Ten notable SA brass composers who have emerged in the past ten (and a bit) years
This article highlights ten of the most promising Salvation Army brass band composers to have emerged in the last ten years. It comes as a result of my passion to see The Salvation Army and its music groups serve the purpose of the Kingdom of God, and because I want to celebrate all the movement does in music ministry to proclaim the love of God shown in Jesus Christ.
My desire in writing this therefore is to bring glory to God and encourage and inspire writers to continue in what they are doing. I hope it will provoke thinking about mission, banding, composing and how the SA as a movement can resource its writers; be they brass composers, poets, song writers, lyricists or whatever.
Remember - I'm a music enthusiast, not a music expert and in this article I humbly offer my views. You're very welcome to agree or disagree with them. If you have a view, feel free to voice it in the comments at the bottom of the page.
What is an S.A. brass composer?
Writing this article has caused me to consider what I mean by an 'SA brass composer'. The definition I have settled on for this article is "someone who is resourcing SA bands with their works on a regular basis through either publication, performance or recording."
It means for example that, though I admire the success Paul Lovatt-Cooper has enjoyed and appreciate the music that has undoubtedly sprung from his Army heritage, as he is not presently resourcing SA bands on a regular basis he was not considered for this list. Also, whilst some of the composers mentioned here are not presently active members of the movement, if they are regular contributors (as defined above) then I have included them in my considerations. I've pondered this for a few months now but if you identify any flaws in that logic, feel free to feed back.
Who to include
In researching this piece I became aware of just how many SA composers have emerged through publication alone in the past ten years. My heart swelled as I counted over 30 new composers published in Army journals around the globe in that time. Just over half of these are younger composers too, who at the time of publishing were in their twenties. It really is most encouraging.
Of the ten notable composers I settled on, not all are in their twenties - in fact their dates of birth span four decades. Some are my contemporaries; though to be honest I tend to think of myself as 'emerging' with an earlier pre-2002 group who, in terms of published composers, would include the likes of David Ayma (Chi), Andrew Blyth (UK), Douglas Court (Can), Paul Drury (UK), Andrew Mackereth (UK), Keith Manners (UK), Iain Rayner (UK), Ian Robinson (UK-USA), David Rowsell (Can), Paul Sharman (UK) and Martyn Thomas (UK).
Of the 30+ newly-published writers identified, those who aren't on my list this time but nonetheless worthy of note are: Andrew Barrington (USA), Captain Anders Beijer (Swe), Noel Brooks (Can), Timothy Campbell (USA), Ian Clarke (UK), David Edmonds (UK), Ian Feltwell (UK), David Glänneskog (Nor), Derick Kane (UK), Major Andrew S. Miller (USA), Shawn Okpebholo (USA), Robert Snelson (USA), Morgan Juel Stavik (Nor), Stuart Watson (UK), Gavin Whitehouse (Aus-USA) and Craig Woodland (Can).
There are newer writers too, whose work I have yet to encounter in any significant way. Some have been writing for a while, some are only just setting out; some are recently published, some are yet to be published; all though have emerged in recent years and we will no doubt watch the development of these writers with interest. They include: Andreas Ålöv (Swe), Sam Creamer (Aus), Kevin Downing (USA), Adam Fripp (UK), Ashley Griffin (UK), Graham Hamlett (UK), Philip Hannevik (Nor), Andreas Holmlund (Swe), Matthew Ingram (UK), Leanne Laird (UK), David Leak (UK), Fred Mbesi (USA), Mike McCourt (Can), David Mills (Can), Jonathan Munn (UK), Edward Mylechreest (UK), Hans Nordin (Swe), Marian Parker (UK), Chelsea Pascoe (UK), Major Timothy Pascoe (USA), Andrew Poirier (Can), Jonathan Rowsell (Can), Ruben Schmidt (Ger), Darren Shaw (UK), James Shiels Jr (USA), Martyn Scott Thomas (USA), Chris Ward (UK) and Damian Wileman (UK).
