As far as Salvation Army banding is concerned, John Lam was a bit of a late bloomer. “I didn’t grow up in The Salvation Army, so the musical lights didn’t come on for me until my late teens,” he says.

“It was at the National Music School, and it was because of the Canadian staff bandsmen who were on faculty there,” he shares. “We were always amazed at how they played. But more than that, I was amazed at how relational they were. When they saw you at different events, they’d remember what you had talked about before, and they genuinely cared.”

That formative experience with the Canadian Staff Band (CSB) still guides Lam, who has been a member of the CSB for 24 years and bandmaster since 2008.

“Many people see the staff band in some of our larger engagements—red tunics, big hall,” he says. “But we’re not just about the big stage stuff. We’re about meeting the people. We have to be just as effective, or more, when we engage with people in smaller places.”

That desire to bring music to the people is evident in the plans for the CSB’s 50th anniversary weekend, which takes place March 1-3 and features five bands: the CSB, Chicago Staff Band, New York Staff Band, U.S.A. Southern Territorial Band and U.S.A. Western Territory Staff Band. Along with a massed concert at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall featuring trumpet virtoso Jens Lindemann, the weekend includes concerts and worship services at 10 corps in southern Ontario—a fitting celebration for a band that has touched countless lives since its reformation in 1969.

“Over these 50 years, the CSB has travelled across this territory several times over, and visited other continents, always with the same purpose: to share the message of redemption through the powerful medium of music,” says Commissioner Susan McMillan, territorial commander and CSB executive officer. “By their music and testimony, they have shown people that there is hope and life in Christ.”

From Generation to Generation
While the CSB has existed in its current form since 1969, its roots go back to the 1880s when a staff band was formed at the direction of Commissioner Thomas Coombs, territorial commander. Initially, the band existed sporadically, becoming a permanent endeavour in 1906.

But tragedy struck in 1914 with the sinking of the Empress of Ireland. The band was on its way to the international congress in London, England, when the ship went down and most of the band members perished. An attempt was made to re-establish the band in 1917 but it did not last.

Eight bandmasters pose togetherEight bandmasters gather at the International Brass Spectacular celebrating the Canadian Staff Band’s 25th anniversary
More than 50 years passed before the CSB was reformed under Major Norman Bearcroft. The band’s inaugural concert in 1969 paid tribute to the members lost in the Empress of Ireland disaster, while signalling a new beginning for banding in the territory.

Since its reformation, the CSB has had five bandmasters. “Every bandmaster brought something unique,” says Lam. “There was something to learn from everybody. It can be intimidating to find your own voice in that, but really, you’re a product of everybody who came before you.

“Coming in, I wanted to appeal to the younger generation and prioritize diversity so that the Salvation Army band wasn’t perceived as this archaic thing that belongs in a heritage display,” Lam continues, “because you’re always a generation away from extinction.”

With that in mind, under Lam’s leadership, the CSB has emphasized training opportunities with young people, promoted youth banding and added a healthy number of young Salvationists to its roster, with members as young as 17.

“The CSB is so much more than a performance band,” says Commissioner McMillan. “They have trained up young musicians and leaders, and encouraged musicians across the territory to use their God-given talents to praise God and make him known in the world.”

Time of Renewal
Looking ahead, Lam sees the CSB being even more outreach focused. “It has to be about the mission,” he says. “It has to be about communicating the gospel, however we can. I want to connect more outside The Salvation Army, so we can be visible, way outside of our walls.”

Lam points to the band’s recent concert with Doc Severinsen, a famous jazz trumpeter, as an example of this. “We made a big splash with that and attracted people who wouldn’t normally come to a Salvation Army concert,” he says.

Lam hopes the 50th anniversary weekend will have a similar impact, appealing to Salvationists and non-Salvationists alike. “My prayer is that the event will be unabashedly fun,” he says, “but the ripple effects, weeks, months, years down the line, will be somebody saying, ‘That 50th anniversary weekend was when I turned my life around.’ ”

A special highlight of the weekend will take place at the massed concert. “We have a time of renewal planned,” explains Darrin Tilley, special efforts secretary for the CSB and head organizer of the weekend. “It will be a time of prayer and commitment for each band member, of why we do this, conducted by Commissioner McMillan and General Brian Peddle.”

“God is not finished with the CSB!” says the General. “There is more music to be played, more people to bring into the kingdom of God and more glorious ministry to share in the years ahead.”

And while the weekend is a celebration of the CSB, Lam emphasizes its higher purpose. “I want it to be an event that does not glorify us, but glorifies God,” he concludes, “and has a long-lasting effect as a significant event in our territory.”

Click here to read interviews with CSB members Steve Brown, Jennifer Vos and Noel Samuels.

A History of the Canadian Staff Band

The 1898 Staff Band poses together

Early Beginnings

In the 1880s, Commissioner Thomas Coombs, territorial commander, establishes the first staff band, which participates in territorial events, including visits from General William Booth in 1898 and 1907. In 1914, the band suffers a great tragedy while travelling to the Army’s international congress in London, England. Their ship, the Empress of Ireland, sinks, taking most of the band with it.

