Royal Air Force Music Services is the organisation which provides military musical support to the Royal Air Force. Based at RAF Northolt (previously at RAF Uxbridge) and RAF Cranwell, it forms the central administration of one hundred and seventy musicians divided between the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, The Band of the Royal Air Force College, The Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment, the Royal Air Force Salon Orchestra and Headquarters Music Services. These main military bands contain within their ranks the Royal Air Force Squadronaires, Royal Air Force Swing Wing and Royal Air Force Shades of Blue.
Royal Air Force Music Services’ primary role is to provide musical support to Royal Air Force and related events worldwide thus enhancing the public perception of the Royal Air Force as a whole. However, the Royal Air Force’s musicians also undertake operational roles both as individuals and as a unit. From the concert stage to operational theatres around the globe Royal Air Force Musicians perform to the highest traditions of the Service in whichever role they are asked to fulfil.
The RAF Music Services’ is led by the Principal Director of Music, a Wing Commander (OF-4).
With the establishment of the Royal Air Force in 1918, Dr Walford Davies was invited to become the RAF’s first Organising Director of Music. Davies established the RAF School of Music and began to train trumpet majors and band instructors. Davies also wrote the Royal Air Force March Past, the official march of the Royal Air Force, in 1918. With the end of the War many RAF musicians were demobilised although some were retained to form a band. Davies left the Service in 1919.
Davies’ successor, Major George Dyson, reorganised RAF Music Services on a proper footing in 1921. The School of Music was disestablished and the Central Band and the Band of the RAF College were formed at RAF Uxbridge and RAF Cranwell respectively.
During the 1930s RAF music became well established and in the lead up to World War II there was a large expansion of Music Services. Additional military bands were provided on a Command basis, with the RAF Symphony Orchestra and the famous ‘Squadronaires‘ Dance Band being established. The Central Band included some of the country’s finest musicians such as Dennis Brain, Norman Del Mar and Gareth Morris.
By 1950, Wing Commander A.E. Sims, OBE, had brought his experience of conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London and then at the Royal College of Music to Royal Air Force Music Services.
In 1990 the RAF became the first Service to recruit women into mixed bands and today females are recruited on the same basis as their male colleagues. They form a significant proportion of the personnel with some bands being nearly half female. RAF musicians are also trained to provide medical support in times of war. During the Gulf conflict musicians were deployed to various locations in the Middle East, where they undertook a variety of tasks, ranging from being medical orderlies to guards at hospital sites
Music Services has gradually been reduced in size and today comprises:
- Headquarters Music Services (HQMS):
- Principal Director of Music, Wing Commander (OF-4).
- Director of Music, Squadron Leader (OF-3).
- Eight RAF musicians and two civilians who make up the HQMS staff.
- Central Band of the Royal Air Force: Director of Music, Flight Lieutenant (OF-2).
- Band of the Royal Air Force College: Director of Music, Flight Lieutenant.
- Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment: Director of Music, Flying Officer (OF-1).
- Royal Air Force Salon Orchestra.
- Band of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force: Director of Music, Squadron Leader.
Relationships have been built with several civilian musical organisations including the BBC Concert Orchestra and the British and World Associations of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles (BASBWE and WASBWE).