If you’ve read my profile, you’ll have noticed my reference to playing bass trombone. Well, I thought this would be a good place to share an article I wrote about 18 months ago for ‘The Trombonist’, the magazine of The British Trombone Society (BTS), about trombones & players in the Salvation Army. If you’re interested in banding, read on…if not, this is a really good place to stop and do something else!
I wonder what you think of when you hear a Salvation Army band in the High Street, perhaps around Christmas? You might think about the Salvation Army’s social work, or that it is a part of the church? Maybe it just makes you feel nostalgic or, “rather them than me” on a cold December day?
Salvation Army (or ‘SA’) bands have been around for many years; one of the first officially recognised Salvation Army Corps (i.e. centre) bands, was formed in Consett in 1879, and there are still many SA bands around the country, ranging in size and ability, although perhaps not found in the numbers they once were.
In the south of England, like most of the UK, SA bands are dotted around most major towns, and some are quite well known. Anyone interested in brass banding, has probably heard of Enfield Citadel Band, Hendon Band, Regent Hall Band, and although not a corps band, the International Staff Band*, which is the SA’s premier brass band in the UK, and is based in London.
A Salvation Army band is first and foremost a means to help spread the Gospel, and in striving to do that, they aim high in terms of quality, with each group counting amongst it’s membership real brass enthusiasts, as well as folk who simply enjoy being part of the group.
Playing in the ‘Open-Air’
Over the years the SA has produced many outstanding brass musicians; Denis Wick, Don Lusher, Maisie Ringham, Christopher Mowat, Dudley Bright, to name a few, as well as the likes of Philip Cobb, David Daws and Philip Smith (to name a few more!), but for the vast majority of us who consider ourselves to be keen amateurs, in addition to our spiritual aims, it is also a means to enjoy making brass band music, and the Salvation Army has a very rich heritage of this to draw upon.
In any brass (and I suspect orchestral) group, there can be little doubt that trombone players see themselves as a breed apart. There is something about the trombone that seems to attract some of the more outgoing and extrovert people to it, that encourages great music to be written for it, and of course associations to be formed to promote and celebrate the instrument! You don’t get that with many other musical instruments.
Extrovert and unruly…at least in Bromley…
And that sense of the extrovert, excitement and the feeling that we trombonists are somehow different (in the best possible sense), exists in the SA as much as anywhere else, and although I’m writing this from a south of England perspective, I know that there is a sense that an SA trombone club exists across the UK and indeed the rest of the world.
Every group of trombonists I’ve ever played with has always shared this sense of belonging, regardless of their level of ability. I play in Bromley Temple Salvation Army band, where there are presently six of us, although one is away studying at university. Three of the remaining five of us have played together for nearly 20 years and we like to play as a group whenever we can. It has been our pleasure to take part in various events, either as a trio, quartet, or part of a larger group.
As a section, in 2013 we had the pleasure of forming a trombone ensemble alongside Black Dyke Trombone Quartet to accompany Dudley Bright, we’ve performed as a trio in the afternoon service and open-air meeting at Chalk Farm Salvation Army and we were invited to play for visitors to the Olympic Mountain Bike event at Hadleigh Farm, in Essex. It’s on days like that you realise that not nearly enough trombone trios have been written!
Bromley Band Trombone’s join Black Dyke Trombone Quartet to accompany Dudley Bright
But we’re not alone in this type of thing. Regent Hall band who I mentioned earlier, are another trombone section not averse to heading out on their own. Being based in Oxford Street in the heart of London’s West End, it is not unusual for them to play as a group to shoppers during Christmas carolling, and they have also performed programmes of their own in and around London. They are also unusual in that amongst their number, they include three professionals; a member of Her Majesty’s Irish Guards trombone section, principal Paul Hooper and Paul Johnson of the Coldstream Guards, as well as Dudley Bright, principal trombone of the LSO.
The trombone section in action in Bromley High Street
The trombone as an instrument is pretty unique, and competent players can achieve a very large musical and dynamic range, so it lends itself very well to playing in groups, as many parts can be covered, even more if you introduce the use of Alto and Contra-bass trombones (the Moravian Trombone Choir for example). I guess it is typical of the type of people that play the trombone that they like to form groups and it’s obviously not just SA players; Bones Apart, and Black Dyke Trombone Quartet being two further examples.
And it’s not as though this kind of ‘playing together’ behaviour isn’t encouraged either. The SA band music repertoire includes many trombone ensembles with band accompaniment. Ray Steadman-Allen’s “Wonders Begin when the Lord comes in” and “Trombone Vespers”, Stephen Bulla’s “Peace Like A River” and “The Cleansing Power” just to name two SA composers, none of which seeks to discourage feisty trombone sections; quite the opposite!
And who can forget Spiritual to the ‘Bone? This Salvationist jazz trombone ensemble from the USA, based on the Tutti’s Trombone model, released five very successful CD’s and toured the US, Europe and Australia in the 1990’s. Their recordings will have exposed many to possibly their first taste of SA music, which really brings us back to the primary purpose of SA music in general, whether brass, choral or contemporary; to proclaim the Gospel.
*Note: In fact there are a number of ‘Staff’ bands around the world: For info these are (apologies if I’ve missed anyone):
The bulk of this text was first published in Spring 2013 edition of ‘The Trombonist’.
John Murray (iPhone 4s)
Brent Forrest (proper expensive camera)
Me (iPhone 5s)
© Richard Debonnaire