General John Larsson (Ret.) and friends reminisce with commissioning crowd.
A jubilant spirit—the spirit of Salvationism—prevailed throughout commissioning weekend and the celebration of The Salvation Army’s newest officers, the lieutenants of the God’s Fellow Workers Session. This year General John Larsson (Ret.) and Commissioner Freda Larsson enriched the events with both their messages and their engaging presence.
One event, tucked away in a hotel ballroom, revealed a little about the real John Larsson.
During careers as Salvation Army officers, Larsson and General John Gowans (Ret.) co-wrote 10 musicals, including more than 250 songs. On Saturday afternoon, June 14, Larsson—with some talented helpers and audience participation—treated a capacity crowd to the story of these musicals.
Though both Gowans and Larsson became General of The Salvation Army, Larsson commented, “John Gowans and I have often said to each other: ‘When we arrive in heaven, we’ll find that these musicals we wrote in our spare time had a greater effect for the Kingdom than our other, ‘official’ efforts at ministry. Because they were blessed by God.’”
Take Over Bid
Larsson explained that the musicals came about almost by accident. “Brigadier Denis Hunter was the territorial youth secretary (TYS) for the United Kingdom Territory (UKT). The year 1968 was designated Youth Year and the TYS wanted something special, so he assigned us to write a musical.”
“We had to learn to work together. Many times, it was by phone or even through the mail. I would write the music and John (Gowans) would write the verse…we came up with a story line, and wrote a few songs to go along with it.”
The first musical was Take Over Bid, in which the youth of a corps plan a takeover to modernize it for the new world of the 1960s.
“After a rehearsal, we would often come away thinking that the musical needed another song–sometimes just a simple phrase made us think. During Take Over Bid the words, “someone cares,” came up and I knew we had to write a song with that in it. John and I have written about 250 songs together and this one is still our favorite.” As Larsson played, Barbara Allen sang “Someone Cares.”
A chorus, many of whom had performed in Western productions of Gowans and Larsson musicals over the years, supported Larsson throughout the afternoon. Reprising their roles from a production of Take Over Bid 25 years ago, Richard Brown and Major Shelley Hill sang “I Dream of a Day.”
Hosea, the next musical, premiered at the UKT officers councils. Larsson recalled: “As I was conducting I began to hear a strange sound behind me. It was the sound of the officers in the audience crying—moved by the musical. We had rehearsed it so much that we had forgotten how moving the message of the story could be.”
Performing “I Nearly Forgot to Say Thank You” from Hosea were young people Courtney Stennett, Landon and Brennan Smith and Isobel Fairclough.
Colorful characters were also a staple of the musicals. Major Steven Bradley performed “Light Fingered Freddie,” about a reformed burglar, from Hosea.
Ties to the West
Many of the musicals had ties to the Western territory. Son of Man was written for the 1983 celebration of 100 years of the Army in the West. Matt Woods performed “If You Knew” from this musical.
For Blood of the Lamb, originally written for the 1978 International Congress, the duo added a U.S. section for the 1980 U.S. Centenary Congress in Kansas City. Major Ron Bawden gave an unforgettable performance of the song “I Just Know it’s Time to Go to Heaven.”
“Of all the musicals we’ve written, by far the most influential is Spirit,” noted Larsson, as he invited Gildardo Ruiz—Saul from Espíritu—to sing “El Amor Nunca Deja de Ser” (Love Cannot Fail).
From Man Mark II, premiered at the 1985 International Youth Congress in Macomb, Illinois, Major Doug Riley and Lt. Colonel Doug O’Brien—original cast members—sang, “I’ll Not Turn Back.”
Blood of the Lamb includes the song “They Shall Come from the East.” “While at youth congress,” said Larsson, “the band began to play the song and I heard young people from all over the world, singing along in their own languages. Only then did I realize how God had used ‘the two Johns’—thrown together almost by accident—to work for His kingdom.”
they shall come from the west,
and sit down in the Kingdom of God;
both the rich and the poor,
the despised, the distressed,
they’ll sit down in the Kingdom of God.