Military Music: An intricate extravaganza of Oman and the world

The Annual Military Music concert: Oman and the World was held outdoors mid-week this year, with the grand spectacular opening on Tuesday, November 5 in preparation for the 49th Omani National Day. Entering the huge, purpose built arena in the Maidan of the Royal Opera House Muscat was orderly and comfortable. As usual it was a splendid, patriotic affair with carefully synchronised marching and playing from the bands of the armed services.
As usual also, there was warm-up music from the Big Band and Steel Pan Band of the Royal Guard of Oman with visiting conductor, Lennox Jordan as spectators waited patiently for the extravaganza to begin. Under Dougie Hill, the Big Band played the popular Latin, “King of the Timbales” featuring Mohamed al Soli with a fine Tenor Saxophone solo, “Pantelones Malos” with an Alto Saxophone solo from Zahir al Risi, La Vida Loca and rounding off with a lively, “Bon Jovi Battered”. Rather unusually, however, were crisp, chocolate and drink vendors wandering around hawking their wares. Rather perplexing as punters usually bring their own snacks, and surely the organisers shouldn’t be encouraging litter in the stands.
Bang on time, announcer Sulaiman Sulaimania welcomed everyone in Arabic, followed by Douglas Robertson in fine Scottish brogue. The entrance of the Band and the Guard of Honour of the Royal Army of Oman to “Mawtani” was as deft as it was impressive. A short pause was followed by everyone standing for the National Anthem and an Opening Fanfare, “Dignified Occasion” arranged in 1938 by Sir Arthur Bliss. The Guard of Honour and Fanfare Group marched off with meticulous timing to Norman’s “Officer of the Day”.
There followed a selection of Marches and Celtic tunes performed by all the instruments of the Royal Army of Oman Band while marching in perfect formation. Kenneth Alford’s, ‘Life on the Ocean Wave’ had everyone tapping their feet, while Harold Bennett’s Slow March, ‘Pivot Man’ was compelling and controlled, completed with Wilhelm Zehle’s ‘Trafalgar’ with smooth horns and tubas in weaving formation.
Scottish Bagpipes piped up in, ‘The Siege of Delhi’ March, side-drum batons twirling, ‘The Keel Row’ Strathspey and ‘Sleepy Maggie’ Reel (different from ‘Drowsy Maggie’, it seems,) concluding with Mathieson’s arrangement of, ‘Flee the Glen’ in an interesting alternating huapango rhythm. It was wonderful to sing along to ‘Seventy Six Trombones’ arranged by Phillip Lang as the massed bands made their exit to hollers and loud applause.
The Massed Pipes and Drums entered the arena conducted by Mohammed Khamis al Amri to Muhanna Abdul Hakeem’s arrangement of, “My Beloved Country”. The Celtic theme took over again with arrangements by Pipe Maestro, Colin Fairbairn, of, ‘Accordion Man’, Scottish hornpipe, ‘Willie’s Brogues’, the Slow March, ‘The Green Flag’ featuring finely controlled footwork followed by the fast Strathspey, ‘Sandy Stewart’ and rhythmic Scottish hornpipe, ‘Old Toasty’. The set concluded with the Arabic March, “Farha” to exit.
The ever-popular virtuoso performance by the Interservice military drum corps and Jazz Band provided the first highlight of the evening with Muscat’s late favourite band arranger, Darrol Barry’s, ‘Boom Boom Pow’. It featured some intricate footwork and dance moves, flag twirling and crashing cymbals, with four giant Vibraphones and eight Xylophones no less, augmenting Douglas Hill’s Royal Big Band. ‘Razor Edge’ sounded like a jazzy movie score as the drummers exited, juggling their beaters.
Hot on its heels came the guest stars of the evening, the ’Banda Monumental de Mexico; Magical Mexico’ from Puebla, taking the stage by storm. A troupe of ritually dressed Aztec tribal dancers with traditional headgear and facemasks came bursting into the arena, dancing, whirling – and roaring – to a single drum solo. They had their own military band with them who were equally arresting, dressed in white ponchos and sombreros. They comprised clarinets, saxophones, trombones, guitars with three pure white euphoniums – and a lasso.
Male and female solo singers regaled the audience with sumptuous mariachi songs, ‘Jalisco No Te Rajes’ and Jarabe Tapatio’ as eight more lady dancers in flamenco-style dresses and eight ‘charro’ males in rainbow striped ponchos streamed on in a whirl of red, white and green traditional dancing backwards as well as forwards. There were shrieks of delight from the risers as the MC announced, ‘La Bamba’ and even greater applause as the whole group danced the latest hot hit, ‘Despacito’ at a steady pace – with the crowd singing along.
They were gone too soon, but would be back on Sunday for their own show at the House of Musical Arts. The men and women of the Combined Group of the Royal Cavalry and Camel Band display performed four arrangements by Said al Noobi, traditionally ‘Elizabeth Campbell’s Welcome to the World’, the slow, ‘Elstow Abby Waltz’, ‘Jenny’s Bawbee’ like ‘Tom’, ‘Tom the Piper’s Son’, and ‘All the Way to Galway’.
The Finale began with the entrance of the combined bands with Scouts on hand-drums, to the Omani March, ‘Bogo Mana’ conducted by Brigadier Ramis al Owaira. A substantial choral work, ‘Qaboos’, especially composed for the occasion and arranged for choir, big band and military trumpets by Leif Sundstrup featured some beautiful singing in Arabic from soloists and chorus of the Royal Military Choir formed a fitting, moving finale.
The coordination of so many sections of musicians and synchronisation in performance must have been a logistical challenge for organisers. A solo piper on the rooftop of the Royal Opera House Muscat concluded the concise, seventy-minutes’ proceedings with, ‘The Evening Star’, composed and arranged by Said al Noobi. The entire ensemble moved off to the Omani March, ‘al Humam’. It was a delightful evening’s celebration of the 49th year of Oman’s Renaissance. Intuition suggests next year’s 50th Year performance will be something to book early for.

PHOTOS BY KHALID AL BUSAIDI