Some thoughts on the future of SA bands

By request I'm posting these thoughts which were presented at the first Netherlands Territory annual Brass Weekend held in January 2013. They represent my personal view at that time (not the view of The Salvation Army) and are articulated from the point of view of a SA corps officer, composer and brass band enthusiast.  If you have a view, feel free to post in the comments at the end of the page. 

First-off I must say that I’m hopeful and optimistic for the future of brass music in the SA and I believe that there are endless opportunities for bands in their primary roles of worship and witness.  But like any future hopes and plans, the role and existence of SA bands tomorrow is very much dependent on the decisions we make today. 

Flexibility vs DNA

In the UK Territory the leadership has encouraged local corps to discover their own identity and calling.  As evidenced in mission statements and the like, corps have been given flexibility to minister the Gospel and reach the local community in whichever way they see fit. They also have freedom to identify their own worship style. We have moved past a one-size-fits-all style of Salvation Army. Though some elements of worship and witness are the same (I am referring to this as the 'DNA' or 'flavour' of the movement) there is increasing variance in worship styles and community programmes across the Territory.

Also in the UK, corps have the support of DHQ and THQ in resourcing that local mission. I praise God for this approach and hope this encouragement will continue.  However I also hope that we as an Army will not forget our original calling.  There are some aspects of who we are and what we do that constitute the DNA of the SA - and therefore should be retained at all costs.

For me, worship and witness have to have elements that are flexible – that can be brought in and out as the season demands – but also they need to contain elements which are unchanging across all corps and centres.  This ensures that the SA has a ‘flavour’ which is unique from other denominations.  

Now, I’m not sure that what I’m about to say is all transferable across Territories and continents, but here are my thoughts for what are the non-negotiables of witness and worship and therefore represent part of the DNA of the SA (of course, there are more aspects – the items in the list below are just given as examples): 

Witness

  • That we meet needs in Jesus’ name (fulfilling the second part of The Great Commission Matt. 28). It doesn't matter how we do it, but it must be done.
  • That we celebrate wearing a uniform
    I say that because every army in the world is recognisable by what it wears.  We’re in battle and the people need to see who the good guys are. Let’s be proud to be part of a worldwide movement and wear uniform with pride.

Worship

  • That we have songs in worship
  • That young people are featured 
  • That scripture is read
  • A celebratory atmosphere
  • Opportunity for testimony/hear good news stories
  • Prayer
  • Opportunity to give – not just finance but also our time, talents and energy in service to God
  • To celebrate the gift of music and use it well in worship - that's where brass bands come in.
    Brass Bands & Vocal Groups are a staple part of the Salvation Army worship diet. Stephen Cobb once said, “music is the jewel in the Army’s crown" and I believe he's right.  In other denominations there are other musical combinations that offer a different flavour – but choirs and brass are a unique gift to the SA and should be celebrated, and used in creative and effective ways.

Not forgetting we should be flexible in worship and witness, The Salvation Army has a ‘flavour’ to discover and celebrate. We don’t need to apologise for who we are; worrying about whether people will like what we do. If we’re comfortable with who we are and what we do – in other words, our Salvation Army ‘flavour’ – then they’re more likely to want to join in!

ISB120 was one of the most rewarding and successful events in Salvation Army history. The DNA of The Salvation Army was on show for all to see. There was:

  • a celebratory atmosphere in worship
  • brass bands taking an effective role in worship
  • good news stories
  • prayer
  • effective witness
  • and yes you brass people, even singing!

Conclusion

I believe that because brass band music is part of our DNA, it should be retained.  For it to be retained, it needs a commitment to resourcing and investment. And for brass bands to be effective, bandmasters and corps officers need to consider how effectively their band communicates. The days have gone where we can stand in a circle in the street, playing tunes that only we know.  And when we provide a concert, we can’t play at  people or even just play and hope for the best, we have to be more intentional and say “through our work we’re going to help people learn something about Jesus Christ.”

As I said earlier, the role and existence of SA bands tomorrow is very much dependent on the decisions we make today.  That’s why I’m so pleased to see the implementation of this Brass Weekend.

We hope you’ve enjoyed the fellowship and maybe even learned one or two things. But most of all I hope you understand the idea that if thought about carefully and given a level of commitment and investment, brass bands can do so much for the glory of God.


Martin Cordner
January 2013

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