An air of excitement and anticipation swelled through the capacity audience at Scarborough Citadel, Toronto, on Saturday, 24 May 2014 as they awaited the entry of the Canadian Staff Band (Bandmaster John Lam) for its 45th Anniversary Festival. This year’s focus was on honoring Staff Band alumni – 147 in all, including 28 deceased members.
With that focus in mind, a special reception was held in the afternoon for those former members and their spouses who were able to attend. Many more were present for the evening program, where they were recognized for their years of service. The program was specifically planned to include alumni soloists and former bandmasters, making it a truly significant occasion for all.
The Staff Band commenced the festival with Marcus Venables’ scintillating prelude Christ the Lord, an arrangement of the hymn tune “Llanfair”. This was followed by a welcome and prayer by Executive Officer Major Kevin Metcalf and a congregational song, “Now Thank We All Our God” (arr. William Himes), conducted by Deputy Bandmaster Major Kenneth Smith.
The first soloist of the evening was Staff Band alumnus Robert Venables (cornet), who played The Heavenly Light (Ivor Bosanko). The soloist delighted the audience with a flawless performance. Demonstrating his robust tone and skillful dexterity, he made a very challenging solo seem effortless, indicating that he is still in peak form as the master of his instrument.
The first major work of the night was a world premiere of a new tone poem by Marcus Venables, Judgment Day. Featuring the hymn “Abide with me”, the music portrays the contrast between God’s judgment of our sin and our own forgiveness of each other. Marcus is one of Canada’s leading young composers whose work is being played around the Salvation Army world. His work demonstrates both advanced compositional skill and spiritual depth and maturity that touches both players and listeners alike.
For a complete change of pace, Staff Bandsman Bill Way presented his own unique version of the Gowans and Larsson song Down the Street, in true Newfoundland style. This was followed by a video greeting from the Staff Band’s founding bandmaster, Lt.-Colonel Norman Bearcroft, who was not able to be present for the occasion.
To conclude the first half of the program, former Staff Bandmaster Kevin Hayward, who led the band from 2002 to 2006, conducted My Comfort and Strength (Brian Bowen). A favorite of many, this magnificent setting of the tune “University” moves through the verses of Psalm 23, reflecting various moods using fragments of the melody, culminating in a grand conclusion.
Following an intermission, the Staff Band presented two short contrasting items. First was Coronation Fanfare and Intrada (Kenneth Smith), a setting of “All hail the power of Jesus’ name” and “Crown Him with many crowns”. Next was Sam Creamer’s Latin-style arrangement of Faith Is the Victory, featuring soloists Major Kevin Metcalf (cornet), Craig Lewis (trombone) and Gord Mayer (drums).
The second featured soloist of the evening was alumnus Robert Miller (euphonium), who played the demanding work The Better World (Norman Bearcroft), written for Derick Kane and the International Staff Band in 1978. In top form, Miller dazzled the audience with his performance, showing how he has become one of the Salvation Army’s truly outstanding euphonium soloists.
Following a video greeting from former Staff Bandmaster Brian Burditt, who was unable to be present, the mood changed as the Staff Band presented Kenneth Downie’s beautiful setting In Perfect Peace. As the band played, pictures from the Staff Band’s 45-year history were shown, including a special presentation honoring those who have passed away over the years. A total of 28 members are no longer with us, and this was the band’s way of honoring their memory and the years of service given to the band’s ministry.
This was followed by alumnus Deryck Diffey (cornet), who played Ray Steadman-Allen’s sensitive arrangement of Someone Cares. A key member during the band’s early years and long-standing principal cornet, Diffey showed that he still has the tone for which he was known in his younger years. Colonel Mark Tillsley, chief secretary for the Canada and Bermuda Territory, brought a brief devotional message linked to the song, emphasizing how God uses each of us as Christians to show His love to others.
The final item of the night was conducted by former Staff Bandmaster Colonel Robert Redhead, who led the band in one of his best-known compositions, Quintessence. Written for the Melbourne Staff Band’s performance at the 1978 International Congress, this work was featured prominently during Redhead’s years as Canadian Staff Bandmaster (1976 – 1985). Exploring a number of songs associated with Australia as well as some original themes, the work culminates in a majestic setting of the chorus “At Thy feet I bow adoring”.
For a benediction, the played played Noel Brooks’ arrangement of God Be With You Till We Meet Again, presented in tribute to the members of the original Canadian Staff Band and other Salvationists who lost their lives in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland on 29 May 2014 – 100 years ago. As the band played, pictures of the 19145 Staff Band, the great ship and the funeral service in Toronto for the victims of this tremendous tragedy were shown.
Canadian Staff Band web site