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Putting the masonry into brass: the Salvation Army Brass Band

Thursday, 05 June 2014

Brass standards

What do you get if you cross two trombones, a baritone horn and a tuba? For four Freemasons, playing in a Salvation Army brass band is the perfect complement to being a member of Standard Lodge

Standing in The Salvation Army’s Reading premises on a fresh spring morning, Colin Crosby, David Mortlock, Alex Mitchell and Russell Crosby are chuckling as they try and come up with different ways of posing with their musical instruments. The four players belong to the Reading Central band of The Salvation Army and can be found performing in the town’s main thoroughfare most Fridays. They are also members of Standard Lodge, No. 6820, London, which believes that Freemasonry and The Salvation Army share core fraternal and charitable values.

Founded in 1949, Standard Lodge’s invitation letter stated that it was desired that the founders and future initiates should be members of The Salvation Army or associates. It was to be a strictly temperance lodge and is one of three such lodges originally founded by Salvationists, the other two being Lodge of Constant Trust, No. 7347, and Jubilate Lodge, No. 8561.

The strong musical tradition of The Salvation Army means that many members of Standard Lodge have also played, or currently play, in a Salvation Army brass band. Colin Crosby joined Standard Lodge in the sixties and says that of the three lodges founded by the Salvationists, Standard is the only one that has kept to the strict Salvationist ethos of no alcohol, no smoking and no gambling. ‘That means that we can’t have raffles to raise money so we have to think of other ways of fundraising.’

‘The great thing about a brass band is that it can be very rousing and uplifting but it can also be very subtle and moving.’ Colin Crosby

Colin’s son Russell, an engineer by profession, feels strongly that The Salvation Army and the Freemasons have much in common. ‘There is a great deal of misunderstanding about Freemasonry. I see it as my personal mission to put things right and point out that there is a strong morality within Freemasonry,’ he says. ‘Like The Salvation Army, there is a great tradition of charitable giving and consideration for the well-being of others. I have talked about this with many of my fellow Salvationists – I think it really helps with the understanding of Freemasonry if all aspects of it are discussed openly.’

Colin plays the tuba and switches between the E-flat and the B-flat, while David plays baritone horn and Alex plays the trombone. Explaining his choice of instrument, Colin says: ‘I like to be in the engine room of the band, which is what I consider the tuba to be.’ Russell used to play tenor horn but switched to the trombone: ‘The opportunity came up because the band was short of trombone players and although I had to learn from scratch, I saw it as a challenge and managed to pick it up. I think I have a fairly decent tone now.’ 

Crowd pleasers

The Reading Central Salvation Army band has played on many auspicious occasions, including at the Royal Military Academy. The band has performed in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace to celebrate its one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary and has also played at the annual carol service in Grand Lodge for a number of years, as well as many other engagements up and down the country. In 1994 they toured, playing in the Republic of Korea and Hong Kong, while 2007 took them to Ontario, Canada.

The band plays a wide range of music, from hymn tune arrangements (many of which were composed specifically for The Salvation Army) through to popular film scores. ‘We mix up classical music with well-known tunes from films like The Great Escape or The Wizard of Oz,’ explains Colin. ‘Just as the audience are relaxing into it, we hit them with a nice old-fashioned hymn or classical song. That’s the great g thing about a brass band; it can be very rousing and uplifting but it can also be very subtle and moving.’

David Mortlock joined Standard Lodge in 1987. Also an engineer, he lived in the United States and India for many years. Although he used to be a bandmaster, David now plays the baritone horn. He misses conducting and echoes Colin’s pride in the range of music played by the Salvation Army band: ‘Music is such a powerful tool and can be used for inspiration, praise and worship, as well as meditative prayer.’ 

Many of the most well-known brass players in the country have come out of The Salvation Army band tradition. ‘Philip Cobb is the principal trumpet player with the London Symphony Orchestra,’ explains David. ‘Dudley Bright, who is principal trombonist for the London Symphony Orchestra, has also composed a number of pieces of music for The Salvation Army. His most recent composition, “The Cost of Freedom”, was given its first performance by The International Staff Band of The Salvation Army at the Sage Gateshead in May 2008.’

Alex Mitchell is a highly qualified musician outside of the brass band world, too. And as a retired school music teacher, he uses his teaching skills with the young people of the junior band and as a pianoforte and brass teacher.

All four men describe the feeling of fraternal companionship both in the band and in the Freemasons. ‘In both situations there is a feeling of solid friendship and moral support if you need it,’ says Alex. ‘In that way, Standard Lodge members are very lucky because they have both.’

Notes in a Brass Band

Trombone

Invented in the 1500s, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century that the trombone became popular in England. Composers such as Beethoven described the trombone as the ‘voice of God’ because it has the ability to achieve perfect intonation at all times. 

Baritone Horn

The marching band perennial was first invented in the 1700s, when it was played by stroking the instrument’s glass rods. Not to be confused with the euphonium, the baritone has three valves and less tubing in the horn. 

Tuba 

Since its introduction into symphony orchestras in the mid-nineteenth century, the tuba is considered the anchor of the orchestra’s brass section. It comes in a range of pitches, from the deep bass of the subcontrabass to the much higher pitch of the tenor tuba. 

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR - NO. 28 WINTER 2014

Uplifting memories

Sir,

How absolutely refreshing it was to turn the pages of our journal to see the uniformed Salvationists and to read the article on brass and Freemasonry.

It brought back so many memories for me, not least being the fact that thirty-eight years ago I was introduced into Freemasonry by the Senior Past Master of Standard Lodge, No. 6820, Oly Allen, a retired Salvation Army divisional bandmaster. I am not a Salvationist but he took me into a meeting at his Reading lodge, namely Charles Nicholl, No. 7318, at the Berkshire Masonic Centre at Sindlesham where he was Secretary.

For several years I assisted him in arranging for the Central Band and Songster Brigade to render a programme performed in the Grand Temple at Sindlesham, which we entitled ‘Prelude to Christmas’. This now forms the annual Reading Borough Council double bill presentation held at the Hexagon.

I was able to pass many hundreds of pounds to our masonic charities for their efforts and, indeed, a small group of the bandsmen, including the four in the photos, regularly play for us at the Ladies’ Meetings and Christmas. As our church brethren often quote in this journal: ‘Freemasonry is a good handmaiden to Christianity’. Long may it continue, so thanks for the memory; it was so uplifting.

Ken Holloway, Lodge of Benevolence, No. 489, Bideford, Devonshire


 

Letters to the Editor - No. 27 Autumn 2014

Thank you for the music

Sir, 

I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your recent ‘Brass Standards’ article. Being a brother for the past twenty-seven years, as well as a professional musician, it was nice to see that the members put their time and talents to good use, and everyone in the group being brothers was just the icing on the cake. I congratulate them on their accomplishments and their desire to share their time and talents with the community.

Philip Chapnick, Goldenrule Clermont McKinley Lodge, No. 486, Grand Lodge F&AM State of New York, USA

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