Music from the Salvation Army

Salvation Army/Armée du Salut. Religious and charitable organization founded in London by William Booth in 1865.

Salvation Army/Armée du Salut

Salvation Army/Armée du Salut. Religious and charitable organization founded in London by William Booth in 1865. The Salvation Army commenced its evangelical work in Canada in 1882, and as early as 1883 it used bands of wind instruments, drums, tambourines, fifes, fiddles, and concertinas in any combination for open-air meetings, indoor services, park concerts, and parades. Over the years the bands have been standardized along the lines of the British brass band: cornets, flugelhorn, alto horns (saxhorns), baritones, euphoniums, trombones, and basses (bombardons). The early Salvationists also sang vigorously in their open-air ministry and often accompanied their songs on English concertinas. Hamilton, Kingston, and Toronto were important centres of the army's musical activity in the early days.

In the late 19th century the Salvationists' practice of setting heavenly words to 'worldly' tunes gave their music a popular appeal which drew large crowds and attracted many converts. A leading exponent of this practice was Jack Addie, who left England and settled in Ontario in the late 19th century. One of the army's most colourful pioneers, he reportedly wrote more than 100 such songs. Many amateur songwriters published their works in the magazine Canadian War Cry (Toronto 1884-), which functioned partly as a weekly song sheet. Early contributors included Tom Mitchell, Aggie Cowan, William Stacie, and Annie Fry. Another Canadian publication was The Salvation Soldiers' Songbook (Toronto no date), a book of words without music. Music by Salvationist composers from many countries has been published at the army's international headquarters in London. Among the first Canadian choral compositions to be published in The Musical Salvationist (London 1866-) were works by Sarah Graham of Lindsay in 1886, Gustavius Grozinsky of Edmonton in 1895, and William Hawley of Calgary in 1895. A few songs by Canadians appeared in the international collection The Song Book of the Salvation Army, published first in London in 1930. A Canadian supplement, Songs of Faith (Toronto 1971), includes many compositions by Sidney Cox (1887-1975), at one time a Salvation Army officer in western Canada. Another notable Canadian contributor to Salvation Army choral music was John Wells (1903-78) of Vancouver. In the 1980s Leonard Ballantine wrote a large number of choral compositions, two volumes of contemporary songs, and, in collaboration with Frank Reynolds, a musical entitled Beyond the Stars.

Salvation Army music has been closely associated with the brass band. The first Canadian Staff Band was formed in Toronto in 1889. By 1914 it had become known for the high standard of its playing. Tragically, most of its members were lost in the Empress of Ireland disaster of that year. It was not until 1969 that the Canadian Staff Band was reconstituted, with full-time officers from national headquarters and laymen from central Ontario corps bands. Recent conductors of the Canadian Staff Band have included Norman Bearcroft 1969-76, and Robert Redhead 1976-84, succeeded in 1984 by Brian Burditt, the first Canadian and the first layman to hold this position. The Canadian Staff Band toured Britain in 1974, 1983, and 1990, Europe in 1979, Switzerland and Norway in 1987, and New Zealand and Australia in 1985; the Staff Band released 17 recordings 1969-91.

The Salvation Army band movement in Canada probably reached its peak during the 1930s, when well-trained ensembles could be found attached to most corps (congregations), even in small towns. These bands often included English immigrants. Many brass players in Canada have been products of the movement; during World Wars I and II Salvationist musicians were prominent in the bands of the Canadian armed forces, and a number of Salvation Army bands also functioned as militia units.

