March 17 – 19, 2017
Picture the scene…
Friday the 17th March, Star Lake Lodge in Bloomingdale, New Jersey, 66 enthusiastic brass players and percussionists, 30 New York Staff Band (NYSB) members, 2 incredible guests, 2 support staff and 3 Pastoral officers. Put this all together and you have the makings of a very loud, very exciting and very Spirit filled weekend of Salvation Army music ministry.
Months before, the audition material was released and hundreds of hopeful young musicians started practicing from all over the Eastern territory and as far away as Texas and Canada. Video and live auditions were submitted and the 2017 All Stars were selected. So, to be in this elite group of young Salvationists is in itself a remarkable feat representing many hours of preparation and dedicated practice.
Future All Stars was conceived over 14 years ago as a territorial side by side initiative designed to encourage young christian musicians in their musical and spiritual journey. Spending a weekend in close proximity to the NYSB gives the participants an invaluable opportunity to hear how their instrument should really sound within a brass band. In return, members of the staff band are able to minister in a very special way and guide these “Future All-Stars” to become exactly that.
The special guests this year were James and Thomas Fountain, two young cornet/trumpet soloists with a typical British brass band Salvation Army upbringing. James is currently principal trumpet at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and Thomas is studying trumpet at the Royal Academy of Music also in London. Thomas has followed his brother’s footsteps as principal cornet of Virtuosi GUS Brass Band and the National Youth Brass Band of Great Britain. With both their parents being excellent cornet players it’s no surprise these chaps have developed such beautiful sounds and technique.
The Future All-Stars weekend (FAW) crams in as much rehearsal time as possible and is broken up into full band and sectional sessions and this year was no different. With only 5 full band and 3 sectional rehearsals, the pressure was on to spur this 98 strong ensemble to play in time, tune and with some sense of style – no mean feat! Territorial music secretary Derek Lance was joined in this endeavor by BM’s Chris Ward and Matthew Luhn (NYSB Soprano Cornet and Principal Trombone), and the repertoire was an eclectic mix of old and new Salvation Army compositions with something for everyone to get their musical teeth into. Once everyone had arrived and settled in, the hard work began with a full band rehearsal. Those new to this experience were no doubt thrilled and literally blown away by the sound world that is the FAW band, and the early sessions always take a few minutes for everyone to get used to the sounds around them and for the newbies nerves to settle.
One new aspect this year was a Saturday evening concert by the NYSB at the Star Lake Lodge following a full morning and afternoon of rehearsal. The all stars were given the chance to hear the staff band flex their musical muscles in three major works- Les Condon’s “The Present Age”, Robert Redhead’s “Corpus Christi” and Marcus Venables’ “I Surrender”. The Fountain brothers excelled in solos including William Himes’ Jubilance (James) and Steve Bulla’s Crossroad (Thomas) and they showed off their team work in Martin Cordner’s sparkling duet “Synergy”. As this was a public concert there was a nice mixture of all stars, staff band and Star Lake camp alumni, notably retired Staff Band Principal Cornet and Bandmaster Derek Smith. Always an encourager, he spent time with the two soloists after the program no doubt passing on some sage advice and positive feedback. The concert also gave the all stars a much needed break from playing because after a quick snack they were back in the big room ready for a full band session. Curfew on both nights was midnight allowing for some much needed down time in the games room before lights out.
Sunday began with a hearty Star Lake breakfast which was enough to give the All-Stars some fire in their bellies. As usual Greg Tuck and the Lodge staff took care of all the dietary requirements for the weekend and made sure everyone felt at home. Sunday worship followed on with the theme of “I lift my voice” which Major Richard and Linda Lopez had been sharing with us as we devoted ourselves during the weekend. James played the beautiful devotional cornet solo “I Surrender All” (Arr. Andrew Mackereth) which brought us closer to reflection in our individual lives. The Future All-Stars then took part in a testimony time led by Major Linda Lopez with staff band members and Future All-Stars sharing their faith journeys and stories. Lt. Colonel James LaBossiere opened the word for us and we enjoyed praise and worship with the help of Andrew Boynton.
Following lunch the All-Stars made their way via coach to Montclair to set up and add some finishing touches to the program. It would be remiss not to thank Majors Stoops for accommodating the concert once again at their beautiful chapel and for all the logistical help in setting up the platform in preparation for the descending brass battalions.
