“Encore! Encore! Encore!”
The floor trembled, as the audience rose to their feet, applauding and cheering. It was clear that none of us wanted this concert to end!
Captain Vernon Michels, the Director of Music of the South African Army Band Western Cape, turned to face the Band, and after a few moments of consultation, they launched into the ever-popular “Amazing Grace”.
When the last notes had faded away into silence, a crescendo of applause erupted – we were demanding still more…. And so they performed one final fast-paced piece for us, which gave each group of musicians their turn to shine. I do not remember its name, but it was the perfect, powerful ending to an unforgettable concert.
As the crowds slowly filed out of the majestic old City Hall, smiling faces and shining eyes expressed how much all of us had enjoyed the Gala Concert of the South African Army Band Western Cape that Friday evening, 15 April 2016.
Earlier that evening, we had found parking on the Grand Parade, which was still busy, despite the fact that the sun had set and a blanket of darkness was settling over the city. Vendors were trying to do some last-minute selling, beggars sidled up to ask for money or food, and self-appointed parking attendants in tattered fluorescent bibs tried to reassure us that they would “look after” our car. Um… yeah….
At the side entrance to the City Hall, we showed our tickets to a couple of friendly soldiers from 9 South African Infantry (9 SAI) regiment. We walked past their display in the foyer, showcasing the kinds of weapons that these infantry soldiers are trained to use in battle. These displays are always popular with curious youngsters who like to pose with the soldiers and their weaponry, as their proud parents take cellphone photos.
In an adjoining hall with high ceilings, on whose walls all around hung portraits of venerable and official looking gentlemen, a couple of stands were selling refreshments in the form of hot and cold beverages, sweets, chips and chocolates. Having stocked up with some snacks, we made our way to the upstairs balcony, overlooking the auditorium, from where we had a great view of the stage. I went for a brief stroll downstairs before the start at 20h00, and was surprised to see empty seats in the front half of the auditorium. Given the calibre of the music, this event should have been completely sold out!
The SA Army Band Western Cape is the country’s oldest Regular Force band, having originated in 1915, as the regimental band of the 1st Battalion of the Cape Corps, a famous fighting unit of World War I. In March 2015, they celebrated their 100th birthday! They have been stalwarts of the Cape Town Military Tattoo since its inception, and as I had attended their gala concerts in December 2010 and December 2011, I knew we were in for a really special treat.
The Band has an extensive musical repertoire – they do not just play military marches for parades, although they do do that, admirably coordinating their music with well-rehearsed precision drill movements. In addition, they play classical, romantic, pop, avant-garde and big band music, and they train bandsmen and women from surrounding African countries, such as Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, Namibia, Tanzania and Swaziland.
And they often welcome young musicians into their midst too.
That night, for instance, three members of the Cape Town Philharmonic Youth Orchestra (CPYO) performed onstage with the Army Band: Jade Hendricks (trumpet), Michael de Kock (trombone) and Zhaun Gorridon (tuba). They were joined by alumnus William Hendricks (clarinet). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a clear shot of Zhaun on the tuba, because he was hidden behind one of the large speakers.
There were also a couple of musicians who were currently attending the SANDF Music Course at the University of Stellenbosch, with which the Army Band is closely involved too.
Capt Vernon Michels, the conductor, introduced each piece, identifying the soloists and vocalists and engaging in some light-hearted banter with the audience. It all created a lovely vibe, a feeling of being part of the family – which is so characteristic of their concerts. The crew from 3 Electrical Workshop of Wonderboom, who are responsible for the sound and lighting at the annual Cape Town Military Tattoo, created some really dramatic and colourful lighting, while sound engineer Staff Sergeant Henk Steenkamp was in charge of the audio.
The Army Band started their Gala Concert with the ever-popular “Fanfare & Flourishes” by James Curnow, which they had also played at the start of the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2015 at the Castle of Good Hope; in an instant, I was transported back to November last year, and the line of trumpeters standing high up on the parapet overlooking the arena, spotlighted against a dark and dramatic evening sky.
