ISB120—Celebrating the 120th anniversary of The International Staff Band

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Western Territory’s secretary for music gives a first-hand account.

By Neil Smith

ISB heading the march up the Mall

On the odd occasion you hear about an event that you feel may turn into something special. ISB120—The International Staff Band’s 120th anniversary celebration—was such an affair.

I attended this once in a lifetime weekend spectacular in London, and like everyone present, found myself thrilled and challenged by the music of The Salvation Army’s bands.

ISB Bandmaster Dr. Stephen Cobb had invited the other staff bands from around the globe to join the ISB for this unique event. Staff bands from Amsterdam, Canada, Chicago, Germany, Japan, Melbourne and New York converged on the U.K., Ireland, Holland and Germany before uniting in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

Salvationist musicians from around the world gathered for this historic occasion. From the moment the tickets went on sale last year, they were been in high demand and short supply.

The arena was heavily charged with an air of excitement and expectation. There were no empty seats. In the afternoon session, each staff band presented a short program intended to highlight the uniqueness of each group’s ministry. New music was featured along with Army classics.

Japan Staff Band

Even before they played, the Japan Staff Band received prolonged applause, as concert attendees wanted to show their support to these folks who were all in some way affected by Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami.

For me, the fabulous playing of flugel horn soloist Andrew Garcia of the New York Staff Band in “Children of Sanchez” was a musical highlight. Soloist and band were in top form.

The ISB took the stage, marching with the other bands through the arena and onto the stage. What an incredible sight—a sea of red tunics, Salvation Army and national flags all adding color to the spectacle.

The International Staff Songsters contributed music by Ray Bowes and Kenneth Downie.

Adding their support were General Linda Bond, the Chief of the Staff Commissioner Barry Swanson and Commissioner Sue Swanson as well as the territorial leadership team from the U.K. Territory.

The evening featured new music written specially for the event by notable composers such as Paul Sharman, Peter Graham, Kenneth Downie and Dudley Bright, all present in the hall.

Bandmaster William Himes had re-scored his groundbreaking flugel horn solo “So Glad,” which featured flugel soloists from all eight bands.

Notable American composer Stephen Bulla had written a euphonium solo, “Scottish Folk Variants,” played by Derrick Kane, who is celebrating a milestone of 35 years as the ISB’s euphonium soloist.

Credit for the evening’s success goes to the staff bandmasters and the musicians for their hard work in pulling off such a huge feat. I discovered that this was the largest gathering of Salvationists in London since the 1990 Congress!

The evening concluded with the march “Celebration” by Leslie Condon, complete with fireworks.

The evening had coming to a stunning end and I sensed that folks were reluctant to leave. But there was more to come the following day.

All eight staff bands, their spouses and U.K. and international music leaders gathered at Westminster Central Hall for morning worship. Band members left their instruments on the buses and had the rare opportunity to sit back and enjoy the meeting, while The International Staff Songsters and the U.K.’s Territorial Youth Band provided the music. General Bond was the speaker and shared God’s word in her relaxed and to-the-point style. She related to the assembled musicians and left us in no doubt as to what was expected of us.

Lt. Colonel Norman Bearcroft led the congregation in the traditional end of the day singing of “Eternal God.”

Soon it was time to assemble along the Mall for the staff bands’ march to Buckingham Palace. Her Majesty the Queen gave permission for this and the concert in the Palace forecourt. All eight bands marched together with flags flying. Even though rain was imminent, a huge crowd, including many uniformed Salvationists, lined the Mall.

After the concert, the bands marched past the General and into Wellington Barracks—just in time for the rain to begin in earnest.

Congratulations to Dr. Stephen Cobb for the vision and skill in pulling off such a spectacular event. I know that he will not be affected by the praise but will be keen to acknowledge the glory belongs to God alone. It truly was a magnificent weekend—one that will probably not be repeated for many years to come.

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