The music forces of the Texas Division have a long history of overseas tours, with previous visits to places as far afield as Mexico, Cuba, Kuwait and Dubai, in addition to numerous trips to other parts of the US. This year has been particularly busy on that front, with Texas Brass, the Division’s top youth band, supporting The Salvation Army in Mexico with its 80th Anniversary Congress in February, followed in August by the Texas Divisional Band visiting South Africa.
On August 1, Texas Divisional Band (TDB), under the leadership of Divisional Music & Arts Director Matthew Broome, embarked on an epic journey which was to take the best part of 30 hours from the time it set off from Divisional Headquarters (DHQ) in Dallas to when it arrived at the African Enterprise Conference Centre, near Pietermaritzburg. After a short concert and prayers at DHQ, the band was sent on its way, arriving in the early hours of the South African morning at the conference center, where it was to be based for the first few days.
Early the following morning, the band was up and running as the Kwazulu Natal Divisional Music School was set into full swing. With nearly as many band members as there were delegates at the music school, in order to maximize the band’s effectiveness, it was divided into four groups – one to help run the music school while the other three would support local mission work.
Chloe Hu, Divisional Creative Arts Specialist, was a member of one of the mission teams, which went to the Imbali Corps in Pietermaritzburg to lead a children’s program for the first few days. Chloe explains, “Some of the children came from families which attend the corps, however most were just walk-ins from the community. Our team would typically open each day with Sunday school choruses and then split the children into brass, dance and art classes. We would come together towards the end of each day for massed choir, where we learned different vocal parts and hand motions to the song ‘What the Lord Has Done For Me.’ Later that week, as we came together for the final festival, TDB was met on its arrival to the corps by the children standing outside singing that very song and doing the hand motions we taught them earlier in the week. The Imbali Corps seemed to embody what each Salvation Army corps should be: doors open wide welcoming all into the family of God from the community.”
Josh Muir (Flugel Horn) was in one of the other mission teams. He commented, “Besides the many musical experiences, a particular highlight of the trip was the mission opportunities planned for small groups of the band. Our group was blessed to travel down to Durban for several days. Our first stop was to the Thembela Eventide Senior Home. This facility provides senior housing and activities for the residents. Our group played some music and sang favorite hymns, followed by several hours to meet and share with the residents. Following this we traveled to the Umlazi Corps, the largest corps in South Africa. We joined in with the young people's music classes over two days, providing instruction, devotions and building relationships with the children and their leaders. The corps cannot accommodate the entire congregation of nearly 500 on a Sunday, so they worship in shifts to allow everyone into the hall. Plans for a new building are underway, with construction potentially starting by the end of the year.”
Meanwhile the music school, which was made up of the most advanced young musicians in the division, was taking place at the Conference Centre. The delegates were divided into two bands and two choruses, with each delegate participating in both disciplines. In addition, several electives were offered including Contemporary Worship, Composition, Conducting/Band Leadership, Solo Voice and Brass, Jazz Band and Media, as well as an hour of theory each day. As we gathered on the first morning for prayers and the delegates sporadically burst into joyful song, any fatigue was quickly blown away as we focused on God’s calling for us for the week.
The penultimate evening featured a talent night, where delegates were given the chance to display the skills they had honed during the music school. This was also an opportunity for everyone to hear the bands, choruses and performance-based electives perform for the first time.
The final festival the following day was preceded, in true African style, by a march around the block, before the procession filed into the Imabli Corps hall for the meeting. A large congregation from around the area had already gathered, waiting in eager anticipation. The A Band’s presentation of ‘Las Lluvias Grandes’, conducted by Philip Burn, particularly resonated with the congregation, while the B Band (conducted by Andrew Wainwright and Raul Munoz respectively) brought contrasting items in ‘Here I am to worship’ and ‘What the Lord has done for me’. With jazz being a particularly popular idiom in South Africa, a highlight for many was the jazz elective’s set, which gave the chance for several of this talented group to shine in various solo spots.
After some relaxation time in Durban that evening, the band spent the following day travelling back to Johannesburg, where it was to undertake the next leg of its tour. The next day, TDB visited the Ethembeni Children’s Home which provides care for up to 60 children. There are different circumstances for each child, but some have experienced physical or emotion abuse, while others were abandoned, and many are HIV positive. This was a difficult place to leave, as the band found it a real privilege to spend time sharing love and hope with children that have been shown little worth elsewhere. Afterwards, the band would travel to Soweto, where it was to enjoy lunch at the Sakhumzi Restaurant, famous for being on the street that both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived. Nearby, the band undertook a concert at a Salvation Army retirement home, which was very much appreciated by the residents.
Later that evening the band was to present a festival of music at South Rand Corps. Supported by a capacity audience, the band featured a full program which included ‘Amazed’ (Paul Sharman), ‘I will enter his gates’ (Niels Silfverberg), ‘I know a fount’ (Thomas Rive), ‘Marching Along’ (Nick Simmons-Smith) and two items written for the Texas Division’s Music Conservatory’s 25th Anniversary, ‘Sing it!’ (Nick Simmons-Smith) and the march ‘Texas Celebration’ (Andrew Wainwright). The main work of the evening, Steven Ponsford’s ‘Life Ablaze’, was particularly well received and greeted by a standing ovation. Meanwhile, the encore of ‘There’s no-one, there’s no-one like Jesus’, a traditional African song (arr. Andrew Wainwright), had many in the congregation dancing around the aisles!
The following morning the band travelled several hours to participate in a three-mile march to support standing up against the abuse of women and children, which culminated in a vibrant outdoor meeting that attracted a large crowd. To finish off the trip, the band was able to enjoy two safari drives around the Pilanesberg National Park.
For Cameron Dunn (2nd Baritone) the trip was a particularly special time: “Many words come to mind in attempting to describe our trip. For sure there was music, fun and the beauty of South Africa. But, spending time at the children’s home will be something I will carry with me for a long time. Their joy and openness with us was more than a blessing; it was inspiring courage; courage in face of life stories that were hard to hear. I thank God for the opportunity of this trip, my fellow bandsmen, and for all those working with TSA in South Africa.”
Shannon Howard (1st Cornet), sums up, “What impressed on me most was the excitement I saw in the faces of not only random people that joined our marches but primarily in the Salvationists themselves. In their beautiful singing, dancing and worship style, I saw excitement for their Lord and for The Salvation Army. I have to admit the more I think about it, the more I feel… jealous. Because I want that for us. I would love for all of us to experience worship in a setting where everyone in the room is desperate for more. As one of our fellow Salvationists in South Africa explained, Christians in South Africa (or any location where there is extreme poverty) need Jesus. They are intimately aware that they need salvation, because they literally have nothing else. In contrast, Christians in America (or Christians who are wealthy) have everything they need to be ‘successful’ to the point where salvation almost seems optional. So there you have it – my ‘takeaway’ from the trip is that I want to experience worship and Christian fellowship and The Salvation Army like a community who is 100% aware that we NEED Jesus.”