The International Staff Band (ISB) has arguably, throughout the duration of its 120 year history, for Salvationists at least, attained something of an iconic status. Many of the principal players over the years have been regarded as Salvation Army banding greats, some even penetrating the wider banding and orchestral brass spheres with equal standing.
Perhaps then, it should have come as no surprise that events held in June 2011 to celebrate the 120th Anniversary of The International Staff Band created such impact in the consciousness of the Salvation Army as a whole, particularly in the United Kingdom. Of genuine surprise, though, was the impact created by celebrations on Sunday 5th June when the massed ranks of all officially recognised Salvation Army Staff Bands from around the world marched from Horse Guards Parade, down The Mall and through the gates of Buckingham Palace to perform a 'Royal concert' on the Palace forecourt. Police estimated that 15,000 people gathered to witness the scene and photographic evidence created the impression of scenes usually associated with a Royal wedding!
The 'masterplan' had been to create an event unique not only in the first ever gathering of all eight Salvation Army Staff Bands, but unique too in the staging and presentation of the event. The ISB anniversary became the conduit through which Salvation Army banding on a global scale would be celebrated. Two years of planning, thousands of man-hours of detailed work and allegedly at least 50,000 e-mails contributed to ensuring that every detail was covered, every 't' crossed, every 'i' dotted and no stone left unturned in the pursuit of perfection.
Events commenced as early as Wednesday 25th May when Melbourne Staff Band arrived to commence its UK tour. All eight bands were in concert within an 80 mile radius of central London on Friday 3rd June, with New York (NYSB) and the ISB joining together at Cadogan Hall, the first element of the celebrations to take place in the Capital. This provided a fitting prelude to an unforgettable weekend with a uniquely fraternal atmosphere. Amazingly this was only the second time in their long history that the ISB and NYSB had joined together for a concert.
The 'main event' took place at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 4th June. A truly unique event fell into two parts. Staff Bands in Concert, unashamedly based on the Brass in Concert format, saw each band present a 20 minute programme punctuated by video introductions and live 'on stage' interviews of bandmasters. Each band brought its own flavour to the occasion and excelled in performing on the historic Royal Albert Hall stage, this would have been a first-time experience for many of the performers. The evening Brass Spectacular certainly lived up to its billing. Tribute should be paid here to the outstanding choreography of this event; 250 instrumentalists assembled on stage with the ISB at the centre was a hugely impressive sight.
Sleep was difficult to achieve that night as adrenalin still coursed through the veins of performers and audience alike. An historic moment in Salvation Army music making had been witnessed and we wanted it to go on forever. But a new day dawned and Sunday 5th June brought yet more highs, firstly in the intimate surroundings of Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, for worship led by the newly appointed world leader of The Salvation Army, General Linda Bond, making her first public UK appearance since assuming that daunting responsibility. 'Legacy' had been another theme of the organising team, and in allowing all eight Staff Bands to worship without duty that morning, the Territorial Youth Band of the United Kingdom Territory assumed the role of 'duty band'. How appropriate that the future of Salvation Army banding should also become part of its history.
The 'march down The Mall' followed and even the threat of rain (which materialised at the very end of the Palace forecourt concert) could not dampen the spirits of the crowds as the bands marched out of the forecourt, taking 'the salute' from The General. The bands concluded their 'once in a lifetime' weekend with a fellowship gathering back at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, as the crowds dispersed, knowing without doubt that they had been part of something very special. So many highlights, so many old acquaintances restored, many new friendships formed that will last a lifetime. Salvation Army banding had celebrated one of its proudest moments, the spirits of Salvationist musicians had been lifted, former members revelled in their memories and considered restoring their Army links, and those for whom a Salvation Army band was a new phenomenon were left in no doubt about the God whom these people served and worshipped through their music. Judged on any level and by any measure, this had been an outstanding weekend and a tribute to the vision, planning and hard work of those who had created it.
BONUS FEATURES; Audience reaction. Behind the scenes.