It should be acknowledged too that there are composers who, though they emerged in the last ten years, now no longer write for the SA. Lorne Barry (Can-Aus, first published 2004) is currently not writing for the Army and in his own view would not be considered as an emerging SA composer. Nevertheless I feel many would regard him worthy of note as his music has proved very popular. For example, his major work Credo (FS 591, publ. 2004) continues to be utilised inside and outside the movement. And in terms of functional music, SA bands around the world have welcomed his upbeat selection The Hallelujah Strand (TS 1175, publ. 2008). Lorne is a gifted writer and I hope one day we will see more of his music.
Finally, you might also be interested to know how I arrived at the ten. Well, I have done this by:
- pooling the views of key personalities inside the SA banding world
- analysing the appeal and popularity of the composer's music around the world as evidenced by the number of publications, performances and recordings (as far as I could research)
- offering my own view on creative ability and potential
So then, let's get to it. Here are my ten notable talents in alphabetical order...
1. Dorothy GATES (b. 1966)
In the past ten years Dorothy has built-up an impressive repertoire of works. The first brass composition of Dorothy's to make an impression on me was Breathe (ABJ 221, publ. 2003) - a fresh, modern setting of the contemporary Christian hymn This is the Air I Breathe. I also like her trombone solo The Lamb (FS 592, publ. 2004) - a beautifully simple and atmospheric piece based on Michael Kenyon's well-known song for children.
At the time of writing I have yet to hear Dorothy's new composition War Cry (2012, unpublished) - written for the New York Staff Band's 125th anniversary celebrations, but her recent major work Hope (2009, unpublished) is a well thought-out and immensely captivating work.
To my mind, Dorothy's music resembles that of composers such as Brenton Broadstock; intense, heartfelt and (thankfully) distinct from the generic mould of rhythmically-driven music we see so much of these days (I acknowledge that I am part of that issue!) Also she is in a minority of brass writers who are not afraid to use the sharp keys; I think this adds to the feeling of originality we have come to expect with Dorothy's music.
God has blessed Dorothy with a unique gift. I hope she continues to fan that gift into flame.
First piece in SA journals: Sleep, Little Jesus (ABJ 210, publ. 2001)
Stand-out piece: Hope (2009, unpublished)
2. Dean JONES (b. 1976)
Son of established SA composer David E. Jones, Dean currently works as a sub-editor in the SA's UK music department. He and his family worship at Reading Lower Earley corps and in his spare time he leads Salvation Brass, a popular UK-based contemporary brass group. With over 20 pieces published by the Army so far, Dean's contribution to the SA's bands in the past ten years is significant.
One of Dean's most successful compositions is his first major work for band: Glorifico Aeternum (FS 565, publ. 2005). He once described this work to me as a "little piece written for a music school that went all around the world."
Indeed, around the world it went; it's success was remarkable. The rest of us stood back and watched in amazement (and probably with some resentment!)
Since then Dean has provided further major works in Supremacy (JSC 622, publ. 2007), Lord of All, Vista and Validus Deus (all as yet unpublished) as well as a stream of well-written functional arrangements. Some of his most popular in this vein include El es el Senor (GS 2049, publ. 2007), Written in Red (GS 2083, publ. 2009) and Mighty God! (TS 1198, publ. 2009).
A versatile composer, Dean has the happy knack of writing music of substance in all kinds of genres and for all sizes of ensemble. Keep up the good work, Dean.
First piece in SA journals: Faithful God (TS 1111, publ. 2002)
Stand-out piece: Glorifico Aeternum (FS 565, publ. 2005)
3. Kevin LARSSON (b. 1973)
I first met Kevin Larsson back in the early 1990s when we worked as employees at International Headquarters, London. We developed a good friendship and I came to know him not only as an extremely amiable and funny guy, but also a talented musician. Back then I envied his skills at the piano and on the trombone (bass and tenor), not to mention the Euphonium, too.
Having moved to the USA some years ago, Kevin has now established himself as an accomplished conductor and leader of various musical groups and increasingly, as a composer and arranger.
It's only in the last 2-3 years however that Kevin's brass music has materialised in SA journals, but what is there is well-conceived and very creative. I mean, who else would think to take Norman Bearcroft's setting of the spiritual Just like John (FS 360, publ. 1974), arrange it into a Latin-American style chart and call it Just like Juan?
