Expressions is an annual concert held at Regent Hall Corps in central London. It heralds the start of the Brass Arts Festival. The brainchild of Bandmaster Steve Hanover, the event is now in its 14th year. It includes a genre of music to suit all tastes, interspersed with appropriate readings and thoughts.
This year, the concert was held in the refurbished hall, which now includes sophisticated lighting and sound systems. As always, the geography of the Victorian building was exploited by the participants. These included Sue Blyth, her daugther Abigail Johnson, vocal group Four Hymn, Regent Hall Band (Bandmaster Steve Hanover), Regent Hall Songsters (Songster Leader Mark Walton), and the Belfast Temple Summer School Timbrels. A packed and varied program was skillfully compèred by Major Mark Herbert, Divisional Commander of the South East Division.
The concert began as the band, moving into position in a totally darkened hall, performed the third movement of Paul Lovatt-Cooper’s Dark Side of the Moon, which, from a somber start, culminates in a triumphant and dramatic rendition of “Our God Reigns”. Anyone who thinks that timbrels are no longer relevant has not seen the group from Belfast Temple Summer School. Everything about their presentation was slick: facial expressions, well-choreographed movements, and the ability to adapt to much-loved Salvation Army marches and the lastest rock-gospel music. The superb timbrel-playing was almost incidental.
Sue Blyth is well known throughout the Salvation Army world for her vocal abilities and chose an upbeat version of Now I Belong to Jesus for her first item. Abigail Johnson sang A Change in Me from “Beauty and the Beast”. She then joined her mother in what Blyth referred to as their “first ever duetting gig”, their voices blending gloriously in For Good from “Wicked”, with its clear message in the words, “Because I knew you, I’ve been changed for good”. Other thought-provoking solos included Blyth’s interpretation of His Eye Is on the Sparrow and Johnson’s presentation of On the Rock.
Last year’s Expressions concert saw the debut of the Salvation Army’s first boy band, Four Hymn (Karl Westwood, Nick Hampton, Nathanael Watchorn, Joe Rose). This year, with several nationwide concerts under their belts and the imminent production of their first recording, the group was greeted with rapturous applause. Their elegant performance of Glorious Impossible, a track from their forthcoming album, relates the story of the Virgin Birth and the miracles performed by Christ, ending with an exhortation to all to “receive the glorious impossible”.
Regent Hall Songsters contributed both modern and traditional items, including an upbeat Clap Your Hands, a new setting of the well-loved Christ Is All, and a powerful rendition of Creation Sings. The moved into position around the hall to present John Stainer’s God So Loved the World.
Regent Hall Band is not known for a conventional “sitting on the platform” performance, so it was not surprising to see the band members, each equipped with a miner’s lamp, standing in the aisles for their particular take on Barrie Gott’s Light-walk. It’s always difficult finding your way in the dark, so, to the amusement of the audience, Bandmaster Hanover obligingly donned a high-visibility jacket and waved appropriate lighting to guide flügelhorn soloist Greg Walters back to his place on the platform.
In the devotional part of the evening, David Daws (euphonium), accompanied by the band, gave an exquisite rendition of When He Cometh. This was followed by the second duet from Blyth and Johnson, When Life Gets Broken. It is a hard fact that no one is promised an easy life all the time, and these two items were a reminder that God will carry every burden when it’s too much to bear.
Major Herbert related the apocryphal story of how NASA spent millions of dollars developing a space pen for its space program, while the Russians took a pencil. An amusing story, if true, but, as the Major pointed out, are we overlooking the obvious message of the all-changing power of God?
The band’s major work for the evening, To Boldly Go, was composed by Peter Graham, a former Regent Hall bandmaster. Graham was commissioned by Staff Bandmaster Ken Waterworth of the Melbourne Staff Band to write the piece in celebration of the Staff Band’s 125th anniversary. Waterworth specifically requested that the new item echo Graham’s earlier composition, Shine As the Light. The new work gives prominence to well-established Army songs, in this case “I’ll Not Turn Back” (Gowans/Larsson) and “I’ll Go in the Strength of the Lord” (Turney/Bosanko).
Although To Boldly Go celebrates and reflects the Melbourne Staff Band’s 125 years of service, it is also a reminder of the mission and continuing journey of the Salvation Army. The band’s presentation was enhanced by Penny Babb’s video depicting the Boundless Congress in 2015, with scenes from the O2 Arean and the unforegettable international march past cheering crowds down the Mall.
To finish the evening, Bandmaster Hanover chose the time-honored march Marching Onward, presented with the Belfast Temple timbrels. The audience clapped along with the featured melodies, “I’ll Go in the Strength of the Lord” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers”. Expressions is an amazing concept which keeps everyone on the edge of their seat. Major Alison Stone, associate corps officer, who was attending her first concert, confided that she experienced every emotion – tears, laughter, even goose bumps. But, strip away the greate new decor, fabuluous sound, and lighting effects, and, as Major Herbert said, don’t over look the obvious: you are left with the simple message of God’s love, available to all.
Regent Hall Band web site, original report by Jan Ambrose