Torrance Band plays to an African beat.
by Jeff Curnow –
The contrast was stark: As the Torrance, Calif. Corps Band boarded the bus on the way to the Katlehong Corps in Soweto, South Africa, the members joked and laughed. Within minutes, there was silence; as the bus made its way through the narrow, packed-dirt streets, the musicians began to understand the task that lay ahead. Passing row upon row of one-room shacks—their corrugated tin roofs secured only by the weight of stones topping each—they wondered, “How will we minister to people living in such poverty?”
“Look! She’s waving!” exclaimed one of the younger members of the band. Others noticed that nearly everyone was smiling and waving—in a way that was truly welcoming—to the strangers in their neighborhood. As the bus navigated a tiny intersection, the reason for the welcoming smiles became apparent as fellow Salvationists—walking in uniform towards the corps—came into view. These Salvationists were waving to their neighbors as they walked, smiling and offering friendly greetings to all they met. Maybe it seemed only natural to those along the route that a bus full of Salvationists—though strangers—would be just as friendly.
The tone is set
Upon arrival, the band members quickly began to set the platform for the morning’s service. Soon they realized that their fellow South African Salvationists, were watching and waiting eagerly to greet them. The band stopped their work and greeted their fellow Salvationists. Their joyful response set the tone of the tour.
The South African people were friendly and engaging— it did not matter if the setting was a mall concert or holiness meeting—their warmth and joy was overwhelming. It was clear that the band members would not only minister, but be ministered to during their stay in South Africa.
While the purpose of the band’s visit to South Africa was to support our territorial leaders during the Southern Africa Territory’s commissioning, there were many opportunities for service. While some members helped at the territorial music conservatory, others rolled up their sleeves to repair and repaint a nearby family service center. During the evenings, there were concerts at local malls and at the conservatory.
Bandmaster Kevin Larsson wrote a march for the trip containing African melodies, including the song, “Shosholoza.” Sung throughout South Africa—from work sites to rugby stadiums—this folk song encourages everyone to keep working even when conditions are difficult. Whenever the march began, the reaction was electric, as the audience sang along and danced to the song. As the band saw the listeners’ reaction and began to understand the importance of “Shosholoza,” the march took on a greater significance, and a more-pronounced African beat.
While working with South African musicians at the conservatory, their ability and dedication became evident. Many played on instruments full of dents and holes, yet managed to make a pleasing and joyful sound to the Lord. Gradually an idea turned into a plan: something must be done to encourage these musicians, and four of the hardest working students would be invited to the 2008 Western Music Institute (WMI).
At commissioning, during the Saturday Festival of Praise, Commissioner Philip Swyers asked that four students come forward. Having no idea what to expect, the four reluctantly complied. As the commissioner explained that they were to receive scholarships, including travel, to WMI, their facial expressions changed from puzzlement to amazement to outright disbelief.
The commissioning services were very similar to those in the US. The band participated in the meetings as one might expect, but as the singing grew, members of the congregation moved into the aisles and began to dance. One of the items the band had not rehearsed was dancing—and it showed—but most took the opportunity to learn on the spot!
There are as many stories of any tour as there are band members, but one thought was consistently expressed throughout the tour: The Salvationist here have so little, yet they are so full of joy. We are truly blessed by all we have, but even more so to be a part of an Army that brings the joy of the Lord to the least and to the ends of the Earth.