The Canadian Staff Band marches through the streets of London, England

The Bearcroft Years (1969-1976)

Major Norman Bearcroft is appointed territorial music secretary. After leading a band retreat in Corner Brook, N.L., Major Bearcroft approaches the territorial commander about starting another staff band. The CSB holds its inaugural concert at Toronto’s Bramwell Booth Temple on January 18, 1969. The band embarks on tours of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, and produces several records.

Then Captain Robert Redhead poses with Commissioner Arnold Brown by a pair of music stands

The Redhead Years (1976-1985)

Captain Robert Redhead takes over as bandmaster. In 1978, the band participates in the first Toronto Star Christmas concert, which continues today. The CSB features prominently at the territory’s centenary congress, held in Winnipeg in 1982. Overseas tours take the band to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. And open-air in the centre of Rome attracts a crowd of more than 3,000 people. “It was a great privilege for me to be bandmaster,” Colonel Redhead says now. “They were always willing to travel the extra mile—literally and metaphorically—to reach audiences with the sound of the gospel.”

Steve Brown shakes hands with a Soviet musician in 1989

The Burditt Years: Part I (1985-2002)

Brian Burditt becomes the first non-officer to lead the CSB, as well as the first Canadian. Melody Watson, a 19-year-old cornet player, becomes the first woman to play in the modern CSB. In 1989, as the Cold War draws to a close, the CSB holds a concert with the Russian Red Army Choir. A 25th anniversary festival unites four staff bands. A tour of Brazil leaves a lasting impression on many CSB members.

Kevin Hayward conducts the CSB

The Hayward Years (2002-2006)

Bermuda-born Kevin Hayward becomes bandmaster. The CSB records a CD with trumpet player Jens Lindemann, the first time the band recorded a project under another person’s label. A 35th anniversary concert brings together past and present members of the CSB.

Brian Burditt conducts the band

The Burditt Years: Part II (2006-2008)

Then director of world missions for the Canada and Bermuda Territory, Brian Burditt steps in as interim bandmaster. In addition to regular travels, the band visits Mexico and leads a music camp for more than 100 people. Burditt spearheads Windows of the World, a compilation recording from the Army’s various premiere music groups.

The trombone section of the CSB in concert

The Lam Years (2008- )

Under the leadership of John Lam, the CSB takes part in ISB120, a massive event celebrating the International Staff Band’s 120th anniversary. On the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland, the band participates in memorial events in Toronto and Rimouski, Que., the site of the disaster. In 2016, the CSB joins staff bands in California for a celebration of the U.S.A. Western Territory Staff Band’s 10th anniversary. Corps visits extend the reach of the CSB across the territory.

A selfie of the CSB in rehearsal

50th Anniversary (2019)

CSB bandsman Stephen Pavey releases In His Time, a book on the history of the CSB. The band hosts a weekend of anniversary celebrations, featuring five North American staff and territorial bands. Along with mini-concerts and worship services, a massed concert features new works by contemporary and Salvation Army composers commissioned for this celebration.

Adapted from In His Time by Stephen Pavey.

A Stout-Hearted Company

Major Norman Bearcroft stands near city hall in TorontoMajor Norman Bearcroft, founding bandmaster, describes the CSB marching into Toronto Temple on the Sunday morning immediately following their Inaugural Festival in January 1969.

Following the command, “Quick march!” by Bill Burditt (who became our official command giver) the band began to play the Bramwell Coles march, The Flag of Freedom. Hardly had the music started when the trombone sound was missing. I thought it best not to look round in case they were trying to tell me something, but to just keep marching. Soon the basses faded out followed by the horns and baritones and finally the cornets … the drums were all that was left! I had not reckoned with the icy temperatures of the Canadian winters and all the instruments had frozen up! Looking round, I saw the trombone slides were all in an extended position, unable to be moved and thought, Now what do we do? However, the problem was resolved as the bandsmen all began to whistle a well-known tune, which carried on until the band had completed the whole plan of the march.

On arrival at the hall, Deryck Diffey grabbed a handful of snow and placed it in the bell of his cornet and then sought out the Commissioner to prove what a stout-hearted company formed the new Canadian Staff Band.

Excerpt from In His Time by Stephen Pavey.

In His Time

by Stephen Pavey

In His Time book coverA 300-page history of the Canadian Staff Band, featuring photos, news clippings, reflections from bandmasters and members, and more. The  title comes from the Maranatha chorus, He Makes All Things Beautiful in His Time, and from Ecclesiastes 3:11. The book lays out the band’s evolution, from the early staff bands to the reformed band to the present day, highlighting its role in key events in the Canada and Bermuda Territory and beyond. The book shows how the band has adapted to changing times while maintaining its original mandate to reach souls for Jesus. In His Time is available for purchase from CSB members, at CSB concerts and through Trade North.


On Tuesday, February 26, 2019, Elizabeth Tiller said:

Good reading. !!’🎉🎉


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