Next was Maurice Ravel’s famous “Bolero”, arranged by Jay Bocock. It starts slowly and tantalisingly, gradually increasing in intensity, repeating the same motif again and again, with more instruments gradually joining in.
One of my favourite pieces of the entire concert was the rollicking epic “Pirates of the Caribbean” composed by Klaus Badelt and arranged by Ted Ricketts, which left us feeling like treasure-hunting pirates sailing the seven seas!
Capt Michels briefly handed over the baton to WO2 S Naidoo, explaining that this performance was WO2 Naidoo’s practical examination for qualifying as conductor (he is one of the bandsmen attending the SANDF Music Course) – talk about pressure to perform! He had to conduct the dramatic “March from the First Suite for Military Band in E flat” by Gustav Holst.
Afterwards, Capt Michels checked with the audience and the orchestra whether he had done a good job or not – and even though we all cheered and applauded vigorously, the Captain only gave him a 6 out of 10. All in good fun, of course!
A breath-taking xylophone solo by Cpl G Tempies in W.G. Lemon’s “Helter Skelter” had the entire audience on the edge of their seats. I did not know it was possible to play a xylophone that fast! Cpl Tempies only had time for a quick breather here and there, when the orchestra took over – but there was very little time to rest in-between, as the pace – astonishingly – continued to accelerate right until the end!
We all needed some recovery time after that, so Capt Michels handed over the baton once more, this time to Flight Sergeant D Clarke (also a SANDF Music Course student), who conducted the beautifully lyrical “Serenade” by Derek Bourgeois.
In-between, talented vocalists of the band – such as WO2 N Nkomo, Cpl C Mogake, Pte B Nyoka and several backing singers – took centre stage to perform an “African Song”, “Something inside so strong”, and the patriotic anthem “I am my country”.
And some of the hugely talented musicians in the band had an opportunity to shine in solos:
During the very regal and dignified sounding “Wellington March” (by W Zehle), which for me always evokes an image of smartly uniformed military bands marching through the streets, the drummers from the Army Band entertained us with some fast-paced drumstick action – the tips of their drumsticks lighting up in different colours and creating an interesting effect.
The last piece before the interval was the majestic “Fantasia in G Major” (J.S. Bach); the long, technically complex organ solo was performed by Stèfan Doveton-Moore. If you’ve ever experienced the organ in the City Hall being played, you know what I mean when I say it made the entire building vibrate! It was amazing.
The Band launched into the second half with Chuck Mangione’s “Feel So Good”, which gave several soloists a chance to shine: WO2 Marius Swartz on trumpet, Staff Sergeant Joel Benjamin on saxophone, and KC Jacobs on guitar. This was followed by “Something Inside So Strong”, with vocalist WO2 N Nkomo stepping into the spotlight.
My favourite pieces of the second half were the lively “Queen in Concert” (arranged by Jay Bocock) – which rocked the house as Only Queen Can Do! – and a couple of pieces that I knew from the Cape Town Military Tattoo: “Scotland the Brave”, the hauntingly sad “Requiem for a Soldier” – the theme song of Band of Brothers, and the stirringly patriotic “I Am My Country”, sung by Private B Nyoka. Those last two pieces give me goosebumps every time:
“I am my country like the flag I fly,
I will love her to the day I die,
Bound to each other we will always be!
I am my country for eternity!”
These last three pieces saw the Cape Town Caledonian Pipes & Drums joining the Army Band on stage. Their Pipe Major Tony Reis (who has been in this position since 2010) has been doing an incredible job with his band – not only has the number of band members increased in recent years/months, but they have also broadened their repertoire and grown musically; they have been competing in pipe band competitions around the country too, and doing extremely well. They are based at the Cape Garrison Artillery’s headquarters, which is situated in historic Fort Wynyard, right next to the famous Cape Town Stadium in Green Point.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the photos below.
What a magical evening this had been! If you ever have an opportunity to see the SA Army Band Western Cape performing live, please grab it with both hands – you will enjoy every moment!