Military bands are designed to provide pomp and circumstance for most any occasion. But few bands anywhere are capable of creating the sense of ceremony that Her Majesty's Coldstream Guards and the Queen's Own Highlanders do.
"American audiences are fascinated by the tradition and pageantry that we portray," said Sgt. Gale Lawson, a 25-year veteran of the Guards, who will appear here tomorrow night with the Highlanders at the Baltimore Arena.
Little wonder. The history of the two regimental British units, who are winding up a 71-city tour of the United States, can be traced back more than 200 years; some of the songs in their repertoire go back that far as well.
"Our Regimental Slow March was written by Mozart," Sergeant Lawson explained in an interview this week. "It's said he came to London, saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and was inspired to write a march. He later used the same theme in the 'Marriage of Figaro.' "
In fact, one of the more popular parts of the show, according to Sergeant Lawson, is a segment depicting what the Guards would have looked and sounded like two centuries ago, when it employed such instruments as serpents, a woodwind that looks like an S-pipe under a sink, and jingling johnnies, which consist of bells on a pole.
"It's an interesting sound," he said.
So, too, is the latter-day sound of the Guards. "It's different from your [American] military music," Sergeant Lawson said. "We use cornets instead of trumpets, as well as euphoniums, which are like small tubas. The result is a more mellow sound."
Although the Guards and the Highlanders both have a lengthy history, they differ in look, sound and makeup. The Guards -- 50 musicians dressed in bright red jackets -- emphasize brass and are strictly a ceremonial unit, one of five such units in the British Army. The Highlanders, a Scottish regiment of 35, have dark blue and green uniforms, are made up of drummers and bagpipers and are fighting men first and musicians second, with current members drawn from a machine-gun platoon stationed in Germany.
One of the songs the Highlanders perform, "Sons of Kuwait," grew out of that active military experience. It was written as a tribute to three members of the unit who died as a result of friendly American fire during the Persian Gulf War.
Cpl. Niall Matheson, a Highlanders bagpiper, said the unit took the loss of its comrades hard, adding that the song was written by one of the Highlanders after the war ended.
"The first time we played it, it was pretty emotional," he said.
Friday's performance is 8 p.m. in the Baltimore Arena. Tickets range from $12.50-$19.50; call (410) 481-6000.