Oman’s 46th National Day Celebration at the Royal Opera House Muscat was a spectacular showcase of music and dance, says Georgina Benison.
As the saying goes, if you don’t blow your own trumpet, no one else will do it for you.
And at the Royal Opera House Muscat, a commanding band of brass players proved, once again, that this auditorium is playing host to some of the world’s greatest musicians.
Perched high in the stands, it welcomed guests with a resounding fanfare; a portent of things to come.
For three evenings last weekend, the marble Midan in front of the Royal Opera House was transformed into a cavernous arena for the 46th National Day Celebration: Military Music – Oman and the World.
Audience members eager with anticipation had waited for up to an hour to bag a seat at this celebrated event by the Armed Forces. If you weren’t lucky enough to have bagged a seat, you would have been watching from the car park roof.
But to ease the passing time the popular Steel Band of the Royal Guard entertained the audience with some popular tunes, guided by its ebullient leader, Lennox Jordan.
The introductory fanfare was immediately followed by our first sight of the service bands, the men and women of the Continuity Drill Team of the Royal Air Force, who trooped into the arena. They marched and played Arabic tunes with such precision that the performance was simply mesmerising.
This was followed by the men of the massed military bands of the Royal Guard, Royal Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, Royal Oman Police, Royal Camel Corps and Cavalry Bands.
That is a lot of people to coordinate and train – and then to achieve such an impressive performance of splendid accuracy. They played Marches by Harold Bennet and Siebert.
And then appeared the first guests of the evening: the Georgian National Guard Military Orchestra and Youth Folkloric Ballet “Egrisi”. The well-known Sousa march Washington Post ran through their magnificent display, and audience members could be heard singing along.
And then came a breathtaking surprise. Men and women of the Ballet Corps scampered in, clad in traditional medieval costumes, stunning us all with their deft footwork and dynamic leaps. We hadn’t seen the half of it: the concluding “wrestling” dance had the men, Cossack-like, jumping high in the air and dancing on their knees, spinning and sword-fighting. The women framed the spectacle, all the while accompanied by their military band.
We were really on a high now.
This was followed by a trip to Scotland. If you closed your eyes you were there, in the Highlands, but actually the performers were Omani men and women in the massed (bag)pipes and drums band. A familiar blend of jigs and reels – with a nod to the Irish ballad, Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore – were again meticulously executed in marching formation.
If that weren’t specialised enough, next up was the massed military drum corps display. Yes, just wearable percussion, and facing the front row of snare drummers, the luminous yellow drum sticks danced across the skins with choreographed timing.
Along with the rest of the audience, I was transfixed.
Now the inclusion of Oman and The World in this year’s title was not an exaggeration as we flew thousands of kilometres east to the Republic of Korea to sample its military and traditional music.
The Army Band seemed most youthful as its members entered the Midan with a very warm quality to their sound. But quickly we were treated to the Taiko-like traditional drumming performance of the “buk” (Assorted Drums) ensemble.
In contrast to the strength and power of that group, the Traditional Dance Team performed a balletic and delicate dance in traditional costume.
But the finale of the Korean section was strong, powerful and energetic. Rousing folk melodies accompanied spinning heads with long streamers attached to create an engaging show of colour and movement.
The massed military band of women this year seemed bigger and better. They played and marched to some excellent arrangements by Darrol Barry and S. Al Noobi with a distinctly Celtic feel, no doubt encouraged by the number of bagpipers involved.
Nearly at the end of a 90-minute Tattoo you might have thought attention was waning but the motorcycle team of the Royal Guard of Oman had some tricks up their Red Helmets. I didn’t even know there was a military motorcycle team but we all know now just what skilled drivers they are – and gymnasts too. In a tribute ride to His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said, various stunts and parodies were displayed in the arena to gasps from the impressed spectators.
The finale involved everyone – all the musicians, Koreans, Georgians, dancers, motorcyclists and a piper on the roof of the opera house – in an especially composed waltz by J. Williams, The Sultan’s Ballad, Heyken’s Serenade and an arrangement of the Corrs’ composition to their father, Gerry’s Reel, cleverly dovetailed by Darrol Barry.
The National Anthem and a march-off to The Rangers rounded formal things off for another year.
Omani families had attended in their hundreds and must have gone away feeling proud of this celebration to their Leader’s rule. But you didn’t have to go home. There was an after-party of audience and performers, dancing to the Reggae and Calypso sounds of Lennox Jordan and the Steel Band, long after the show was over.
Magnificent performances, and my hopes for a wonderful evening turned out to be fulfilled by one that will be a cherished memory.