On Saturday, 8 March 2014, a capacity crowd attended Regent Hall to celebrate the life and music of Major Leslie Condon, and to benefit the ongoing work of the Leslie Condon Trust. Dr. Stephen Cobb was an excellent and knowledgeable compère for the evening. The performers included the Croydon Citadel Band (Bandmaster Iain Parkhouse) and Regent Hall Songsters (Sonster Leader Mark Walton). The special guest soloists were Brett Baker (trombone) and Les Neish (tuba), both of whom are top-level virtuosi recognized throughout the brass band world.
The live of many people were enhanced because they knew Major Leslie Condon. An unassuming man with a keen sense of humor and a true Christian gentleman, he was also a prolific composer, writing more than 100 works for bands and vocal groups on top of his “day job’ as a Salvation Army officer.
It is a measure of the love and respect that people had for Condon that, more than 30 years after his promotion to Glory on Christmas Eve, 1983, a capacity crowd attended this benefit concert. The Leslie Condon Trust promotes the spiritual and musical education of young Salvationists living in third-world countries and developing Salvation Army territories.
The evening commenced with one of Condon’s most well-known works, the festival march Celebration, which includes the grand old Salvation Army tune, “We’ll keep the old flag flying”. This was followed by the audience participating in an enthusiastic rendition of the song “Now thank we all our God”. Throughout the evening, there were video interviews explaining the work of the Leslie Condon Trust.
Guest soloist Les Neish gave a remarkable rendition of the solo Celestial Morn, ending with a seemingly effortless “super C”. Brett Baker played Concertino for Trombone (Ferdinand David, arr. Leslie Condon) and, later in the program, Condon’s Song of Exuberance. Neish performed Badinage (Kevin Norbury), a piece which, as explained by Dr. Cobb, was written as a tribute to Condon, containing several references to Celestial Morn.
In an evening of musical highlights, special mention must be made of the ladies of the Regent Hall Songsters and their exquisite performance of The Love of My Lord. Later in the program, the men of the Songsters, augmented by male voices from the band and accompanied by a trombone ensemble, sang When Jesus Looked o’er Galilee – a beautiful marriage of words by Catherine Baird and music by Ernest Fewster, arranged by Major Condon.
Other items from the band included Prayer of Childhood and Gift for His Altar. The songsters also sang A Call to Care and Hymn to Christ.
Undoubtedly, Condon’s compositions broke new ground for Salvation Army music. The major work of this concert was the original 1968 version of The Present Age, written for a major festival at the Royal Albert Hall. The composition portrays a Christian’s struggle to stay on the right path through the challenges of modern life. Dr. Cobb related that the piece was written “in a bit of a rush” and was delivered piecemeal for the International Staff Band to rehearse. Dr. Cobb’s father, Roland Cobb, was a member of the Staff Band at that time and was quite perplexed by “what this man is trying to say”.
The Present Age is now recognized as one of the masterpieces of Salvation Army brass band literature. For this concert, the audience had the benefit of a multimedia presentation on the screen. The presentation explained the juxtaposition of the strident, discordant march of life with the much-loved song, “I’ll Follow Thee”, and later on in the piece with a beautiful arrangement of “It Is Well with My Soul”.
A remarkable evening ended with Croydon Citadel Band, of which Condon was at one time bandmaster, joining with the Regent Hall Songsters for an epic performance of A Song of Praise. The audience was invited to join in on the last verse in a corporate act of praise, with the confident assertion that “Christ has overcome the world”.