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Kevin Larsson

Divisonal Music Director

California Southern Division

Music has always played an important role in The Salvation Army. William Booth felt that the combination of sacred texts over well-known melodies from hymns and pub songs would be attractive to those he was trying to reach. He was right as the following years saw the music scene explode, mirroring the growth of the movement with thousands of musicians across the world using their musical talents to evangelize.

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Wherever the Army’s work began, music followed and often highlighted the unique styles and cultures from that country or region. The one constant that remained throughout was always the brass band. Across the world, this uniquely British genre of music would establish itself as a key driving force in Salvation Army music-making. It became an incredibly effective ministry, not only as an evangelism tool through open-airs and Salvation meetings, but also as a beautiful and meaningful part of our worship. Through hymn accompaniments in the Holiness meeting to virtuosic concerts and festivals, the brass band has been the vehicle for many to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them.


We have reached a point in our history where brass bands seem to be on the decline, which is contrary to the growth we are witnessing from non-Salvation Army brass bands across North America. There could be several reasons for this, but I’d like to focus on just one thought that could possibly help to refresh the brass band ministry. 


Contemporary worship, Praise and Worship, or music team – whatever you choose to call it, it has now become a driving force within the Army in North America. For several years, high quality publications have been developed to help combine worship teams and brass bands. Most notably would be the Hallelujah Choruses series from the USA Central Territory. While this is a great resource, I would suggest that an additional and new approach should be considered. Worship teams want flexibility to express themselves musically. You have occasional written musical lines and hits, but for the most part, musicians are free to develop their own ideas within the framework and context of the song. The challenge is how to incorporate the brass band without taking away that freedom. 


Pads is a musical term that will be familiar to many. While often associated with electronic music over the last few decades, the actual origins can be traced back a few hundred years. Composers such as J.S. Bach used strings to basically “pad-out” textures, alongside a degree of harmonic movement. With the introduction of synthesizers, electronic pads started to appear in the 60’s and 70’s before exploding to popularity in the 80’s. They are used extensively in popular music today. I would argue that the brass band is the perfect way to “pad-out” textures within our contemporary music.

Generally, when we incorporate brass, we use “punch brass” lines, which are comparable to horn lines in music from bands like Chicago, or Earth, Wind and Fire. While fun to play and great to listen to, they can be challenging and don’t translate well to a larger ensemble. Why not simply “pad-out” the texture with sustained chords, the occasional counter-melody, intro or outro lines and emphasize the hits? The music wouldn’t necessarily be challenging to play, and since we are just adding texture with the inclusion of transposed parts, all wind and string instruments would be able to join in.

How many churches around the world would love to have a live orchestra as part of their service every week? We have so many, just ready to go!


I’m not naïve enough to realize that this doesn’t come with challenges. One challenge is that, however simple, the brass pads have to be scored. Here’s an opportunity for our experienced composers as well as for those who are just starting their journey in arranging for brass. There will also be a learning curve for all the musicians to feel comfortable with following the worship leader’s direction with regard to form (repeated verses, chorus) but this can be worked out beforehand and gradually the group will become more confident and will be able to follow. Another concern would be keeping the brass musicians interested and engaged as this music is not challenging. I would simply suggest that this is only intended to augment the repertoire already available to them and that the brass band as a unit would still need their own opportunities for ministry. 


The Salvation Army is a wonderful part of the universal Christian church. We are unique in many ways. The primary difference that sets us apart from so many others is our hands-on approach to ministry. We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and get the work done. Saving souls, growing saints, and serving a suffering humanity. The hands-on culture that is a staple of Salvation Army life is also prevalent in our music ministry where active participation is always encouraged. We generally don’t rely on a few paid musicians and worship from the sidelines but rather encourage volunteers to continually develop, practice, rehearse and lead worship in a most effective way. It’s not unusual on a Sunday morning to see worship being led by various groups from many generations of Salvationists. Junior bands, singing companies, brass bands, songsters, worship teams, soloists and all other expressions of worship. I pray that this hands-on approach to everything we do never changes as this is part of what has made The Salvation Army thrive around the world. The above additional approach to banding could be a catalyst that breathes new life into corps music-making, encouraging participation as an inclusive worship experience.

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