Salvation Army Bands
The early Salvationists, as today, took their Gospel message to the people in their own environments, largely in the streets and markets of the towns. In 1878 Charles Fry and his three sons formed a brass quartet which played during outdoor meetings in Salisbury and immediately proved to be a success in not only calming the rowdy and sometimes hostile crowds, but helping to promote the Salvationist's message.
The Army's founder, William Booth, came to hear of them, and started to use them in his own campaign, recognising the power of music - even of a secular nature. Indeed, he is said to have remarked, "Why should the Devil have all the good tunes!".
Over time the Fry ensemble was augmented with other instruments, not exlusively brass, and became famous under several names such as "The Hallelujah Minstrels", "The Salisbury Brass Band", and "The Happy Band". The Fry family themselves very soon gave up their family business and joined the Salvation Army full time.
Other bands appeared across the country to help the promotion of the Salvation Army's work. Two of the earliest were in Consett, County Durham, and Northwich in Cheshire which were formed in 1879 and 1880 respectively. These were the first Corps bands. It was not long before the Army fully adopted the use of music in its work, by instructing its officers to obtain and learn any instruments that would "make a pleasing sound". The Salvation Army Headquarters eventually established the International Staff Band, its flagship ensemble, in 1891.
Gradually the bands developed into the same basic format as the traditional amateur brass band and a rich repertoire of music was adapted, arranged and composed for the Salvation Army to use in its work and praise of the Lord.
Many of the leading brass band composers and players of the 20th century had roots in or close links with the Salvation Army - perhaps the most famous being the composer Eric Ball.
The Salvation Army kept itself apart from the secular brass band world. They did not enter contests or play music other than their own - which had been specifically written or arranged for them. Secular tunes were used, but arranged to reflect the spiritual work they supported. Many of the bands developed into highly competent ensembles equal to or exceeding the proficiency of their secular counterparts - being respected and even envied by those that heard them.
Around the same time that the Salvation Army bands were forming the Temperance movement was also using brass bands to promote its message. These, however, were integrated with the other amateur brass bands - and the vestiges of their influence can still be seen in the names of some of the bands today.
Happily the Salvationist movement in recent years has opened up its doors to its colleagues in the secular brass band world. A rich resource of music has been been made available for other bands to play and new relationships between the Salvation Army Band movement and their counterparts in ordinary life are being made.
For further information about the Salvation Army and its bands see the links below. Bands with websites are included in the Internet Bandsman's Everything Within, and are indicated by the symbol