Beyond the music is the message

by Dr. Harold Burgmayer

What a privilege it’s been to lead the Chicago Staff Band (CSB) over the last six years. In the first months of my tenure as bandmaster in 2015, I wanted to ensure that each member was acting as a minister, one who draws listeners closer to God and to each other, instead of merely a minstrel, a performer. Both labels are derived from the word servant, but the distinguishing mark of a music minister is staying focused on the message. We take to heart the CSB’s mission statement to be “the band with a sacred message.” The uniqueness of Salvation Army banding doesn’t lie solely in the medium, our music-making, but in its eternal message. In my early days with the CSB, we extrapolated some guiding principles from the word MESSAGE.

Message Matters Most
Recognizing the measure of our greatness is our “sacred message.” As the apostle Paul wrote, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, NIV) After we conclude a concert with a choral benediction, there have been many times when no one leaves. We have worshipped; we have met with God. Hearts have been touched by the Holy Spirit.

Enlarging the Box
Expanding the range of our repertoire. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16, ESV) We expanded our offerings from the music of the rock band Chicago and gospel numbers to the music of Latin America, Africa and beyond. The variety brings joy and enriches listeners and players alike.

Settling the Score
Improving our rehearsal regimen. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NIV) I am cognizant that how efficiently I work on Tuesday evenings with the staff band affects corps rehearsals and my band members’ repertoire. The joy of the rehearsal is taking ensembles to a place they’ve never been.

Serving the Service
Having just the right piece for every occasion. “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14:26, NIV) Fear of failure is a good thing when there seems to be no end to the challenge of judiciously selecting from week-to-week just the right balance of musical offerings for both your players and the worshiping community. Often, I have surprised the band not with a fresh manuscript but with an overlooked gem from the journals that perfectly fits an occasion.

Accentuate the Positive
Being the encourager each of us needs. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24, NIV) I have appreciated the encouragement and support I have received as the conductor from members of the band. There are always improvements to be made, but we have practiced the ministry of affirmation, building one another up with positive words not only for the individual but for the betterment of the band’s ministry.

Getting to Know You
Getting closer to God, we come closer to each other. “So let us come near to God with a sincere heart and a sure faith.” (Hebrews 10:22a, GNT) Even in difficult days, we do not lose heart. Beyond the weekly devotion and prayer times, CSB members are unearthing “this treasure in jars of clay” found in our time as prayer partners.

Each Note Shaped
Getting beyond the notes to the music. “How will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?… I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.” (1 Corinthians 14:7b 15b, NIV) In recent months, we have been released from the wired world of headphones and click tracks, and able once again to enjoy shaping a well-crafted phrase, especially one associated with scripture or powerful lyrics. Therein lies the expression and emotion of the music, helping to bringing an awareness of the real meaning and message within the music.

General John Gowans may have summarized this best when he wrote for the musical Glory:

“There is a message, a simple message,
And it’s a message for us all;
There is a Savior, and what a Savior!
There is a Savior for us all.”

Even in retirement, I will be praying that the Chicago Staff Band will “constantly strive to be the band with a sacred message.” It’s a message for us all.



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