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'Open' warfare needed in our music sections

'Open' warfare needed in our music sections

'Open' warfare needed in our music sections

5 April 2017

Using God's gift of music to the Army means employing it in ways that "inspires the believer and captures the non-believer".

By John Larsson

I was thrilled by the emphasis
 given in the March edition of Others to the Just Brass concept, originating from the South Barwon Corps in Geelong and now spreading internationally. For The Salvation Army needs more music, not less.

That simple truth was brought home to me some years ago through the inspired insight of a young Salvationist.

I was with a group of teenagers and we were discussing the Army’s future. I ventured the suggestion that perhaps when church historians studied the first hundred and more years of the Army’s history, they would conclude that music had been given a disproportionate prominence in its activities. Should there be less emphasis on music in the Army? That was 
the question.

“Less music?” asked this young man as if he could not believe his ears. “But why on earth would we want to cut back on the greatest way of communicating that we have? Music is the thing that everyone has in common!

“What do people do when they wake up in the morning?” he continued. “They reach out and switch on music. They listen to music over breakfast. They travel to work with music. Many listen to piped music all day as they work. And then in the evening they return home to the sound of music, and as often as not spend the rest of the day with music – when watching TV or listening to recorded music, or when going out with friends.

“God has given the Army an enormous advantage by entrusting it with the gift of music. It has a ready-made road into everyone’s heart and mind. It has been given a universal language.

“You’re not suggesting,” he added reproachfully, “that we should give up all
 of that, are you?” The words tumbled out with passion and eloquence – and with irresistible logic. It was one of those moments of insight when the obvious suddenly becomes startlingly clear. And it is obvious, isn’t it? If music is one of God’s gifts to the Army, we don’t want less of it – we want more!”

What we need is music that speaks to every heart. Music that speaks to the traditionalist, and appeals to the non- traditionalist. Music that inspires the believer and captures the non-believer.

Music that appeals to the young, and music that entrances the elderly. High-brow music, popular music, classical music, contemporary music, music for voice and music for brass, and music for keyboard and for guitar. No heart must be left out of reach!

But there is something else we need in addition to all of that, and it is this: We need to use music making, and not only music listening, for mission and outreach. And that is why the Just Brass initiative is so groundbreaking.

As an Army we show admirable ingenuity in devising ways of reaching out to people and attracting them into our halls – one has only to look at the vast range of programs on offer in corps. But we have shown a strange reluctance to use one of the things we know most about, namely music making, as a way of reaching out and attracting people.

Our philosophy and structures have worked against us here. In traditional Army thinking you have to be a signed-up uniform-wearing soldier to participate in the musical sections, senior and junior. And there is no doubt that this has given the Army a remarkable body of musicians who have upheld, and still do, the most admirable standards of music making and discipline. I admire them greatly, and pray that they may go from strength to strength. But my hope is that, in parallel with these sections where they function, we may increasingly use open groups, open to those who have not yet come to faith, and let music making become a means of evangelism.

The use of open groups such as Just Brass is spreading through Austra
lia and throughout the Army world. These groups take many forms. In some corps the established sections include non-uniformed and non-Salvationist members, other corps offer music les-sons to young people, or they form open youth or gospel or community choirs or bands. The fastest-growing section in the London corps where I soldier, and the corps’ most effective means of outreach, is a recently launched community choir.

“One way of disarming The Salvation Army”, wrote Bernard Watson in his 1965 history of the Army, “would be to remove its music!” One way of re-arming the Army, says I, is to add music making to our evangelistic armoury.

General John Larsson is a former world leader of The Salvation Army.




  1. My heart aches for some of the stupid things we have done I letting 'Just Brass' go for very feeble reasons.

  2. As a new person in the door a little over 5 years ago, my Corps let me join the band. I was new to the Army, didn't wear a uniform, was still searching for an answer, and to be honest, more often than not on a Sunday morning was hung-over.
    I'm now the bandmaster at that Corps. I proudly wear my new uniform. Ive given my life for Christ.
    If it wasn't for the Open Group provided by my local Corps, I wouldn't be the man, father and husband I am today.
    Just saying...

