Life in the Army

As an eager 11-year-old picking up the trombone for the very first time, I had always been blown away by the stories, my dad told of his time in the New Zealand Army Band. Fast-forward 13 years and here I am, the Bass Trombonist for the NZ Army.

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The Army Band is much different to the band that dad was in in the 1970’s but some things remain, the location, and the retro carpet, even Graeme Bremner is still there!

I joined the NZ Army Band in 2012 after I studied Classical Performance at the New Zealand School of Music in Wellington and was a member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Band. Both the Air Force Band and School of music were awesome experiences and totally help transition me into a full time musician for the NZ Army. Prior to joining I was under the impression that the Army Band was a mediocre ensemble, I couldn’t have been more wrong. There are some amazing musicians in the band, all who work extremely well together to make this unique and really entertaining group.

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I spent four years at the New Zealand School of Music and graduated with a BMus and PGDip Mus in performance. I had considered more study but money played a big role in my plans. I had the option of free-lancing in Wellington plus working part-time somewhere to raise funds to study, or audition for a position in the NZ Army Band. To me it was a simple decision, trying to find gigs and working at KFC or earning a comfortable salary actually playing trombone. I originally planned to be in the Army Band for two years to save to study further, however I have enjoyed it so much, after 6 years…I’m still here.

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When I auditioned, I flew down to Christchurch to spend three days with the band. The most nerve-racking part of this was the requirement to bring running shoes for a fitness test….I probably hadn’t done any exercise in over four years, and my god-like body was more like Buddha than Zeus. On run day, I took off for a sprint at the start, but after 300m I slowed. With 2.1km left to go, I soon realized that I had a lot of work to do. Luckily they accepted my run, and I just had to pass the musical audition.

It was audition day. Unlike some other auditions I had been a part of, It was just myself auditioning. No screen, and it all seemed very relaxed. It all started with being in the band room with the whole band and joining in morning rehearsals. The Band was preparing to perform a marching display for Her Majesty the Queen. I was blown away by the complexity of the music in which they were marching to, it made Colonel Bogey look more like page one of my tune a day book from school. After rehearsing the music the band went outside to rehearse the marching, I got to spectate. I am not the most coordinated person, so watching the band cross through each other, and marching backwards all while playing that incredibly difficult music completely blew me away and I was desperate to be a part of it.

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After lunch it was my turn to play for my main audition, everything was relaxed low key, which really helped with the nerves. My audition consisted of two pieces of my choosing plus some sight-reading. To my joy, I passed and was soon to become a member of the NZ Army Band.

I moved to Christchurch in April 2012 and was straight into performing with the band. One of my first gigs was back in Wellington at Government house. Still trying to impress the band members, I was very gung ho with the set-up and ending up taking a chunk out of a freshly remodeled door of the ballroom. So embarrassing! Thankfully this didn’t become a trend, and the next six years in the Army Band has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

The Band tours a lot and at a huge range of events, from extremely formal parades for Government and Defence Force Chiefs, to 1000’s of screaming punters at festivals like Hokitika Wild Foods. Whilst touring can be hard, it’s amazing how much of New Zealand and even the world I have been privileged to travel for work. Since I have been in the Army Band, I have been to Switzerland, England, Scotland, Germany, China, and of course Australia to perform.

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Being a member of the NZ Army Band doesn’t just consist of playing your instrument, and a day is very rarely the same. We are regular force in the Army, which means we still do some “Real Army” things, like weapons training and qualifications, promotion courses, and of course the dreaded fitness test. The Army Band also has other roles within itself. All our members do other tasks to help the band run efficiently. We have teams who promote the band via social media, teams who arrange music for the band and many more. I am lucky enough to be an Arranger for the band, as well as help recruit, but my most rewarding role is being an instructor for the Army School of Music where I get to teach theory to all the musicians to meet the requirements of the band. We also play lots of sport; mainly touch rugby, and running. We are all really active so finding the motivation to go out and exercise is relatively easy and we all seem to stay in reasonable shape.

To me, joining the Army Band was one of the best decisions I have made in life, I have grown as a player, and seen places around the world I never thought I would have seen. I have made life long friends, and more importantly made some great music.

If you are interested in what the Army Band can offer you, please get in touch with the band via army.band@nzdf.mil.nz or follow the band on Facebook to see when we are next in your town.

Cheers

Joe