17 July 2018
Drummer Darren Mathiassen will be stepping out from behind his kit on Saturday to keep the beat for the New Zealand Defence Force’s contingent marching in Belgium’s National Day military parade in Brussels.
Belgian National Day is commemorated with a military parade and celebratory activities at the Royal Palace and around the Parc de Bruxelles, where King Philippe of Belgium reviews the parade.
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) is parading a platoon made up of personnel from the three Services, led by a Māori cultural element of Taua (warriors) and, of course, a drummer to keep them marching in step.
Better known for his work with one of New Zealand’s most successful drum ‘n’ bass bands, Shapeshifter, Leading Aircraftman Mathiassen is also a popular session musician and a Reservist in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) Band.
Wellington-based but having begun his percussive career in Invercargill, he said he was taken aback when he was approached to join the RNZAF Band.
“A friend of mine who works for the band shoulder-tapped me to perform in the RNZAF Band’s swing band. There are not many opportunities to play in a big band but I had to sign up to become a member of the Defence Force. We had a long conversation about what that actually entailed.
“I do have to pass fitness and medical requirements when I tour overseas with the band but there are no regular fitness tests. In saying that, I’m pretty physically fit from my day job.”
Since joining the RNZAF Band, Leading Aircraftman Mathiassen has toured the country and also performed at a miltary tattoo in Malaysia.
However, joining the band was a big step out of his comfort zone.
“I come from a jazz background so I’m used to a lot of improv. But some things, like always being switched on, are the same with any group. With the RNZAF Band, you’re also listening to commands, giving the right signals and there’s no room for error.
“You’ve got a whole guard in front of you and you’re responsible for marching them around the parade ground – it’s nerve-wracking but it’s also a lot of fun.”
The RNZAF Band also gives Leading Aircraftman Mathiassen the opportunity to work with a wide range of Wellington musicians in a wide range of genres.
“It’s made up of musicians from all areas of the Wellington music scene. While we all know each other we don’t really have the opportunities to play together, so it’s a really great thing for the community,” he said.
“The range of music played in the RNZAF Band really appealed to me. I can play in anything from a small jazz combo or covers band to the big swing band and concert band, then at military events like parades as well.”