Outstanding bandmasters who developed within the movement include Norman Audoire at Toronto's Earlscourt Corps ca 1927-30 and at the Montreal Citadel ca 1930-60, Alfred Pearce with Toronto's Dovercourt Corps 1917-31, and Henry Merritt at the Winnipeg Citadel 1930-45. In 1931, Pearce and many of his bandsmen broke away from the Dovercourt Corps, and moved to Metropolitan United Church where they re-organized themselves as the Metropolitan Silver Band. Wallace Mason (Earlscourt Citadel), William Habkirk (Dovercourt Citadel), Cliff Gillingham (Vancouver Temple), and Glen Shepherd (London Citadel) were prominent bandmasters in the period following World War II. Morley Calvert (Montreal Citadel), Brian Ring (Earlscourt Citadel), and Fred Merrett (Winnipeg Citadel) were well-known conductors in the 1960s. The pattern of postwar migration from the core areas of large cities has prompted many Salvation Army congregations to relocate in suburban areas. Consequently, several bands of long standing have assumed new names: Dovercourt as Etobicoke Temple, Montreal Citadel moved to West Island, Danforth moved to Agincourt, Earlscourt became Yorkminster, Calgary Citadel as Glenmore Temple, and Vancouver Temple re-located in Cariboo Hill. Until the 1970s, a majority of the larger bands had restricted their membership to male players. This tradition has changed, however, as instrumental music programs in the schools have developed an increasing number of outstanding female instrumentalists; Melody Stepto, in 1988, was the first woman to become a member of the Canadian Staff Band.

Canadian composers represented in the band music journals include Eric Abbott, Norman Audoire, Morley Calvert, James Merritt, Percy Merritt, and Kenneth Rawlins. During his term as Territorial Music Secretary (see below), Rawlins produced the first Canadian Band Journal (Toronto 1954, 1963, 1965).

The development of choirs, or 'songster brigades,' dates back to 1892. While they have not received the widespread recognition accorded the bands, songster brigades represent an important part of the Army's music. Notable leaders have been Ben Smith at Peterborough Temple 1926-72, Ed Judge at London Citadel 1940-70, and Eric Sharp in Toronto with Danforth Citadel 1940-77 and at the Agincourt Corps thereafter. Roy Chaytor conducted the St John's Temple Songsters 1971-4 and has continued in his second term as leader beginning in 1978.

The Salvation Army provides music instruction through its junior bands and junior choirs, the latter known as 'singing companies.' In addition, summer music camps (pioneered by Alfred Keith in 1940) have become an important aspect of the army's musical training. In 1990 approximately 1300 students attended divisional music camps established in almost every province as well as the National Music Camp (Salvation Army) held at Jackson's Point, Ont. Although youth activities in the 1960s incorporated popular music, using small combos for accompaniment, traditional band repertoire and hymns have continued to dominate concerts and worship services. In 1955 the position of Territorial Music Secretary was created to ensure the co-ordination of all musical activities including tours, recordings, festivals, broadcasts, and curricula for music camps. Incumbents have been Kenneth Rawlins 1955-68 Norman Bearcroft 1968-76, and Robert Redhead 1976-84, succeeded by Brian Burditt in 1985.

Less visible on street corners in the 1980s, army musicians nevertheless have continued to provide music for hospitals, prisons, and other institutions. After World War II the army took an increasing interest in festivals, musicals, and other sorts of entertainment, and its repertoire has become decidedly more sophisticated. Corps bands and songster brigades are motivated to a large extent by tours, exchange trips and the production of private recordings.. In 1989 in Canada there were 166 senior bands with a total membership of 2517, 136 youth bands comprising 1170 members, 220 songster brigades with a total membership of 2381 songsters, and 185 singing companies comprising 1826 members. Among those who have left bequests to the organization was Glenn Gould who gave a large part of his estate to the Salvation Army.


Further Reading

  • Avery, Gordon. Companion to the Song Book of the Salvation Army (London 1961)

    Boon, Brindley. Play the Music, Play! (London 1966)

    Royan, Don. 'Salvation Army Band,' Bands By the Bow, compiled by Norman Draper (Calgary 1975)

    MacGuire, Bee. 'Sound the trumpet! Tell the message!' Montreal Scene, 13 Dec 1975

    Moyles, R.G. The Blood and Fire in Canada (Toronto 1977)