The power and the passion

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT John Thompson (author), ABIS Steven Thomson (author)

Location(s): Sydney, Melbourne

Topic(s): Royal Australian Navy Band

The Royal Australian Navy band in the practise hall in Waterloo, Sydney.  (photo: ABIS Steven Thomson)
The Royal Australian Navy band in the practise hall in Waterloo, Sydney.
It’s one of the oldest military bands in the country; they’ve performed to hundreds of thousands of people around the nation and throughout the world.  But who are the faces behind the melodies and what does it take to be a member of the Royal Australian Navy Band?
With the demand for performances, it is hardly surprising that passion is so important. The Navy Band is actually six bands, two made from permanent professional musicians in Sydney and Melbourne, and Reserve Bands in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart. 
The Sydney team alone conducted nearly 300 performances last year, the Melbourne Band, 250.  But the musicians aren’t fazed and in fact, embrace the experience.
Vocalist, Leading Seaman Musician Tracy Kennedy has been in the Navy Band for 17 years.
“I’ve had some incredible opportunities – I’ve travelled overseas a lot, sung in six or seven different languages and a range of songs from classical to rock, musical theatre to big band and jazz,” she said.
Leading Seaman Kennedy said the highlight so far had been performing the Australian National Anthem in front of the late South African President Nelson Mandela, at a tri-nations rugby test match between the Wallabies and Springboks at Elis Park, in Johannesburg in 2005. 
Saxophonist, Able Seaman Musician Gary Honor, is a returnee.  He first joined the band in 2000, then left to travel to London where he signed a record deal with Sony and performed across Europe and Russia where he played with the likes of Joe Cocker, Duran Duran and Kylie Minogue.  But the lure of the Navy Band proved too much, and he returned four years ago.
“It’s a great job and an exciting career path,” he said.
“I get to play with a great bunch of people day in, day out, but it also gives me the scope to do things like playing in Guy Sebastian’s band and others like Icehouse,” he said.
The Sydney Band is led by Lieutenant Brian O’Kane, originally a clarinet player with the Royal Marines Band Service.  He joined the Royal Australian Navy Band in 2003.
Lieutenant O’Kane said the reputation of the Royal Australian Navy Band was well-deserved.
“This is an impressive outfit with some of the best musicians in the country, if not the world,” he said.
The Band incorporates a ‘fleet’ of ensembles (big bands, rock bands and chamber orchestras) to assist in fulfilling its mission to promote the Royal Australian Navy.  The permanent component consists of 101 full-time musicians; the reserve component has 122 part-time musicians.
The Navy Band’s Director of Music, Lieutenant Commander Steve Stanke, says the one thing all band members have in common, and the most important characteristic for any Navy musician, is the passion for music.
“The band has an excellent reputation around the world, and one of the key reasons for that is the passion that the musicians have for being the best,” he said.
To catch one of the bands at a location near you – check out the events page on the Navy website
For more information about the Royal Australian Navy Band visit