As a cornerstone of Salvation Army heritage, brass banding plays an instrumental role in the identity of Salvationists. From youth bands and music camps to the Canadian Staff Band, banding exists at every level and within every generation. Across Ontario, three seniors’ bands offer retirees a place for music, enrichment and quality fellowship.

Jubilee Brass, London, Ont.

Twenty-five years ago in London, Ont., a small ensemble of Salvationists assembled to play for a divisional seniors’ rally, slowly growing in numbers and forming the foundation of what is now called Jubilee Brass, a fellowship brass band for seniors.

Comprised of band members from 14 different communities in southwestern Ontario, the band now has 35 regular members, among which the average age is 77. With each member bringing roughly 40 to 50 years of banding experience to the group, there is more than 1,700 years of combined banding represented.

Bob Barrett, a cornet player and soldier at St. Thomas Citadel, Ont., was among the original eight members who formed the humble beginnings of Jubilee Brass. Now, Barrett is treasurer of the band, a position he has held for the last 20 years. “It’s a great fellowship of band members. We get together every week for rehearsal and we share together in our love of God and banding,” says Barrett.

Having experienced a health issue in March 2023, Barrett had to take a break from the band for four months, but now he is delighted to be back. “You could say that Salvation Army banding is the glue that holds us together.”

According to Barrett, Jubilee Brass also strives for musical excellence under the dedicated leadership of Bandmaster David Rowsell. A well-established Salvation Army composer with a number of published compositions, Rowsell also writes pieces for the band’s repertoire, including a new composition called Jubilation for the band’s 25th anniversary concert in October.

In addition to leading Jubilee Brass, Rowsell leads the youth band at his home corps, London Citadel, and he sees musical ministry at both ends of the generational spectrum. “It’s a grea topportunity to encourage youth to participate in Salvation Army banding and music ministry and to continue keeping it alive,”says Rowsell.

Band members agree that Jubilee Brass offers a unique opportunity for fellowship with other Christians and music lovers. “The camaraderie is unmatched,” says Allan Weatherall, a bandsman who joined Jubilee Brass five years ago after retiring from his position in the London Citadel Band.

Weatherall also plays in a community band in St. Thomas, and says that the atmosphere is different between the bands. “The music itself is different, and it’s a different feeling playing music with a Christian message.”

Heritage Brass, Toronto

Founded in 1988, Heritage Brass consists of 31 members from 11 Ontario corps, bringing a total of 1,643 years of collective service in banding. The band members are committed to finding ways to support smaller Army corps—some without their own bands—often driving at their own expense to play for them.

For Heritage Brass, banding is not just about preserving Army tradition, but engaging new people and creating connections through music. “We play out in the park and invite people to come back for the Sunday morning meeting,” says Alan Speed, who plays trombone. “We don’t just play all Army pieces because we want to connect with non-Salvationists. So, we play The Beatles and other familiar pieces that someone may hear floating over the breeze and think, Who’s playing that? Then we can follow up with How Great Thou Art.”

Speed joined Heritage Brass 14 years ago, and within a year of playing with the band, he became the band sergeant, a position that he still holds today, as well as sitting on the band board. “The fellowship is tremendous,” he says. According to Speed, about 12 members of the band meet on Thursday mornings to have breakfast before going to rehearsal, a weekly tradition and social opportunity for many of them.

Over the years, 19 band members have been associated with the Canadian Staff Band, including euphonium player Robert Young, who became involved with Heritage Brass in 2005. A band enthusiast his whole life, Heritage Brass felt like a natural progression for Young after many years playing in the staff band.

“In Heritage Brass, we communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ through music ministry,” says Young. “It’s tangible—you can see that people are moved and enjoy what they hear. Music enriches our lives. It has the power to unite, move, inspire and even heal people. And, of course, music enables us to worship God.”

As a seniors’ band, Heritage Brass hopes to be a source of encouragement to young people, attracting future generations who will uphold the band’s heritage. And with four women currently playing in the band, Speed hopes that by supporting young people along their musical journey, it will create a brighter and more diverse future for bands like Heritage Brass.

