto the make-shift tiers in anticipation of the annual Military Music tattoo. For up to an hour before the scheduled start for three evenings last weekend, the courtyard began to fill, diverted by the strains of Lennox Jordan and the Steel Band in arrangements of popular numbers. Compere Douglas Robinson kept the English-speaking public informed with programme notes and anecdotes.
Finally, the Massed Bands of the Armed forces of Oman marched in perfect synchronisation into the arena playing an arrangement of ‘Marhaba’ by Said Al-Noobi. It was an impressive spectacle, yet just a taste of things to come. The Guest of honour arrived to the, “Opening Fanfare to the Stars” and the proceedings could commence.
First up and for the very first time, 24 women from the Royal Guard of Oman Ladies’ Military Marching team strutted their stuff in perfect form, including slow steps, knees high and interlocking patterns to the accompaniment of four Traditional Marches including ‘Galway Girl’ and ‘Minstrel Boy’ arranged by Royal Guard of Oman Composer in Residence, Mr. Darrol Barry.
They were followed by the first guests of the evening, the prestigious Austrian Armed Forces, Honour Guards performing in splendid formation to a new jazz-influenced composition. If marching while playing were not hard enough, the talented young instrumentalists turned their moves to dancing, swinging and crossing their feet while parading to ‘I Have Never Been to New York’, ‘Birdland’, the patriotic ‘Vienna Remains Vienna’ and the amusing ‘Oh My Austria’. But more surprises were in store as the guards had brought the entrancing Waltz Dance Group, Tanzschule Elmayer, with them to explore the Viennese Dances of Johann Strauss. In pure white dresses, the 12 ladies looked like royalty, twirling with their black-suited partners to “Thunder and Lightening Polka”, famous numbers from “Die Fledermaus” and that most beloved Waltz, “At the Beautiful Blue Danube”, turning the shiny floor of the arena into a glittering, silvery Ballroom. It was over all too soon and the combined troupe marched out with, appropriately, the “Radetzky March” by Strauss the Elder.
The audience was next transported to the Edinburgh Tattoo in Scotland by the men and women of the popular Combined Pipes and Drum Corps of 8 different forces, as they marched to such evocative titles as “The Islay Tune”, the Strathspey, “Cutting Bracken” and the “Devil’s Staircase”. There was a virtuosic Drum Salute followed by a couple of jigs and the assembly filed off to John Taylor’s ‘Lauren Johnston’s March’.
A rousing interlude in the form of an arrangement of “Get Smart” from the film of the same name by Douglas Hill was played by the Steel and Jazz Bands on the Opera House steps-stage with some fine solos from the lead horn players. The inter-service military drum corps entered with a compelling and visually engaging performance of “This is the Life”, arranged by Tim Wood.
The star guests of the evening, Police Orchestra of the Ministry of the Interior of the Slovak Republic, appeared smartly in their navy blue uniforms playing “Castaldo”, a richly chromatic Czech March by Rudolf Novacek, giving an indication of Eastern European harmonies and rhythms yet to be heard. Suddenly, six girls from the KNLKA Folklore Dance Group ran on in colourfully embroidered Slovak National costume and performed, “Traditional Dances of Tekov and Myjava” to CD. They were delightfully agile and sprightly, showing youthful vigour in their soft black boots with animated footwork, and they were quickly joined by 6 dancing couples, swirling and spinning, jumping and turning to “Rosamunde” – the Beer Barrel Polka – lushly arranged for brass band by Jaromir Vejvoda. It was exciting to see a Czardas on the menu, a typically Hungarian Gypsy dance, and it formed a riveting conclusion, with the return of all 10 pairs of dancers, swirling in fast choreography in a captivating performance of “Zemplinsky Czardas”. Sadly, they left to much applause and cheering from the tiers, to the melody “Tancuj, Tancuj”, a Slovak Folk Song.
The Military Music; Oman and the World 2017 was over 90 minutes long and challenging for young spectators. But the final pageant by the Massed Bands was well worth the wait, with a return to the Celtic mood in Ramis Al Owaira’s arrangements of ‘Murdo and Mairi’s Wedding Marches’ in a well-mixed medley.
As usual the grand Finale was awe-inspiring, with the remainder of the bands, Omani Choir, Austrians and Slovaks returning to the arena to Franz von Suppe’s much loved, “Light Cavalry March”. The combined ensemble then joined in a magnificent tour-de-force arrangement by maestro Darrol Barry of Justin Timberlake’s, “Can’t stop the Feeling” which involved the entire company. A lone piper on the Opera House roof-top traditionally brings proceedings to a conclusion, and afterwards Muscat was treated to a magnificent arrangement of “Arrive as Strangers, Leave as Friends”. It just about summed up the mood, atmosphere and ambience in the Maidan each evening, as people drifted out in the moonlight to the Caribbean sounds of Lennox Jordan’s Steel Band orchestrations.