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Blastin’ Brass
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By Mike Toth



Have you ever seen the brass bands performing at a few Salvation Army kettles at Christmas time or run into them ministering at a gathering of some kind and thought it was a sweet, almost quaint relic of a bygone era? Would it surprise you to know that the history of brass bands in Salvation Army was far grittier than you might imagine, and is still a wonderfully effective church tool in modern times?

In the 1860’s evangelist William Booth took a stroll through the poorer sections of London, England and decided that the poor were the flock that he was called to. In those days the church had instituted a “pew tax,” meaning the poor who were unable to pay the tax could not attend services, and these were the people he looked to reach.

This unbiblical state of affairs inspired Booth to take the church to the streets, and the brass bands accompanied them, both to lead worship and to lend a hand if the rowdy crowds got out of control. The songs they played were actually adaptations of popular pub songs of the day, allowing those who attended the open-air services to follow along. An example of this was a song called “Champagne Charlie,” which was adapted by the Salvation Army musicians to become “Bless His Name He Set Me Free.”



While the modern versions of Salvation Army bands may not have the secondary role of breaking up fights anymore, they are no less vital to the health of the church and the communities they serve. Each summer the Army’s London Citadel runs the “Blastin’ Brass (BB)” a series of two-week long brass music day camps, open to anyone in the community entering grade three to grade eight, that not only covers how to play a brass instrument, but covers theory and the ability to play in a band and sing in a choir. Blastin’ Brass also offers daily hot lunches and snacks, trips to the swimming pool and different elective options. In keeping with its roots, however, it isn’t simply about the church, or the music.

The music is a way to get into peoples lives, both from the aspect of doing concerts in church and non-church settings, and that of providing excellent musical instruction, fellowship, and love to children and young adults, many of whom have no church experience whatsoever. Many children start out with one of the summertime Blastin’ Brass camps and transition into London Citadel’s Thursday night programs throughout the year.

Charlotte, who is one of the camp staff for BB, was not a part of a church when a high school music teacher invited her to come out, and she has stayed ever since. “The connections we make here provide a foundation for leading kids to Christ,” she says.

Mac, another staff at the camp, enjoys working with the kids and playing music, but again, there is so much more. “I get to teach kids about God and life, while having fun with them. Building relationships is important, but keeping those connections is just as important and we often get to do that throughout the year.”

The spirit of William and Catherine Booth is alive in this spiritual outreach teaching the kids the foundational message of Christ. “Blastin’ Brass” 2016 wraps up on August 5, but to get information about BB for 2017 or more information about the Thursday night music programs email corps@londoncitadel.ca, visit www.londoncitadel.ca, or call (519) 472-2500.