We've also seen Kevin's creativity more recently in They Shall Come from the East (2010, unpublished), a fresh setting of the General John Larsson (Kevin's father) song, which he affords a Disney's Lion King treatment complete with djembe drums and vocal chants.
An all-round musician, Kevin has much to offer the SA brass band world. His music is becoming increasingly popular and I look forward to seeing more and more of his engaging and creative works in the journals.
First piece in SA journals: The Fruit of the Spirit (US 389, publ. 2011)
Stand-out piece: Just like Juan (JSC 659, publ. 2011)
4. Steven PONSFORD (b. 1983)
Steven Ponsford's musical roots are at the Plymouth Congress Hall corps where, as the son of the corps bandmaster, he learned to play the cornet and later, percussion. He cites composers such as Kevin Norbury and Philip Sparke as his inspiration and his music certainly has the inventiveness of those two talented writers.
Bands inside and outside the SA have really taken to Steven's music. Among his popular works are Praise Party (TS 1126, publ. 2003), Fanfare to Worship (GS 2032, publ. 2005), Kerygma (JSC 619, publ. 2007) and Christo Redentor (JSC 633, publ. 2008).
For me though, Steven's most accomplished work to date is Turris Fortissima (JSC 647, publ. 2009), written for Enfield Citadel Band's 2007 tour of the USA. Combining Luther's reformation hymn 'Ein Feste Berg and the contemporary Christian chorus Blessed be the Name of the Lord, it is accessible, substantial, tuneful, reflective, energetic and to top it all, has one of the most compelling finales I've encountered in a while. It really is a thrilling piece to play, conduct and listen to.
Acutely aware of the huge privilege of serving the Kingdom of God by writing for SA journals, Steven is a keen contributor and hopes that his compositions will be continually used to uplift and challenge. We've seen ample evidence of that in the past decade, and I hope there's much more to come.
First piece in SA journals: Praise Party (TS 1126, publ. 2003)
Stand-out piece: Turris Fortissima (JSC 647, publ. 2009)
5. Olaf RITMAN (b. 1977)
Olaf Ritman presently serves the Netherlands SA in his local corps as Bandmaster, corps pianist and songster pianist and on the national scene, as Bandmaster of the Amsterdam Staff Band.
Some might be surprised to find Olaf's name here as only relatively few of his pieces have been published by the Army, plus his band contributions have primarily been arrangements of other composer/songwriters' works. On top of all that by the way, he does not even call himself a composer!
As a recently published writer, you could be forgiven for assuming Olaf has only just begun composing and arranging. However he is an experienced SA musician. He has been writing since the age of 12; developing this from small ensembles to larger settings, and has been making music to a high standard for a number of years now through membership of both the Amsterdam Staff Songsters and Staff Band. Clearly, music is in his DNA and I think his experience in SA music over many years has resulted in Olaf bringing a certain musical maturity to his writing.
For me Olaf's arrangement of the Darren Bartlett song The Lord is Gracious (GS 2047-2, publ. 2006) and his setting for Trombone ensemble When I Survey (GS 2059, publ. 2007) prove the point; they might be his second and third published pieces respectively, but they could easily have been his thirty-second and thirty-third: they are well-crafted and have proven tremendously popular.
And just in case you were thinking Olaf's gift is for the reflective genre, you should know he can also turn his hand to the foot-tapping variety with pieces like Wonderful Day (2010, unpublished) - an entertaining big band setting of the song Heaven came down and O That Place (2002, unpublished) - a contemporary setting of the old song O that's the place where I long to be.
I feel Olaf has much more to offer but suspect that the busyness of life prevents him from writing more. Keep up the good work, Olaf. We're all looking forward to what will come from your pen in future.
First piece in SA journals: To Celebrate His Birth (US 275, publ. 2002)
Stand-out piece: The Lord is Gracious (GS 2047-2, publ. 2006)
6. Nicholas SAMUEL (b. 1980)
Lieutenant Nicholas Samuel and his wife Heather presently serve as Corps Officers at Thurso Salvation Army, North Scotland. Nick's roots are in Lancashire and he is a graduate of Salford University.
