Stranger than friction!


by Major Terry CamseyI have always been glad that the cornet has been my instrument, although it has to be one of the most challenging in the band if only because of the mouthpiece size. I have often envied the players of other solo instruments (euphonium and trombone especially) since, when the weather is hot and the lips swell, there is still plenty of room to maneuver the embouchure within the mouthpiece.

Not so for cornet players who have to “get inside” a mouthpiece where the aperture is many times smaller.

There are a couple of instruments that I have been particularly careful to avoid…the bass drum and the brass “double BBb.” One of the reasons for such resistance is the weight of those instruments and ­ on many a band trip ­ I have been grateful that I just have a small case to lug about. I also used to feel sorry when, years ago in London, I’d see an orchestral string bass player trying to get himself and his instrument onto a crowded underground (subway) train during rush hour.

But the other reason I have avoided the bass drum and “double BBb” has to do with my height together with size and center of gravity. I am afraid that ­ with a bass drum ­ I’d topple forward over it, and with a “double BBb”… well, it would just drag along the ground since it is almost as tall as me.

The bass drum, like many other things once considered essential, seems to have lost its popularity in corps. It’s not that anyone planned it that way, I am sure. It just happened.

In a sense this same loss of popularity seems to have put the (almost sacred in some quarters) bonnet to rest. It was such a hot issue at one time and the mere mention of it divided those “for” and “against” it. Some years ago, General John Gowans (not then the General) was speaking in the Albert Hall in London during a big Salvationist event. He said something like this, “There’s one thing that, if I said it, would split this congregation right down the middle. I won’t say it, but ­ if I did ­ it would be ‘How do you feel about the Army bonnet?'” Immediately there was a buzz in the hall and you could sense, if not actually see, the division taking place.

Now, some years later, the bonnet issue has taken care of itself. You rarely see them, yet no regulation forbade it. Time passed and the issue became a non-issue.

Of course, there were a couple of key reasons why the drum was so important in corps. The first was that you just couldn’t sing some Army choruses without the drum…they just didn’t go so well. So, frequently, someone would call for the drum to be played. I guess they also, probably, kept a congregation somewhat together so far as singing was concerned.

The other use for a drum was in the open-air meeting (“What’s that?”). Yes, the drum was the altar in the open air…the mercy seat…a place where, over the years, many have found Christ.

I always thought this was a use peculiar to The Salvation Army, but when Beryl and I were stationed in the United Kingdom during the mid-late 1990s, there were a number of special events celebrating the miracle of Dunkirk (again I hear, “What’s that?”). One of them was a large interdenominational open-air service of remembrance. To my astonishment, there was a massive altar erected of drums that ­ we were given to understand by the commentator ­ had been a military tradition for many, many years!

I remember when we couldn’t sing choruses in an Army meeting without a drum. It was the “old-fashioned army” way. Strangely, many Salvationist youngsters are saying the same thing. To a different rhythm, to be sure, but doesn’t it suggest that perhaps they are becoming the Army we once were, and (as then) just as relevant to the present age?

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