Sounds of the Seasons

by Dr. Jonathan Corry

The tradition continues! A good audience gathered at the Edman Chapel on the campus of Wheaton College for a concert combining the Chicago Staff Band (CSB) with the newly reformed and highly anticipated Canadian Staff Songsters, led by Major Len Ballantine.

A warm welcome greeted Dr. Harold Burgmayer and the CSB as they took to the stage to perform Kevin Norbury’s festival march The Proclaimers. This exciting work features Meredith Wilson’s song “Banners and bonnets” and set the tone for an evening of fine music-making.

Commissioner Brad Bailey, territorial commander, greeted the audience, offered a prayer and welcomed our neighbors from north of the border. Later in the evening, the band’s executive officer, Lt. Colonel Paul Smith, shared scripture and the benediction.

Wilfred Heaton is synonymous with brass band literature both within and outside The Salvation Army. Heaton’s challenging cornet duet Wonderful Words proved to be a great number, featuring Peggy Thomas and principal cornet Beth Malovance. Heaton’s humor, whimsical writing and masterful scoring were evident for the listener to enjoy. In stark contrast, the CSB then took the audience to Kevin Larsson’s Shout Aloud featuring a collision of Hollywood with a melody from the 1880s, “I’ll shout aloud throughout the land the praises of our God.”

In their first trip outside of the Canada and Bermuda Territory, the Canadian Staff Songsters captivated the audience throughout the evening. Their phrasing, musical shape and program, coupled with their message, inspired and spiritually uplifted the audience. Their first musical offerings were well varied, including “Make His praise glorious” (Wolaver), “For the beauty of the earth” (Rutter) and “Go down, Moses” (arr. Ballantine).  Each was delivered with panache, energy and an excellent sense of musical line. Like an artisan craftsman, Major Ballantine molds this group of individual singers into a high caliber, cohesive choir.

The CSB next performed a work from Tom Davoren. A non-Salvationist composer, Tom dedicated this exciting setting, Living Power, based on the hymn “Lord, for the years,” to this reviewer and the Enfield Citadel Band [England] in 2016. Fresh sounds are drawn from the concert band and symphonic world to deliver Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith’s words:

Lord for ourselves; in living power remake us—
self on the cross and Christ upon the throne,
past put behind us, for the future take us:
Lord of our lives, to live for Christ alone.

A change of mood followed with Olaf Ritman’s haunting setting of “When I survey” performed with consummate ease by principal trombonist Brett Tolcher, who delivered a moment of reflection to the evening.

The Canadian Staff Songsters then shared two items of contrast, the first showcasing the tenor voice of Steve Cooper in Take Me Back Medley (songs of Andraé Crouch, arr. Ballantine), followed by the exciting Richard Phillips setting, “Sing for Joy,” based on Psalm 96.

The CSB shared Paul Sharman’s selection Inclusion which seeks to challenge the listener with the aspect of inclusivity within the church, finally developing into a thrilling presentation of “When I needed a neighbor were you there?” The band gave a fine performance, but of particular note were the stellar solo flugelhorn contributions from Lynda Cooper. Taking us into the intermission and offering, the Canadian Staff Songsters performed “Go forth in His name” (arr. King).

The concert’s second half commenced with a relaxed, jazzy setting of “Go tell it” involving some movement and choreography from the CSB, executed with ease and fluency! The congregation then joined the CSB in a new arrangement of “Hark the herald angels sing” (arr. Ballantine).

The Canadian Staff Songsters presented a section of Christmas music which was particularly enjoyable including Harold Darke’s setting of “In the bleak midwinter” (sensitively accompanied by the CSB), John Rutter’s “Star Carol” (featuring the excellent accompanist Rachael Ewing) and two compelling arrangements by Major Len Ballantine: “I wonder as I wander” and “Good King Wenceslas.”

Dr. Burgmayer’s large scale tone poem Kurios is a real tour de force, retelling the narrative of the crucifixion and the ultimate victory in the resurrection of Jesus through the impressions of those who witnessed these events. This work is academic in nature, based on Philippians 2:10-11, and requires the listener to stay engaged to the theme, greatly aided on this night by visuals. Various fragmented ideas and sudden shifts of moods and time signatures carried through to a grand finale, uniting the combined forces of the Canadian Staff Songsters, Chicago Staff Band and the congregation in singing “Crown Him with many crowns.”

In a fitting conclusion, the two groups combined with Ballantine’s uplifting arrangement of “More than wonderful,” and then an enjoyable “New York, New York” style sing-along to “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

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