For the past few years musicians and congregations alike have been enjoying his attractive works for band and vocal groups. So far his brass music has materialised as functional arrangements - some of them are found in the UK's Scripture Based Songs tune book supplements, others in the journals - but all of them demonstrate a certain musical integrity and spiritual depth.
Nick's music is utilised and appreciated; for example our own corps band has made good use of his selection Gift of Love (GS 2019, publ. 2004).
As far as I see, Nick is one of only a few emerging composers championing the 'selection' genre. His recent work The Warrior Covenant (2010, unpublished) - the most significant of his I have heard to date - is a well-conceived medley of tunes old and new, and Nick has convincingly planted the melodies in a variety of musical styles. With more pieces like this he could quite easily make this area of the journals his own.
As a fellow SA officer I am pleased to see the likes of Nick writing for the movement he serves. We might be relatively few these days but I believe there is still an important place for the work of officer-composers. Well done, Nick - keep them coming.
First piece in SA journals: Grounded Firm (US 286, publ. 2003)
Stand-out piece: The Warrior Covenant (2010, unpublished)
7. Nicholas SIMMONS-SMITH (b. 1974)
Nick Simmons-Smith is a fifth-generation Salvationist and hails from Chelmsford, UK. He graduated with a music composition and performance degree in 1998 and since then - with the exception of a brief spell back home - has been a resident of the USA. Nick and his family worship at the Lawrenceville corps (Atlanta, GA) where he is the Bandmaster.
In 2009 Nick was appointed Territorial Music Secretary for the USA Southern Territory - a position previously held by Dr Richard Holz for 30 years.
Nick is heavily involved in this work and impressively, is working towards a vision that all corps and centres in that Territory will have access to live music in their worship setting by the year 2020. No small task considering there are well over 300 centres across 15 states in that Territory.
In terms of music output Nick has become one of the foremost emerging composers in the US. He is now a regular contributor to the journals, in particular the American Band Journal (USA Eastern) and American Instrumental Ensemble Series (USA Southern), the latter he worked on as part of the publication team in recent years.
Like many writers of his generation Nick has natural ability in the contemporary idiom; constructing attractive arrangements such as his setting of Eugen Greco's popular chorus Mighty is our God (ABJ 263, publ. 2008), yet he seems equally at home with the more 'standard' marches and settings such as his medley Good old Army (ABJ 295, publ. 2012).
Nick has so far provided music that is attractive, capable and mission-focused. I hope we continue to see more mission-music' from him in the years to come.
First piece in SA journals: Open Invitation (US 316, publ. 2005)
Stand-out piece: Mighty is Our God (ABJ 263, publ. 2008)
8. Roger TRIGG (b. 1971)
Roger Trigg's roots are in Melbourne, Australia where he grew up as the son of SA officer parents. Having resided in a variety of places including New York he now lives with his wife and two children in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
An experienced musician and former member of the New York and Melbourne Staff Bands, Roger joined the SA brass band writing scene later in life than most and I think that means he brings a great deal of level-headed experience and musical maturity to his compositions.
Among his most recent works, Roger penned Atonement for the Melbourne Staff Band's tour of the UK in 2011. This significant piece sets tunes such as To God be the Glory and See from His hands, his feet amongst themes and motifs from Roger's native land.
However, as capable as Atonement is, I feel that one of Roger's most accomplished works to date is a smaller piece Worthy is the Lamb (2007, publ. by Melbourne Staff Band). The treatment he gives this Hillsong anthem simply sets your heart on fire.
So far from Roger we have seen writing that is bold and inventive, yet more importantly has a serious message. He has an eye for the contemporary; not being afraid to bring older, more established tunes into the modern idiom. And again, in Roger we have somebody that offers music that has a real sense of integrity.
Roger's work is beginning to filter through to the journals now, and I personally look forward to seeing more of his work in the future.
First piece in SA journals: Once in Royal David's City (US 348, publ. 2008)
Stand-out piece: Worthy is the Lamb (2007, publ. by Melbourne Staff Band)
9. Marcus VENABLES (b. 1991)
The youngest in this group of emerging composers, Marcus Venables is quickly establishing himself as one of the most promising talents of the era.
