Composers unite!

North American Forum brings Army composers together.

by Ralph Pearce –

Delegates to The Salvation Army North American Composers’ Forum gather at Asbury College.

“One of the best experiences in my life and well worth it,” said Captain Osei Stewart, Sierra del Mar divisional youth secretary, about the 2010 meeting of the North American Composers’ Forum.

Aspiring Army composers from the four USA Territories and Canada met at Asbury College in Wilmore, Ken., for this purpose: To “demonstrate their material and receive objective peer critique in a friendly environment” from established Salvation Army composers. Attending from the Western Territory were Captain Hilary Patterson, Oceanside, Calif., Jennifer Crowell, Portland, Ore., Stewart, San Diego, Calif., and myself from Phoenix, Ariz.

As a first-time member of the faculty, I found that the forum met the stated intention. William Himes, James Curnow, Nick Simmons Smith, Major Kenneth Smith and I gave advice to band composers. Major Leonard Ballantine, Phil Laeger and Dr. Harold Burgmayer advised vocal and contemporary writers. All gave unstintingly to those who came to seek advice and encouragement.

Drs. Ronald and Beatrice Holz kept a watchful eye over the schedule, while our hosts at the Moulton Student Center, Majors Mike and Cathy Himes, looked after us far better than we deserved!

However, the high moments were not in the tutorials, valuable though they were, but in united sessions where we became aware of the true purpose of our music. We shared individual frustrations, such as the sense that as creative people we often felt like “islands”—isolated from like-minded people who understand the demands of the compositional process. The unwritten theme that we could be “streams of living water” (John 7:38) became the motif for the whole forum and led to Ballantine’s moving presentation in our final service of worship and consecration. “The best part of the weekend was the spiritual renewal I experienced,” stated Patterson.

Personally, I left the forum feeling that Army music is in good hands with our present writers and that the future is bright with those who wish to take up the mantle. Crowell, one of the youngest delegates, commented, “My first experience here affirmed my call to write music that will bring people closer to God.”

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