Strike up the band: Petrolia native playing for the Queen

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If you had asked Andy Braet in high school where he would be in 2014, he would have never have guessed in uniform in London, England.

But that’s exactly where the Petrolia native is, one of two Canadians to be part of the Band of the Irish Guard.

The Band is one of five bands in the British Army’s Foot Guards Regiments assists the regiments guarding the monarch by providing musical support for ceremonial duties, according to the army’s website.

So how did a Petrolia guy end up playing the baritone saxophone for the Royal Family? He took the long way around.

Braet took band while he was at LCCVI, then did his under graduate at Western University in London in music performance. He moved on to Bowling Green State University in Ohio for a Master’s degree and then went on to Paris to study at the Paris Conservatory.

While he was at Western, he saw a poster for the Ceremonial Guard in Ottawa. “I had a few friends that had done it.  Said it was the most fun / money you’ll ever make during a summer.  It was either that or move back into the parent’s place and work in an office in Sarnia, which I wasn’t too keen on at the time

,” he says.

Braet eventually moved to Edmonton where he married Kim Cochrane and played where he could and joined the Reserve Army Unit.

“One night just started wondering if we could get full-time army jobs in other countries that were part of the Commonwealth.  We had trouble getting full-time Canadian Army band jobs, as they just weren’t hiring,” says Braet.

“We just stumbled upon the British Army website and thought ‘I wonder if we could do that?’ A bunch of emails to recruiters later and we had our answer.  As Commonwealth (citizens)we were allowed to join.”

But it took some work. Braet and Cochrane had to quit the Canadian Army and join the British Army. That meant 14 weeks of intense basic training before they could join the Band of the Irish Guard.

It was worth the work, Braet says. For nearly two years, he’s been part of the guard in ceremonial red tunics and bearskin hats which is involved in the iconic Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

The Band was also involved in the Queen’s birthday parade and other large state occasions, such as the opening of Parliament.

Before Braet and Cochrane joined The Band of the Irish Guard, there was only one other Canadian to be involved. And he’s thrilled to be part of the band’s storied history even if the first day on the job was a bit nerve-wracking.

“I was petrified,” he says noting there were “so many people watching. Generally over 10,000 watch the guard each day and you have so much to concentrate on;  playing the music well, marching properly, staying in line. At first yeah, I barely took my eyes off my music.

“Now it’s easy, and I look around a lot more…not actually turn my head of course, just my eyes.”

Braet loves his work and has played before Queen Elizabeth II a number of times as well as Prince William and his wife, Catherine which he found rather exciting.

“It’s so high profile. There’s no other job like it in the world.”

And he realizes he’s hit the jackpot for a musician, a paid job doing what he loves for as long as he wants.

And he encourages other LCCVI students with a love of music to never give up the dream of doing the same.

“Explore all your options. It may not be as clear cut a career path as some things, but the paths that are there are incredibly rewarding.  They might just take a little extra work to find,” he says.

“Also, be willing to think outside the box. If you had told me I’d be joining the army when I sat down in Grade 9 band, I would have scoffed at you

Completely!  I originally wanted to be a high school music teacher, then a college professor. But I’m really happy with where I’ve ended up.”