“If you go back 30 or 40 years, there were very few women in Salvation Army bands,” Speed explains. “So now, when you get to our generation, there are not as many retired female band members.” He notes that the young people playing in Army bands today show great potential for the future, and he hopes that by the time they reach retirement age, they might want to join a fellowship band like Heritage Brass.

“I think members of seniors’ bands are quite proud of their heritage and they want to maintain their service. It’s a big part of our lives,” says Young. “We want to do whatever we can in the days we have remaining.”

Legacy Brass, Ottawa

Legacy Brass was formed in 2009 under the guidance of the original bandmaster, Archie Smith, along with John Verhey, Ralph Verhey and the original executive officer, then Lt-Colonel Lee Graves, who is now territorial commander for Canada and Bermuda. The band was intended for Salvationists and musicians from other denominations to witness through music and support Army efforts in the community. Legacy Brass proved to be very successful and so it expanded its outreach beyond the Ottawa area, performing at notable events such as Ottawa Senators and Ottawa Redblacks games, the annual Tulip Festival, Salvation Army Proclamation Days at City Hall and fundraising concerts to support other churches.

When Geoffrey Linklater was approached about playing flugelhorn in Legacy Brass, he told them that he had never played one before and did not have access to an instrument. “Martyn Hodgson mysteriously had his own flugel ready for me and the rest is history. I became a member of the Legacy Brass band and would conduct from time to time.” When Smith retired as bandmaster, he asked Linklater to assume the leadership role and he gratefully accepted the honour.

Legacy Brass and its sister group, Legacy Chorus, a Christian fellowship choir that began in 2017 under the direction of Laurie Hamilton-Linklater, both rehearse at Ottawa Citadel as their home base. With approximately 20 members, Legacy Brass plays a repertoire of songs from all over the Salvation Army world, including the Triumph, General and Festival series publications.

“We hold reading sessions that are open to all brass players as a means of introducing them to the world of Salvation Army banding and its repertoire,” explains Linklater. “This has proven very effective in our outreach to the surrounding music community.”

There is great optimism for the future of Legacy Brass as it continues to attract younger members as well as more seasoned players. “There is a strong bond within the band that has helped us rebound from a two-year shutdown due to the pandemic,”says Linklater. “We have a limited turnover in members, which speaks to the camaraderie so evident in the band.”

Since its founding, Legacy Brass has produced two successful albums, I’ll Follow Thee and What Child Is This, a Christmas album. They hope to begin production on their third album in 2024.

What is your favourite band piece to play and why?

Light of the World is probably my favourite. It’s a song associated with William Holman Hunt’s painting by the same name, a picture of Jesus at the door holding a lantern, and is a good reminder of our foundation and purpose as Christians. I also enjoy a good Salvation Army march. Most of us in Heritage Brass used to go out on the streets and play open-airs, and we remember the street marches.”—Robert Young

“We have a Heritage Brass March. It’s an interesting march because it’s quite different from others. It’s our signature piece and was composed by Keith Ketteringham, who was a well-known Salvationist and a longtime member of Heritage Brass.”—Alan Speed 

“My personal favourite is I’ll Follow Thee arranged by Richard Phillips. It is the final selection on our CD of the same name. This is a song that comforts, guides and really describes the journey that is needed to become a true follower of Jesus Christ.”—Geoffrey Linklater

“At a recent rehearsal, Jubilee Brass played Serenity by Eric Ball. The theme of this meditation is, ‘When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.’ I can’t think of a more fitting reminder of how God’s love and care brought me through my heart incident last March.”—Bob Barrett

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On Thursday, November 16, 2023, Concerned said:

Great to read of these groups, and interesting to see so many familiar faces. Many of these men and women were stalwarts of their respective corps bands for many years. I would think they have been saddened by the overall decline of corps banding, but these groups are no doubt serving to give them the happiness and fellowship that banding at one time offered to so many. Play on!

On Wednesday, November 8, 2023, John Britan said:

Good to see the fellowship continues

On Monday, November 6, 2023, Heather Allington said:

So glad to see S.A. banding of all kinds being celebrated here! A tradition worth holding onto. Plus the vocal group!

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