The final concert was finally upon us and once again the smell of fear and valve oil was rife on the stage as the huge ensemble drew their breaths for the opening “Fanfare of Praise”. Robert Redhead would have been proud of the trombone sections delicate opening and in particular the percussion really helped keep the ensemble together in the faster passages. Bandmaster Ward worked the ensemble hard throughout the weekend and the preparation shone through as the all stars gave a very credible performance of Dean Goffin’s “Arise My Soul, Arise”. Although it’s not a piece that springs to mind for a massed band setting the young players rose to the occasion and saved themselves for the uplifting last section. Ray Farr’s “Softly Softly” was up next again led by BM Ward, providing a toe tapping contrast to the Goffin Prelude and Fugue.
Testimonies are a tradition of the FAW and usually are reserved for older members who are in their last years and are able to look back at how this experience has shaped their lives, this year and in years gone by. Mackenzie Dalrymple and Katelyn Knickerbocker both spoke confidently and from the heart about their individual faith journeys and how the Lord was preparing them for the next stage in life as they wrestled with the prospect of going to college and leaving their families.
Bandmaster Matthew Luhn led the band in Kenneth Downie’s classic devotional “In Perfect Peace” another brave choice for massed band. In rehearsal this music really exposed how important it is to work hard at the quieter dynamics and BM Luhn drew out some beautiful sounds from this mammoth group, special mention must go to the duet featuring Matthew Burn (principal cornet) and Albert Saintilus (principal trombone). Many a bandsman has foundered on these tricky 6 bars.
The Band’s chorus leader Dorothy Gates had worked hard with the FAW chorus on her vocal arrangement of “Peace” which was accompanied on piano by Lorena Simmonds-Lance and a trombone trio from the Staff Band (Matthew Luhn, Nathan Power and Warren Smith). The chorus was breathtakingly quiet at times which was a serene oasis in what was a relatively raucous concert.
Of course the weekends soloists were on top form this afternoon too with James showing off his trumpet chops in Kenny Baker’s “Virtuosity”, a rip roaring solo with fingers and notes flying all over the instrument. Thomas blessed the audience with his exquisite quiet playing and sound in Len Ballantine’s “Don’t Doubt Him Now”. Peter Graham’s duet “Quicksilver” was particularly relevant as the audience included Retired Staff Bandmaster Ron Waiksnoris and Deputy Bandmaster Gordon Ward for whom the piece was originally written and who had been instrumental in the FAW concept and execution from the beginning. TMS Lance asked them to stand and be greeted in recognition for all their combined years of service. Of course the fountain brothers gave a masterly performance of the duet and as an encore treated the audience to “Memories of You” (Arr. Geldard) in which they traded solos and let their hair down in the big band style of Ted Heath. Although these were the last notes played on the stage by the Fountain’s, you can be sure their sound and technique will be forever etched in the minds of the all stars.
Bandmaster Lance introduced the final piece “Fire in the Blood” and in doing so explained how important this initiative is and has been in developing and nurturing quality brass players in the Eastern Territory. He asked all the FAW alumni to stand and remarked at how 10 current Staff Bandsmen were included. As the band settled down to Paul Lovatt Cooper’s exciting piece there was a collective deep breath and then we were off. As an accomplished percussionist Paul’s music is always rhythmic in nature and of course there is a healthy dose of percussive bombast, this piece is no different having been written for the ISB’s 120th celebration at the Royal Albert Hall in London. BM Lance kept the tempo brisk and managed to make the ensemble sound more dexterous than would be imagined from such a large group playing such demanding music. Richard Philip’s vocal work “Sing For Joy” is the main thematic material and it suits the brass treatment extremely well. In the contemplative middle section the song “I love you Lord” was delicately delivered in turn by principal cornet Matthew Burn and principal euphonium Josh Laidlaw before a huge climax with the band growing from triple piano to triple forte in a matter of bars. Written in almost ABAB form, the opening Sing For Joy returns briefly in a fresh key before the finale rings out the words “I love you Lord and I lift my voice, to worship You, oh my soul rejoice”. The audience responded to the final climax with a resounding round of applause and FAW2017 was drawn to a close by the traditional Staff Band Benediction “Rock of Ages”.
The future all stars had ministered to each other throughout the weekend with their deportment and testimony of how Jesus has set them apart to be musical ministers wherever they are and we were glad that the Lord had called them to be All Stars for this year and for many to come. So as the emotional goodbyes and see you next times were exchanged we hope and pray that these young people’s lives will be altered and forever improved by the spiritual and musical experience they had at Future All-Stars 2017.
Nathan Power (NYSB, Second Trombone)