An uncertain sound?

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by Major Terry CamseyDid you catch that fascinating snippet in the November 4, 2002 issue of Time magazine?

According to correspondent Mark Thompson, there is a severe shortage of U.S. military buglers available to play taps at funerals. There are, in fact, only 500 or so scattered around the globe. With 1,800 World War II-era vets passing away every day, that creates a problem.

The Pentagon has however come up with a solution…a cone-shaped electronic taps player that can be hidden inside the bell of a standard bugle. It is powered by a couple of 9-volt batteries and is an all-weather unit that can apparently produce a “high quality, dutifully mournful rendition of taps.” It is, apparently a great improvement over tape and CD versions played over boom boxes.

Just reading it brought to mind the I Corinthians 14:5 reference to trumpets. As The Message paraphrase puts it, If the trumpet call can’t be distinguished, will anyone show up for the battle?

The nature of our Army is such that brass instruments play – and have for many years played ­ an important role, serving as organ as well as a militant music machine in the external warfare we wage against the evil one.

A significant reason for adoption of brass instruments was their usefulness in open-air situations, even in inclement weather. They are pretty well waterproof, and a dramatic advantage over strings and woodwind instruments in outdoor settings. When bands marched down the streets their sound was certain (even if, at times, the rendition may have been uncertain!) and had the ability to make one walk a little taller even as thrills of patriotism ran up and down the spine.

Alas, those days have, by and large, gone. Having withdrawn our open-air ministry from the streets, we can now sit safely in our comfortable citadels and fortresses (by whatever name we now call them) and moan that “they”- the public at large – don’t know we are a church! Paradoxical isn’t it.

In 1995, when I was in an appointment in the UK territory, General Paul Rader invited me to lunch in his office to discuss an article that had appeared in The Times newspaper. It indicated that the number of brass bands (all bands secular and Salvation Army) had been declining since the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century. During that period, the number of bands had shrunk from 40,000 bands to 1,400!

Some years before, a reader of The Musician (USA Salvation Army publication) had commented, in the letters page, on how interesting it was to see the number of published marches named after corps. My concern was directed more towards how many of those corps ­ which obviously had had bands in the past ­ still existed, or ­ if they did ­ still had functioning bands. Not many I fear.

The writing has been on the wall for many years now and, if brass bands are as important a part of our ministry (as well as “brand image”) as we would like them to be, there is a need both for a commitment to remedy the present state of affairs as well as for a sound strategy to be pursued with vigor and vitality.

Without such, might we one day find ourselves needing some “cone shaped electronic band music players” stuffed up the bells of brass instruments lying idle and forgotten in a cupboard somewhere in our corps buildings?

Who will prepare for the battle?

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