On youth Sunday last April, a brave group of beginners walked onto the platform at St. John’s Temple, N.L., to make their debut as a brass band. There was an undercurrent of nervousness among the musicians, who were no ordinary beginners’ band.
“Learning something new, as an adult, is stressful enough,” says their bandmaster, Christan Murphy. “But then to actually perform it in front of other people—the stress was high.”
The band need not have worried.
“It was really good,” says Major Peter Rowe, corps officer and member of the band. “There were a couple of sour notes when we first started, but by the time we got through, we were all playing flawlessly.”
Of course, it helped that the group had the entire congregation supporting them. “I think we got more applause than the kids did,” Major Rowe laughs.
The adult beginners’ band is a new initiative at St. John’s Temple, having started in January 2018 thanks to the grassroots efforts of various people at the corps—particularly Murphy, who also leads the junior band.
“Many parents take their children to junior band and then wait around for a couple hours,” he says. “Last year, people started asking, ‘Is there anything for adults?’ ”
Murphy ran the idea past Steve White, director of the youth banding program, and Major Rowe, both of whom were supportive. “A few weeks later, we had a program,” says Murphy.
“At first, I wasn’t sure how it would go,” he continues. “To be honest, I thought we’d only get three or four people. When 20 people signed up, it was like, ‘Oh, my goodness!’ ”
Major Rowe was one of the adults who signed up right away. Though he could play the piano accordion, he had never learned a brass instrument. “I had opportunities to learn over the years, but didn’t have the courage,” he says.
Members of the adult beginners’ band range in age from teenagers to people in their late 50s, and come from various backgrounds. Some, like Major Rowe, have previous musical experience but are new to brass banding, while others have no musical experience at all.
Given that variety of knowledge and skills, Murphy’s approach to the band is similar to his approach to teaching the young beginners. “We started with the basics—teaching them how to breathe, the mouthpiece, how to play the C scale, fingering and so on—and are building from there,” he says.
Over the past year, Murphy has seen incredible progress from the group, which is now learning to play hymn tunes. “Members who needed prompting on fingering or reading notes last year don’t require that same type of assistance now,” he says. “So we’re moving on to more complicated music.”
“I think the biggest thing was for everyone to find their courage,” says Major Rowe. “Everybody was intimidated at first, but as people found their place and got comfortable, it’s incredible how far we’ve come.”
Unlike typical beginners’ bands, each practice includes time for devotions. “One of the main goals of the group was to have that time of reflection and sharing,” says Murphy. “Our corps is big on small-group ministry, so I consider it a kind of small group.”
Members of the group take turns leading devotions. “People are getting more comfortable with one another. They are sharing from their heart and then we’re praying for each other,” says Major Rowe. “As the corps officer, I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve been hearing.”
Along with learning music and growing spiritually, the band offers opportunities for fellowship. “When you’re in a congregation with hundreds of people, it’s good to have a small group that you’re comfortable with—we’re becoming a family within the family,” says Major Rowe.
Looking ahead, Murphy hopes the group members will continue to grow musically and eventually become band leaders themselves.
“The response to this group, among the members and the congregation, has been so positive,” he says. “It has certainly blessed me.