  3. Stuart Miskin
    Stuart Miskin

    Having recently become bandmaster at a small corps in the East Midlands of the U.K. my new deputy and I decided to open up our band practices to anybody who wished to join us. The result in 6 months is a corps fellowship band formed from the corps band and our guests that plays regularly at the corps and 2 people going through recruits class. Our new members are fully supportive and committed to the work of the Salvation Army.

  4. Hear, hear! General Larsson hits the nail on the head yet again. For far too long the Salvation Army kept its greatest asset, its published music, to itself and would not allow other bands to purchase and play it. Thankfully, that's no longer the case. I came to the Army because of frustrations with musical opportunities in an church. To my great surprise and delight, I was welcomed into my local Corps Band straight away. I soon became an Adherent and now am a Soldier. At my recent enrolment we augmented our little Corps band with several of my friends from other Corps and from "outside" brass bands - one of these "outside" players was sufficiently moved by the occasion to want to go along to The UK West Midlands Divisional Fellowship Band - this is open to members of other churches and to musicians who don't currently go to any church. People have come to the Lord through their involvement with the Band. God is working all the time through music-making activities.
    The General has given me and many others personal inspiration. To quote one of his own songs, "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord."

  5. Judith Ann Wood
    Judith Ann Wood

    I played cornet in the school's orchestra and brass band before 'discovering' the army. The yp bandleader was more than happy to allow me to practise with the band any time, an invitation he still extends to me now he is bandmaster. Since that time, I have been enrolled as a soldier, been a corps cadet, songster, band member and even yp band sergeant. While currently unable to regularly for health and different reasons, my heart is still with the army and I am still a soldier on the roll. Two of my children are now young soldiers, play instruments themselves and hope when circumstances change that we can return !!!
    The love of music led me to the army. Within that setting I established a relationship with God I didn't previously have. I would agree that there is little to be gained by reducing that avenue of worship & service !!!

  6. Well said Grant,I was 37 years away from the army,but through my wifes perseverance,became a adherant at Victor Harbor corps. Cleaned and repaired old instruments and invited musicicians from city band to come and play with our small band of four.With a bit of opposition we have now succeeded with fifteen talented players and four senior soldiers swarn in.We are a happy crowd.

  7. God bless John Larsson for his comments too right I am always listening to Christian songs and music I don't actually own any secular music

  8. I'm a Salvationist in the UK, but don't wear a uniform partly due to the cost of the uniform and partly because I think, in its current form it's outdated, ugly and impractical.
    Anyway, I always find it funny how we think about music in the army. Comments about how it's our greatest form of communication or our greatest asset really seem to narrow us down to "only brass players welcome".
    Recently the Salvationist paper wrote some April Fool articles, one article suggested that the ISB would be allowing woodwind into the band.
    A local band leader was infuriated that we would allow non-brass players into our bands and was about to demand a refund on a future band festival ticket in protest of the disgraceful decision by the ISB. Thankfully, he has since been alerted to the joke and has calmed down. Strangely, this same band leader is the only person who has so far, accepted me into the band as a woodwind player, so not sure why he was so offended.
    My corps band flag incidentally has removed the cross and 'S' from the top of the flag and replaced it with a trendy corps logo with no reference to Jesus. Not sure why, but both things tell me there are deeper issues that need to be stalked about.
    I agree that music is a great communicator, but there are so many other ways of communicating that we just ignore. I've never managed to get someone to come to the corps on the basis of hearing a brass band, despite having a neighbour who listens to brass music and living in Yorkshire!!!
    However, a few months ago I travelled to Warrington to see the knitted Bible exhibition and was told hundreds of people have visited the corps to see the Bible stories, thousands had made contact around the world. How many band concerts do that?
    Music is just one creative resource, brass instruments just one small part of that, as someone with little interest in playing music I find little place for me in the Army. I find it amusing though that the band trot out every Sunday to play tunes in a street, in an area with high poverty and non-English speakers and spend five minutes playing tunes that people can't sing along to, then we wonder why we don't get people pounding the door down.
    Maybe it's time we really talked about our obsession with brass bands and started looking outside.

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