Weekend at William Booth Memorial Halls

The International Staff Band (Bandmaster Dr. Stephen Cobb) thrilled, inspired and challenged their audiences during a campaign at the William Booth Memorial Halls in Nottingham on the weekend of 3 – 4 November 2013.

On Saturday night, a full house was thrilled by the exciting music presented, though, in the true tradition of Salvation Army programs, there were also moments of thoughtfulness and challenge. The strains of the opening march, Temple 125 (Kevin Larsson), indicated that the band was in fine form, with a tightness of ensemble to match the best bands in the country.

Paul Sharman is a rising star within the world of Salvation Army music and his new arrangement of The Lord Bless Thee and Keep Thee was well-received, as was his flügelhorn solo Soul-Full, wonderfully played by Richard Woodrow. Also carrying on the Staff Band’s heritage of first-class soloists were principal cornet Kevin Ashman with Song of Exultation (Norman Bearcroft) and principal euphonium Derick Kane with Air ’N Variations (Stephen Bulla).

One of the most pleasurable aspects of an International Staff Band concert is the band’s ability to explore and develop new repertoire – in this case, a new work by Steven Ponsford, The Day of the Lord, demonstrating ultimate control of the music with well-balanced ensemble, sure rhythm, dynamic control and an understanding of the purpose of the work.

Two works by well-known Salvationist composer Ray Steadman-Allen, who celebrated his 90th birthday in 2012, were included. The first was Trombone Vespers, featuring the band’s trombone quartet. The second was one of his signature works, Victorian Snapshots: On Ratcliff Highway. An highly descriptive piece, evoking the atmosphere and sounds of the East End of London in the formative years of the Salvation Army, this item was enhanced with a multimedia presentation which made the somewhat complicated and turbulent music more accessible to the listener.

Other items relatively new to the repertoire included Stephen Bulla’s up-tempo arrangement of Lift Up Your Voice and a work by young Australian composer Sam Creamer, Faith Is the Victory. The band completed the program with an item which has quickly become a favorite in Salvation Army programs, Fire in the Blood (Paul Lovatt-Cooper). As an encore, the band presented Wilfred Heaton’s iconic march Praise.

On Sunday morning, worship was led by the Staff Band’s executive officer, Major Noel Wright, who took as his theme “Jesus, the light of the world”. His preaching was inspired and beautifully supported by the band with the classic meditation The Light of the World (Dean Goffin). In addition, the YP Band and Singing Company from William Booth Memorial Halls presented items that enhanced the worship experience.

In the afternoon, plans for an open-air service and march in the center of Nottingham were scuttled by bad weather. However, this disappointment was alleviated when the Staff Band presented more music inside, supported by the Memorial Halls Songsters, who left the audience in thoughtful silence with their offering To Serve My God Alone.

During the afternoon performance, two more of the band’s soloists were featured: Carl Nielsen (cornet) played Victorious (Dean Goffin) and Johnathan Evans (euphonium) presented Harbour Light (Norman Bearcroft).

Major Wright spoke again from Scripture before the band lifted everyone’s hearts with a majestic performance of The Kingdom Triumphant (Eric Ball); the glorious sound and message lingering long after the music stopped.

International Staff Band web site, original reports by David Hirst and Richard Ellis