At his home corps of North York Temple (Toronto, ON) Marcus presently serves as Deputy Songster Leader and in the corps band, soprano cornet player and composer in residence. Along with two of his brothers, he has formed a multi-track brass group called Vena Mills Band - whose mandate has been to record his compositions.
In terms of output, Marcus' music is extremely inventive and he can turn out music at a fearsome rate. Of note are major works for band Spirit of the Living God (2008), The World for God (2009) and The Gathering (2010) - all published by Maverick Music, Marcus' own enterprise.
Spirit of the Living God in particular is a very clever work; almost Heaton-esque in tone and originality. However, akin to most of Marcus' major works to date, I feel - at this juncture anyway - the work is generally too taxing for even the best ensembles. I for one have no issue with the fact that Marcus' works are so far in the main, technically-demanding works but I would certainly welcome him turning his hand to some functional music for the journals. A Venables march for example would be a very exciting proposition indeed.
In 2011 Marcus won the UK Unibrass Composition Competition with his work Lord of My Youth (2012, Devilish Publishing), but of the music I have seen so far, I feel one of Marcus' best offerings is Amazing Grace (2009, Maverick Music) - an attractive concert opener that positions his inventive writing in an exciting yet more accessible package.
One of the the brightest talents in this list, Marcus is definitely one to watch.
First piece in SA journals: we're still waiting!
Stand-out piece: Amazing Grace (2009, publ. by Maverick Music)
10. Andrew WAINWRIGHT (b. 1981)
Andrew Wainwright is a composer who has really come into his own in the last 2-3 years.
As the son of SA officer parents, Andrew has moved around a fair bit - including some early years in Africa. A passionate brass band aficionado, he has in recent years organised the annual 'Brass for Africa' event which no doubt combines his passion for brass music and the continent he once lived in and still visits from time to time.
His reputation as a composer has gone beyond the SA into the wider brass band movement.
For as well as writing for some of the top brass band soloists of today, Andrew plays in and presently serves as composer-in-residence to the legendary Virtuosi GUS Band.
Like other composers on this list, Andrew has benefited from encouragement and support within the corps setting and out of his time at Hendon corps in particular, we saw a number of appealing pieces emerge from his pen. For example, his setting for cornet of John Rutter's Candlelight Carol (GS 2042-2, publ. 2006) is well-crafted while his joint-arrangement with Duncan Gibbs of Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man (2007) for brass band, was an ambitious and well-received project.
One of my favourites though is a setting no doubt borne from Andrew's close association with the subject matter; his arrangement of the John Rutter song Distant Land (2009, unpublished). In this piece Andrew demonstrates a solid grasp of the shades and shadows of the brass band score, and proves that he is undoubtedly one of today's prominent emerging composers.
Keep up the good work, Andrew.
First piece in SA journals: Hendon (TS 1138, publ. 2004)
Stand-out piece: Distant Land (2009, unpublished)
Investment & support
Composition - be it music, paint, photography or whatever - could be defined as 'something created from within for the benefit of another'. As such composers depend on feedback - which hopefully comes in the form of affirmation and encouragement and if they are to progress, then they need to be nurtured. My view is that as a movement we haven't always affirmed, encouraged and nurtured as well as we should. I know for a fact that most of the writers mentioned in this article are supremely committed to the Army and freely offer their gifts and skills for the sake of the Gospel, but my worry is that some of these emerging composers have already 'fallen through the cracks' as it were; in some cases we have not afforded our best to them.
My hope and prayer therefore is that the Army will continue to increase investment in its writers, lyricists and all those who create and gift their work to the Kingdom via the SA, especially those starting-out on their creative journey. I pledge my personal support to all emerging composers and hope that those with platform and influence in these circles will do likewise.
Words of thanks
Finally, I would like to say thank you to all those who have helped me with this article - your feedback has been appreciated. Also I say thanks to the composers mentioned here. My hope and prayer is that you will continue to develop and use your gifts for the purposes of God's Kingdom. Composition is really only a very small part of a much bigger process that begins - and ends - with God: In the beginning He gives and then hopefully, at the end of it all, He receives.