The difficult thing is to learn how to play it under the pressure of different circumstances and in the emotive settings that we always encounter when playing the piece. It really is incredibly difficult to cut out everything else that is going on around you, and just focus on getting everything right, whether it’s in front of 40,000 at a football stadium or two people sat in the corner of a graveyard somewhere.
You could say facing these challenges is in my blood, as I come from a very musical family, where playing in bands was just part of life. My father was a trumpeter in a Salvation Army band, and he encouraged me from an early age. I played my first note at the age of two, and we have the video footage to prove it. My sister was a clarinettist, and I think there was a bit of sibling rivalry there. At school I started lessons and joined all the little brass schools, and I joined the junior Salvation Army band as soon as I could, and later the senior band.
I did actually think about joining the Royal Marines after my GCSEs, but stayed on to do A-levels. I heard about the brass band course at the University of Salford, and after I’d done that I was thinking about what to do next. I had a friend who was with a Salvation Army band hosted at RAF Uxbridge, as it was in those days, who said: “Why not come and see what it’s like?” So I went and by lunchtime I was hooked; I knew I wanted to sign up. Within eight months I was doing my basic training.
I’m now a trumpeter in the Central Band of the RAF, which is one of the RAF’s three bands. When we’re at full complement there are eight trumpeters. The whole band is between 40 and 50 musicians, playing wind, brass and percussion, headed up by a Director of Music, who is a commissioned officer. We also have the RAF Salon Orchestra, which is the only one that has string instruments, and the RAF Auxiliary band.
What I love about the job is the variety – it’s never the same from one week to the next. There might be a full rehearsal for the entire band or one for smaller groups, parades for something like officer graduation, or a dinner reception. And there are the big ceremonials. Earlier this week there was the State Opening of Parliament, then of course there’s Remembrance weekend coming up.