Staff Band hosts historic 10th birthday gala

The five North American Salvation Army staff bands perform together for the first time.

By Karen Gleason –

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The Salvation Army North American Brass Celebration brought together all five North American staff bands to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the USA Western Territory Staff Band (WTSB). The Canadian Staff Band, New York Staff Band, Chicago Staff Band and the USA Southern Territorial Band joined the WTSB May 21 at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, Calif., for a day of music-making culminating in a gala evening concert that featured new music written just for the occasion and old favorites.

“The North American Brass Celebration is unprecedented in the history of The Salvation Army,” said New York Staff Bandmaster Ronald Waiksnoris. “Never before have bands from five North American territories gathered for a celebration like this.”

What distinguishes the music of The Salvation Army is its purpose–endorsed by all involved–to share the love of Jesus through music.

“The brass band is a birthright of The Salvation Army,” Waiksnoris said. “God gave us something unique to use in ministry.”

Salvation Army music lovers traveled from near and far for the event, with almost 2,000 people attending the evening concert.

“Did I die and go to heaven? If this is what heaven is like, I can’t wait,” Major Raymond Erickson-King said as he waited for the gala concert to begin.

Territorial Commander Commissioner James Knaggs welcomed the audience to the main event, saying, “Enjoy the music, enjoy the message. Get to know the Master.”

As the visiting bands entered during “The Roll Call” (Brigadier William Broughton), wave upon wave of red-coated bandsmen and women ascended the stage. After a prayer by Commissioner Carolyn Knaggs, Western Territorial Staff Bandmaster Neil Smith introduced the visiting bands and their leaders: Bandmaster John Lam and The Canadian Staff Band, Bandmaster Harold Burgmayer and the Chicago Staff Band, Waiksnoris and the New York Staff Band, and Bandmaster Nicholas Simmons-Smith and the Southern Territorial Staff Band. Each visiting bandmaster conducted three pieces during the gala.

Smith emphasized that for these bands, “the main focus every day is to worship.”

Master of Ceremonies William Himes, O.F., took over, guiding the audience through the evening with a light and witty style. Himes served as conductor of the Chicago Staff Band from 1977-2015.

“What a birthday party this is–a wonderful sound offering to the Lord,” Himes said.

The gala commenced with “They Shall Come From the North, South, East and West,” a medley by Kevin Larsson, with the WTSB accompanying each of the other bands in playing part of musical piece intrinsic to its territory.

“Frontier Vision” (Stephen Bulla) featured the WTSB on its own. The band recently released a CD of that name, available at

An unparalleled fullness of sound emerged when all the bands played together; buoying listeners up on a sea of sound. This effect was first noted during “God Is There,” by Robert Redhead, who was present in the audience.

“If it’s a good tune, we’ll [The Salvation Army] put our own words to it for the glory of God,” Himes said as he introduced “Salvation’s Song,” by William Gordon, a festival march incorporating the tune of “The Bells Of St. Mary’s.” Gordon was also in the audience.

Other composers present to hear their works performed included James Curnow (“Jubilant Praise”) and Dorothy Gates (“Shenandoah”) who plays trombone with the New York Staff Band.

Audience members did participate, getting to their feet to sing “All Creatures of our God and King” (William Himes) and the closing “Evening Hymn” (Ray Steadman-Allen).

Music combined with spoken word in “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (Philip Wilby), as the story of the pilgrim’s journey to the celestial city was told through music and words, narrated by Robert Docter, O.F.

Words played a part in “The Pilgrim Song” (Dean Goffin, arr.) and “Jesus, Thou Art Everything” (William Himes, arr.), which featured male choruses; the bandswomen also sang.

The massed bands also performed “You Are Good” (Houghton, Harold Burgmayer, arr.) and “Crimond” (Goff Richards, arr.). The Western Territory Youth Band joined the staff bands onstage for the climactic “The Kingdom Triumphant” (Eric Ball).

In his message, James Knaggs reflected on Jesus’ message to his disciples in John 13: 34-35, when he tells them to “love one another.” Knaggs noted that Jesus remembered everyone else in John 17:20 when he says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (NIV).

“Jesus was praying for us, that we might be in concert together, like tonight,” Knaggs said. “We’ve received a deep message of love, resurrection and grace…[and we see] how when you play your part and follow the leader, [the individual parts] come together in beautiful harmonies that bless one another.”

After the benediction from Commissioner Susan McMillan, Canada and Bermuda territorial commander, the staff bands closed the evening with the festive march “Praise” (Wilfred Heaton).

Earlier in the day, festivities began with an outdoor youth brass showcase on the Terrace Theater Plaza, featuring short concerts by the Western Territorial Youth Band, the Southern California Divisional Youth Band, and the Sierra del Mar Youth Band. That afternoon, the visiting staff bands presented mini concerts in the Terrace Theater, showcasing their unique sounds.

The WTSB birthday celebration ended after the gala evening concert with a reception on the Terrace Theater Plaza, where people shared their reactions. For some attendees, this event was their first encounter with the staff bands.

“It was very inspiring to hear the individual staff bands, but when we were able to sing with the massed bands, it was astounding; you could feel God’s presence in the room,” said Kyle Santiago, Western Territorial Youth Band trombonist.

The visiting bands and the Western Territorial Youth Band continued to minister May 22, participating in Sunday morning worship at Southern California corps. Later that day, all the bands marched triumphantly down Disneyland’s Main Street, sharing the joy of the Lord through music.

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