Vocal music in the Eastern Territory took a step forward when the Eastern Territorial Songsters, under the leadership of Gavin Whitehouse, hosted the first ever Singing Stars over Columbus Day Weekend at the Star Lake Lodge and Conference Center in Bloomingdale, N.J.

Singing Stars was modeled after the Future All-Stars which, for years, has brought together young instrumentalists from around the Eastern Territory and beyond for a weekend of tutelage and spiritual growth with the New York Staff Band.

The vocal version attracted 38 eager vocalists, selected by audition, from most divisions in the Eastern Territory to Star Lake where they were able to develop their vocal abilities in an environment of worship and praise.

A key component of the weekend was the formation of prayer partnerships between the delegates and members of the ETS.

Further enhancing the Singing Stars Weekend was the presence of Marjory Watson, a gifted vocalist, vocal trainer and Songster Leader at her corps in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. S/L Watson was recommended by Territorial Music Secretary Ron Waiksnoris who was notably pleased with the outcome of the first Singing Stars.

“The first Singing Stars event is in the books and can go down as a great success,” said Waiksnoris. “Gavin Whitehouse and his Eastern Territorial Songsters related beautifully to the young people from the Eastern Territory who came for weekend of instruction, singing, prayer and devotion.”

The rehearsal schedule was intense, musically challenging the young singers. But the demeanor and spirit of Songster Leaders Whitehouse and Watson kept the sessions interesting and enthusiastic. In particular, S/L Watson’s instruction interspersed with moments of humor made her a perfect fit for the weekend. She is quite accustomed to working with young people, serving as Musical Director of one of Scotland’s leading youth choirs, the Fair City Singers.

“I have seen her in action with the Regent Hall songsters and knew that she would be just what we needed for the first Singing Stars,” said Waiksnoris. “I was looking for her to impart her knowledge and skills. She was able to connect perfectly with the ETS members and young singing stars as well.”

One of the highlights of the weekend was S/L Watson’s recital on Saturday night when she displayed her full range of vocal abilities, moving deftly from one musical genre to another. With a resume that includes musical theater, classical performance and traditional Salvation Army as a member of the International Staff Songsters and Songster Leader at Regent Hall, S/L Watson demonstrated why she is considered one of the Army’s leading vocalists.

“I think her voice is one that transcends age groups,” commented Waiksnoris. “It is pure and the message always comes through. Her recital will not be forgotten by anyone who was there.”

Of course, the memories of the first Singing Stars Weekend will stretch beyond Marjory Watson’s brilliant recital. From the moment delegates arrived on Friday afternoon the times spent together in music and worship will surely leave an indelible impression on delegates and ETS members alike.

Certainly, in addition to rehearsals, those in attendance will remember the devotional sessions, led so well by Lt. Colonels Kenneth and Cheryl Maynor, followed by personal moments of dialogue and prayer with ETS members and their prayer partners. If the weekend was simply about music it would have failed in its goal to provide spiritual enrichment as well as instruction.

Sunday worship at the Lodge was particularly edifying as S/L Erik Jones set the tone with an introductory time of praise and worship. Captain Tim Sheehan of the ETS led a period of testimony and Lt. Colonel Kenneth Maynor brought the message.

The weekend concluded with a Sunday afternoon concert at the Montclair Citadel Corps where all of the hard work that took place in the previous days was reflected in a festival of praise that included such ETS staples as “Joyful Noise” and “Peace Be With You” as well as pieces that were introduced during the weekend. Among those compositions were “Eatnemen Vuelie (Song of the Earth)” based on the introductory theme of the movie Frozen and “King of Kings, Majesty,” with its Lion King resemblance.

One of the highlights of the Sunday afternoon concert was a duet featuring Marjory Watson and Ryan Mikolinis, a delegate from Greater New York, who performed “If I Can Dream.” Some Elvis Presley fans may recall the duet performed, via the magic of computer generation, with Celine Dion.

The ETS and delegates paid tribute to Army musical tradition by concluding the concert with a performance of Dean Goffin’s arrangement of “O Boundless Salvation.”

As delegates and ETS members bid goodbye to each other following the concert there was a feeling of great satisfaction of how much had been accomplished, musically and spiritually, in such a short space of time. There was also the sense that vocal music in the Eastern Territory had embarked on a new journey in its growth and development.

As TMS Ron Waiksnoris commented in his final observations, “the whole event was a God honoring and strengthening time together.”

– Craig Evans

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