RAF VBA

History

The original Commanding Officers of the Royal Flying Corps, which was formed in 1912, brought with them a strong sense of custom and tradition, including that of music. Music has been fundamental to the military tradition from time immemorial, to support parades and church services and to provide entertainment for the troops. The newly-formed bands of the flying service were funded from various sources, including subscriptions from officers. Part-time volunteer musicians from all trades came to join the bands and, eventually, full-time bandmasters were established to support them. During world war one some trades were barred from belonging to the Voluntary Bands, one example being the men that tuned the flying wires. These men whose job was of such importance were often piano tuners whose musical talents would also have been quite useful to the band. Thankfully, things today are a little different and no one is actually barred from belonging to the Voluntary Band.

Within months of the formation of the RAF in 1918 a report was submitted to the then Air Ministry stating a requirement for a School of Music and 50 Band Instructors. The recommendations contained in that report were adopted and a site for the school was eventually found, but in 1920 the RAF School of Music was disestablished. However, its role continued with a larger RAF Central Band and amongst its functions it was to act as a headquarters for Voluntary Band Instructors. In those days the official view was that:

"Voluntary Bands were to be encouraged wherever possible but only as a spare time activity."

In the earlier days of the Service, the RAF Central Band would work with some of the larger Voluntary Bands and during World War II Voluntary Band Instructors were active at numerous stations both in the UK and abroad. In fact the demands on the established bands were so great that more voluntary bands were formed with the ex-professional musicians and talented amateurs who had joined the RAF in non-musical trades.

After the war in 1949 the RAF School of Music was re-opened and continued to provide Voluntary Band Instructors in the Musician Trade. In the main, the Voluntary Band Instructors were Warrant Officers and Flight Sergeants who had completed the Bandmaster's course.

As recently as 1977 there were some 24 such posts at various stations in the UK and abroad. A proposal to disestablish all of these posts, for economy's sake, was reversed following strong lobbying from Commands and Stations. As a result, Voluntary Bands were reorganized into so-called "clutch areas" and the number of Voluntary Band Instructors was reduced. At about this time it was also decided that Voluntary Band Instructor posts could be filled by Chief Technicians who had not completed the Bandmaster's course. In 1984, following a further review of music services, the Voluntary Band Instructor posts were civilianized. Significantly, this also heralded the withdrawal of professional supervision of Voluntary Band Instructors by Headquarters RAF Music Services.

To ensure that the corporate interests of RAF Voluntary Bands could be secured, the Royal Air Force Voluntary Band Association (RAF VBA) was formed in 1990. The Association Executive Council meets several times a year to discuss matters of moment and policy. Since the formation of the RAF VBA there has been a significant increase in band collaboration and co-operation and, for the first time in the history of RAF Voluntary Bands, Massed Bands concerts and other joint ventures have been organized and well received.

The first massed band event was held in the Colston Hall, Bristol, in July 1996 and was followed by another successful concert in Peterborough Cathedral in November 1997. In order to give some direction to these massed band events, and to allow for more socializing, a Masterclass is organized at the home of RAF Music, RAF Uxbridge each year. Despite a considerable reduction in the overall size of the Service in recent years, 9 RAF Voluntary Bands remain although there are only 7 full or part-time Voluntary Band Instructors. The quality of the bands has seen a steady improvement over the last 10 years. Most of the bands are supported by civilian musicians who give much needed stability, allowing bands to give performances and support Station functions even if the operational tempo is high.

"The RAF VBA continues to evolve to support volunteer musicians wherever they serve."

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