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An Interview with Staff Sargent McCarthy, Drum Major of The New Zealand Army Band

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

The New Zealand Army Band was formed in 1964 by Captain Carson from The Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment and over the years has became a 'tattoo favourite' and renowned across the world for their creative marching displays and musical excellence! Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the band have continued to reach audiences around the world by producing successful music videos performed by the band's many versatile ensembles and musicians including a full remembrance concert for ANZAC Day recorded and produced whilst all adhering to social distancing!

Staff Sargent McCarthy who is The Drum Major of the New Zealand Army Band has kindly answered the following questions about his role and experiences with the world famous military brass band!

What inspired you decide to join the New Zealand Army Band?

Credit: New Zealand Defence Force
Credit: New Zealand Defence Force

My father joined transferred from the Field Engineers to the Artillery post WW2, just so he could join the NZ Artillery Band. He was still a playing member when I was a toddler. I can recall going to watch a parade with my mother and six siblings when I was about two. As the Band marched past my mother bent down and pointed out my father. I ran off, grabbed his trouser leg and marched beside him. He picked me up, put me on his hip and carried on marching. My destiny was set in that moment. I initially auditioned for the NZAB in 1989, however, at this time NZ was closing down its commitments in Singapore where the 1RNZIR Band was based. This almost doubled the size of the NZAB when they returned home so I had to wait out for a couple of years until a position became available, but by the time the position came along I had moved on to other things.

In 2005 I decided it would be cool to spend a chapter of my life as a professional brass musician and the NZAB is one of the few organisations in NZ that offers this opportunity.

As your role of Drum Major of the New Zealand Army Band, what does a 'normal' day consist of for you?

There’s probably no such thing as a ‘normal’ day for us as it all depends on what’s next on the calendar.

However, if a timetable was set it would look something like this:

  • 0800 Role call – Orders Group (any points for the day are relayed)

  • 0810 – 0830 Pre-rehearsal warm up

  • 0830 - 1000 Band rehearsal

  • 1000 - 1020 Morning break

  • 1020 – 1200 Band rehearsal

  • 1200 – 1300 Lunch

  • 1300 – 1500 Marching rehearsal, admin, small groups rehearsal (quintet, jazz band, dance band etc)

  • 1500 – 1520 Afternoon Orders Group – afternoon break

  • 1530 – 1630 Physical training

Do you get nervous before stepping out into a large concert hall or entering an arena during a tattoo?

A yoga teacher once told me that nerves are a powerful tool that can enhance a performance, when you learn to harness them.

I always take time to focus/breathe and be in the moment before stepping the Band off, be it out of the gates of a Tattoo or onto the Ceremonial Parade Ground.

What has been your favourite engagement to lead the band at?

Credit: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Without a doubt, leading the NZAB out of the castle at the 2019 Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Leading a band of such high calibre in such a historic venue to a sell-out audience for 28 shows is something very few get the pleasure of experiencing!

How do you invent your renowned imaginative and innovative displays?

Firstly we get a group together to brain – storm musical ideas.

I then sit down with our head music arranger and we refine the ideas after which a ‘moving musical concept’ starts evolving in my head.

Once the music is on manuscript, the Band will record it and it begins playing in my head 24/7.

The choreography comes to me while walking my dogs, shopping at the supermarket or while staring at the ceiling at 2am when I’d rather be sleeping!

Where have been your favourite places to travel with the band and play at around the world?

Different places for different reasons:

  • Edinburgh for the reasons I answered to my favourite event to lead the band at.

  • Passchendaele Belgium in 2017 for the 100th Commemoration of the battle of Passchendaele (NZ’s darkest day). This is where my grandfather fought in 1917 with the 6 Hauraki Machine gun Corps, so was very special for me.

  • Playing for HM Queen Elizabeth 11 and Prince Philip in their back yard at Windsor Castle during the Queens 90th Birthday Celebrations in 2016.

Were there particular challenges that the band faced during the pandemic and how did the band adapt?

The biggest challenge is probably quite similar to most; uncertainty, everything changing to the new ‘normal’ we’re living in.

Our year planner was wiped clean and we had to look at how we could do things differently.

Using our resources to offer our music to the online world from our isolation bubbles was a challenge that turned out to be rather successful (receiving more than 2.8 million views)

We also put together an online ANZAC Day concert, which was a first for the NZ Army Band.

You can watch this special concert by following the link - -

In 3 words how would you describe your role within the band?

Honour – Creative – Rewarding

What events are you most looking forward to supporting when restrictions ease around the world?

Here in NZ (apart from returnees in isolation) we are community COVID free, so domestic engagements have no constraints in most parts of the country.

Internationally we’re looking forward to returning to our semi-regular tattoo performances in the UK and Europe.

We would like to thank SSGT McCarthy for taking the time out of the band's busy schedule to answer these questions for us. You can watch their lockdown recordings by following the link below and follow the band for regular updates on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!

Nga mihi nui kia pai - Thank you very much and best wishes

Credit: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

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