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NYSB at Canadian Staff Band’s 50th Anniversary Report

February 28-March 3, 2019 – The New York Staff Band’s visit to Toronto, Canada for the Canadian Staff Band’s 50th Anniversary weekend was an event that was looked forward to with a great deal of anticipation, as it had been on the band’s calendar for quite some time.  Some of us that were present at the Canadian Staff Band’s 25th Anniversary festival at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto in 1994 wondered if this event would be comparable and similar.  The 1994 event was memorable, as it included the International Staff Band, New York Staff Band, Chicago Staff Band and Canadian Staff Band.

The 2019 event included even more bands, as the USA Western Territorial Staff Band and the USA Southern Territorial Band combined with the Canadian, Chicago and New York Staff Bands for a massed band total of 5 bands.  The event started with a massed band rehearsal and then individual band rehearsals at Roy Thomson Hall on Friday morning and Friday afternoon.  Following the NYSB individual rehearsal, the band climbed aboard a bus for a 1 ½ hour trip to Guelph for that night’s individual festival by the band.

Following an excellent dinner, the band presented an exciting and interesting festival to a near capacity crowd at the Guelph Corps.  The lovely corps hall provided a great acoustical sound which pleased both the band and audience alike.  Former New York Staff Bandsmen present at the festival included George Holmes and Laurie Hiscock.  They were present to listen to items including “All Powerful” (Marcus Venables), The Southern Cross (Brian Bowen), God is My Shelter (Kenneth Downie), Everlasting Hope (Paul Sharman) and Turris Fortissima (Steven Ponsford).

The next morning, the band returned to Roy Thomson Hall for some more massed band rehearsal and then to prepare for our 30 minute individual festival at the hall on Saturday afternoon.  Each band presented a 30 minute festival, with the New York Staff following programs by the Canadian and Chicago Staff Bands.  The three items presented by the NYSB during this time frame were “To Ask the Lord’s Blessing” (Simon Morton), “Introit – O Love” (Andrew Blyth) and “The Glory of Jehovah” (Dorothy Gates).  This final item was a monumental composition written by Dorothy Gates especially for this event, complete with visual effects accompanying the music.  At a length of 25 minutes, this work is certainly one of the longest if not the longest work that had ever been performed by the band and requires a large amount of stamina and concentration.  It is based on the biblical book of Exodus from the Old Testament.  The music engaged the audience throughout its presentation, and the band received a well-deserved standing ovation after this premiere performance.  The only disappointment felt among the bandsmen was that Dorothy was unable to be present for the performance, having stayed home in New York as a caretaker for her husband recovering from an illness.

Saturday night’s festival featured many items presented by the Massed Bands, several solo spots featuring the Canadian Staff Band and guest trumpet soloist Jens Lindemann.  Each of the bandmasters of the bands shared the conducting duties, along with guest conductor B/M William Himes (now retired from the Chicago Staff Band), who conducted the bands in his new composition entitled “The Psalmist”, which featured songs written by Canadian composer Major Len Ballantine.  The bands also combined to form a Massed Chorus and premiered a new vocal work by Dr. Harold Burgmayer entitled “Renewal” highlighting the words: “I renew my covenant with thee….”.  Highlights of items presented by the Massed Bands included “In Awesome Wonder” (Marcus Venables), “Just Like John” (Norman Bearcroft) and “The Canadian” (Percy Merritt).  Highlights of items presented by the Canadian Staff Band on its own included the cornet solo “Golden Slippers” (Norman Bearcroft, soloist – Marcus Venables) and “Symphony of Thanksgiving” (Dean Goffin).

On Sunday morning, we awoke to the news that our plane taking us back to New York on Sunday night had its flight cancelled due to an impending snow storm in the New York area.  We all got to spend an extra day or part of a day in Canada on Monday, and I personally didn’t get home until Monday night.  However, that meant that our day’s events on Sunday went on as scheduled, beginning with the band conducting Sunday morning worship service at Yorkminster Citadel.  The band has had previous association with this corps on past visits, so it was wonderful to see a full audience of Salvationist soldiers and friends filling the hall for this meeting.  Our Territorial Commander, Commissioner William A. Bamford, had been with us for the entire weekend and he presented the morning message at Yorkminster.  To support the Commissioner, the band presented a wide variety of devotional music in the meeting, including “Almighty” (Roger Trigg), “He Cares for Me” (David Chaulk), “In God’s Presence” (Andrew Blyth) and “They Shall Come from the East” (Kevin Larsson).  In a brief ‘wind-up’ following the meeting, the band played Kenneth Downie’s “God is My Shelter”, which was recently written for the NYSB and includes the NYSB’s signature vocal benediction “Rock of Ages” as part of the selection.

The band was invited to a reception for the Massed Bands on Sunday afternoon in the Toronto Congress Center.  Following a lovely buffet meal, the bands were treated to some excellent preliminary vocal items by the Canadian Staff Songsters.  General Brian Peddle was present during all of the Saturday and Sunday festivities and presented challenging messages/devotional thoughts at both the Saturday night massed band festival and then at this massed band reception on Sunday afternoon.  It was encouraging to hear of the support that the General expressed for Salvationist music and musician and was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful weekend that certainly met and perhaps even exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Tom Scheibner, Assistant Territorial Music Secretary