I grew up playing in a brass band.
I was forced (lovingly of course) at the age of 7 to learn how to play a cornet.
I have played in brass bands for most of my life…yet I often find myself asking the same question over and over again – “Is Brass Band music still relevant today?” In a world of pop music, and trendy dubstep dance beats how does the genre of brass banding fare?
I enjoy playing in the band but if I’m honest I would rather listen to a worship band with guitars and keyboards and drums over another “rousing march”. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the one who has the problem here. But when I look out into groups of people in corps halls or large gathering places (as I play in the band) I can’t help but notice that although the older people are tapping their feet and occasionally clapping their hands, the younger generations of people aren’t that into it. They just don’t get the attraction of brass banding. Other such evidence of this trend is that fact that the total corps who still have a band in them are dwindling. This could be contributed to possible leadership shifts and band members moving on but generally if you’re not from a major metro area you’re not likely to see a brass band play on Sunday morning during holiness meeting.
Are we seeing the slow agonizing death of brass bands?
What will the Army look like in ten years from now? Will this trend continue?
The Pros to Brass Banding:
-Playing music actually helps with math skills (studies have proven this correlation)
-Education in actually reading music on a music page. Most guitar players in worship
bands only play chords and do not read musical notes. In brass bands they teach
music theory and a band member has to sight read and watch for accidentals, key
signatures and dynamics.
-The comradery and team work. This is a learned process and the band becomes a team
working together. There is fellowship that occurs through such a task of playing
The Cons to Brass Banding
-Music seems outdated to younger generations – they find even a contemporary worship
song seems forced into starchy staccato notes blown through a brass instrument
instead of played by guitar or keyboard like it was intended to be played.
-Less and less students of brass bands are being trained up and if they are learning
an instrument it takes places primarily at music camp or in a metro corps where more
resources including instructors are available to teach them.
I love playing in the brass band…but I am fearful that they won’t be around much any longer as older generations are passing away or unable to play anymore and younger generations are more attracted to modern forms of worship. When The Salvation Army was founded they put together little traveling, mostly unorganized ragtag bands that consisted of guitars, brass instruments and woodwinds (ok maybe even the occasional bagpipes)…they were out making a joyful noise in open air meetings (which by the way we have also lost mostly in our army). Then these bands got organized and modeled themselves after military bands of the day. Later an entire movement called “the big band” era rose up and brass bands were more popular than ever…these were the glory days…but…we aren’t in the glory days of brass banding anymore.
It might become quite a tragedy if we allow these bands to simply pass away…but is it time to let go and move on? I don’t wish to kill a sacred cow here today, as I have said I love playing in the band…but I don’t necessarily enjoy listening to them. Call me crazy. Call me a number of hurtful things because I might have rocked the boat here – sorry about that. But in regards to effective ministry and evangelism – are brass bands cutting it anymore?
I look out into our community and world and see the rise of newer more relevant uses of music and I wonder if we are so steeped in tradition that we can’t see beyond it and into the eyes of people who just don’t get brass banding anymore. I don’t wish to be hurtful and if it works in your community then I am overjoyed and happy, but by and large are we seeing a slow agonizing death of brass in our Army? I have mixed emotions about this, but as time rolls on I can’t help but think we’ll be seeing less and less of these groups in corps throughout the territories of our Army.
Questions to Ponder:
What can be done?
Can we save them?
Should we save them?
Should we adapt?
Are we already adapting?
What will our Army’s music look like in ten years? Twenty years? The next generation?
Something more to ponder today for our Army.
P.s. the key to any music we play whether in brass bands or modern praise bands is to glorify God and help usher the active worshiper into the presence of God. Regardless of what styles we may use or prefer may that be our constant aim in our music ministries!