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  • Jun12Wed

    Strike Up the Band

    In six decades of music ministry, Ken Graham has discovered that you can't play until you pray. June 12, 2013 by Ken Ramstead
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    “What we do is in praise to God,” says Ken Graham “What we do is in praise to God,” says Ken Graham

    Salvation Army bandsman Ken Graham has had many memorable moments over the course of 66 years, 52 of them at Wychwood and North York Temple in Toronto. One that he is particularly proud of came during a performance in Goderich, Ont., while he was a member of the Canadian Staff Band.

    “When the last note sounded, I reached out to shake the hand of the person closest to me, a gentleman in his 80s, who was so moved by our concert, tears were streaming down his face,” relates Graham. “ 'I've never experienced anything so beautiful in all my life,' he told me. I was humbled to be a part of that experience.”


    The son of officers, Graham was introduced to music while his dad served overseas during the Second World War.

    “My mother would take me across town on the streetcar for music lessons,” he says. “It was a long trip, and as my brother was just a toddler, she would have to bring him along in a large unwieldy pram, but she was insistent I get a grounding in music at an early age.

    “My dad was a cornet player and I wanted to be just like him,” says Graham. “Now my son plays the cornet, and I'm hoping to teach my grandson—nothing would make me happier.”

    Graham's father was an excellent teacher, but the youngster was fortunate to encounter many other experienced musicians along the way.

    “My first real mentor was Jack Green at Belleville, Ont.,” remembers Graham. “He used to say, 'You have to learn how to pray before you can play.' He taught us that just playing the notes wasn't good enough. Our music has to be spiritually based.”

    Full Circle

    Graham recalls one memorable episode as a young 22-year-old playing with the music camp faculty band at Ontario's Camp Selkirk.

    “We had a guest conductor from Tottenham Citadel in the United Kingdom, and he had us play Just As I Am. Even though it was a rehearsal, there was such a sense of the Holy Spirit's presence when we finished playing, no one moved for 10 minutes. We just sat there. It was such an inspiring moment.”

    Graham played the Last Post in Vancouver for King George VI's memorial service, performed at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and participated in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Californa, but his proudest moment was the time that, as deputy bandmaster at North York Temple, he conducted his father.

    “When my dad was bandmaster in Saskatoon, I played under his leadership, so things had come full circle.”

    “The Lord is Near”

    Ken Graham with his son, K.C. Ken Graham with his son, K.C.

    Graham hoped that he would have many years of playing ahead of him, but he had to retire due to ill health this past spring. He has no regrets.

    “I guess 66 years is enough,” Graham laughs. “I enjoyed my time in the Canadian Staff Band, but I've especially enjoyed seeing our corps band develop. For an old guy like me to be able to play with all these youngsters was quite special.”

    Though he is no longer able to play the cornet, Graham is still able to teach, and has mentored hundreds of students over the years, including his children K.C. and Amy, and many members of his own band.

    “What we do is in praise to God,” concludes Graham. “If you keep that in mind as you're playing, sometimes just the piece itself can bring a heightened awareness of his presence as you play, and you sense that the Lord is near.”

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