June 28, 2018 3:01 pm EST
Updated: June 28, 2018 3:22 pm EST

Winnipeg-based Royal Canadian Air Force Band members relish chance to perform in UK

Flanked by the Union Jack and Royal Air Force flags, the Royal Canadian Air Force Band leads a portion of the RCAF Public Duties contingent down The Mall from Buckingham Palace to St. James’s Palace where the contingent will mount guard for 24 hours.

Royal Canadian Air Force/Cpl. François Charest

When Cpl. Caitlin Coppell graduated high school, she had no idea she would be playing her french horn in front of Buckingham Palace.

“I came from a strong music program and didn’t actually hear about the military having a musician trade until I was in my university program,” Coppell told 680 CJOB.

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“My professor at the time said, ‘Hey, if you’re looking for a summer job, you can go make money to play your instrument but you have to be in the military.’ I joined up through the ceremonial guard in Ottawa, that’s how I started.”

Coppell is now a full-time member of the Royal Canadian Air Force Band, part of the first-ever RCAF contingent performing public duties for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II through July 15.

READ MORE: Winnipegger part of history, standing on guard for the Queen’s Crown Jewels

The Queen’s Guard, as the group is called while performing public duties, are soldiers charged with guarding the Sovereign and the official royal residences in the United Kingdom.

These include Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Tower of London. During the Changing of the Guard, the band gets its chance to shine.

“As a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, you sort of assume, as a musician, that you will do public duties in Canada, but you never expect that you’ll have the chance to do that in London,” Coppell said. “It’s very exciting.”

There are 35 full-time members of the RCAF Band, including Sgt. Katrina Limberatos. Like Coppell, Limberatos is originally from Winnipeg, and both have spent summers in Ottawa doing the ceremonial guard.

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But for her, this is the real deal.

“We’re lucky enough that this is our day job. We’re full-time, professional musicians,” Limberatos explained.

“The first two days I just tried to remain really focused and concentrate on what I was doing but today, I just stopped for a minute, looked around and saw all the people. I just felt a real sense of pride.”

Members of the band wake up around 5 a.m. to take a bus into the heart of London, arriving around 7 a.m. They eat, warm up and go over the day’s music for the guard mount, which starts around 10 a.m. All the uniforms are inspected before they go to Buckingham Palace.

“We have a pretty extensive but set list of music that we would be working off, and it is rotating every day. The music is chosen by our director of music, Captain Matthew Clark,” Limberatos said.

“A lot of it I have played before just because I have been playing in military bands for over 10 years now,” Coppell added. “A lot of standard stuff that they play and a few new things. I would say the bulk of it I have played before, so that’s helpful.”

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READ MORE: Tower of London has exclusive, delightful treasure inside

When they are not performing, members of the band have had spare time to explore the city and check out the London cultural scene.

They have also had the chance to interact with locals, even while performing duties.

“It’s interesting, they’ve been very positive in their response to seeing Canada there,” Coppell said.

“We were in front of Buckingham Palace doing a few things Tuesday at the guard mount and I actually heard somebody yell, ‘Yay, Canada!’ It made me so very happy.”

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