March 2022, Royal Albert Hall
My wife and I sit comfortably in our box anticipating the start of the 2022 Mountbatten Festival of Music – the annual flagship concert by the Massed Bands of His Majesty’s Royal Marines. We’re guests of our new marketing partner, TEAM LEWIS Foundation. It is 5 months after Rt. Hon. Penny Mordaunt MP introduced me to Lt. Col. Jason Burcham, Director of the Royal Marines Band Service where we discussed the possibility of The Music Man Project collaborating with the Royal Marines during a Zoom call. This is our first meeting and my chance to hear the Band. I’m keen to make a good impression.
As the music bursts into life my heart jumps in my chest with excitement. I turn to Samuel Dean of TEAM LEWIS and cheekily remark, “They’ll do!”. It is the epitome of understatement. The Royal Marines are incredible. I love how they play such a wide variety of music, from classic military marches to Elton John. I imagine them playing my music and dream of the opportunities that lay ahead if we connect these elite military musicians and my community through the universal language of music.
March 2023, Royal Albert Hall
A year later. I’m not sitting comfortably in a box watching the 2023 Mountbatten Festival of Music with my wife. Instead, I sit proudly at the piano on stage with the Massed Bands of His Majesty’s Royal Marines. My students, the Music Man Project Global Ambassadors, confidently approach their microphones to sing ‘Music is Magic’.
The next three and half minutes are a blur, but the atmosphere is electric. Before the final chord has even been played, a wave of emotion sweeps the Hall. Led by His Majesty the King, the audience of 5000 rise to their feet. I’m overwhelmed, momentarily lost in the magic. I notice our conductor, Lt. Col. Jason, swallowing hard and breathing heavily as he tries to keep his own emotions in check. He notices the same reaction from his band. Everyone is holding back tears. Tears of joy, tears of pride. We go on to repeat the feat across two more performances, eventually reaching 15,000 people who all stand to applaud our musicians, just like the King.
The only people at the Hall who are unaffected by all the fuss are my Global Ambassadors. The 14 incredible performers from The Music Man Project headquarters in Essex take it all in their stride – rehearsals in Portsmouth and London, three performances at the Albert Hall and an overnight stay. For them it’s all just a wonderful adventure. They’re award-winning, world record-breaking stars of the Palladium, Royal Albert Hall and TV after all!
The Music Man Project’s partnership with the Royal Marines is truly unique. Between the two Mountbatten Festivals we recorded a top 10 Christmas single, appeared on BBC1, ITV and Sky News and featured in the national press. We performed at the Painted Hall in Greenwich and at the Guildhall in Portsmouth. We toured London Train Stations to raise money for the Royal Navy charities and, perhaps most spectacularly of all, performed together on board the iconic Aircraft Carrier, the USS Midway, as part of our concert tour to San Diego, USA. The success of the Mountbatten Festival of Music led to an invitation to join the Royal Marines on their UK tour and they will accompany us at our own Royal Albert Hall production in April 2024.
Ever since Penny first muted the idea back in November 2021, my students and I have been welcomed into the Band Service family with nothing but kindness and respect. In the words of Lt. Col. Jason, “You were all leaning on an open door”. Jason has a sister with Downs Syndrome so knows more than anyone of the unique value and lessons this community can offer. What I failed to realise was the impact our students would have on the other members of the Royal Marines band.
“You speak of changing the lives of the MMP performers and the people they represent, but let me also express how this collaboration is changing the lives of those in the Royal Marines Band Service. I’ve had old hands, who have served for over 30 years, telling me, with tears welling in their eyes, how this has been the most rewarding experience of their careers.”
[Lt. Col. Jason Burcham]
Perhaps I should have known. Wherever they go, The Music Man Project leaves a trail of joy and inspiration.
Thank you to the Band Service of His Majesty’s Royal Marines for this wonderful opportunity to show what musicians with learning disabilities can do. Thank you Lt. Col. Jason Burcham, Lt. Hannah Trudgeon, Capt. Samuel Hairsine, WO1 Ivan Hutchinson, Penny Mordaunt MP, Chris Lewis, CEO of TEAM LEWIS and Samuel Dean, CEO of TEAM LEWIS Foundation and everyone also who worked so hard to make dreams come true.
From one student to a standing ovation from the King! Music is Magic!