What a privilege it was to be a part of the Royal Oak Citadel Band & Songsters Anniversary Concert, let alone the entire weekend! With a thunderous applause, the audience welcome the members of the Band and Songsters before welcoming Bandmaster Greg Payton (2005-present) and Songster Leader Doug Holman (2008-present), two individuals who have put such great work into setting up the logistics of this concert. As they took their seats in the Soprano and Bass Trombone chairs respectively, one more round of applause was given for James Curnow, one of four sets of special guests for the weekend. He stepped up to the podium and with an impressive attack from timpanist Craig Beachum, Jim led the band in scintillating style with his festival march “Faith is the Victory.” This march was actually written for the opening of the current Royal Oak Citadel building on Main Street, but was not finished in time due to Jim’s prior commitments to his schoolwork. During rehearsal on Friday night, Jim mentioned writing the middle section during his “boring” Statistics class…I know I sure can relate to writing music in boring classes!
This was followed by a warm welcome from our current Corps officer (also leading the back-row on 1st Cornet) Captain Peter Mount and Bandmaster Greg went on to introduce our guests to the audience: Jim & Marge Curnow, Captain Sally Broughton, Commissioners Barry & Sue Swanson, and Bill & Linda Himes. It has been wonderful to have them and we look forward to worshiping with them tomorrow morning. After the introductions, Greg stepped up to the podium to lead the band in Bill Broughton’s “Gowans and Larsson Overture,” a delightful potpourri of melodies from the famous Salvation Army musicals from Generals John Gowans and John Larsson. This was a fitting addition to the program because the Royal Oak Corps has performed a number of these musicals in the past…pictures from those performances were even showcased during the performance! Memorable moments included the precise double-tonguing on the opening semiquavers from the Cornets accompanied by edgy rhythms from the basses, beautiful solos from Denise Beachum (Cornet), Ruthie Mbesi (tenor horn) and Doug Engle (trombone), and a nice driving rock rhythm from Bill Roberts (percussion) during “What Does the Spirit Say to the Churches” (from the only Gowans/Larsson musical I’ve ever seen/been part of “Spirit,” so I could be a bit biased.) This piece showed the band to be in good form.
Following this, the Gowans/Larsson fun wasn’t over yet! Captain Sally Broughton woo’ed the crowd with her vibrant piano playing and we had a little variety show with some other melodies with the help of Ian McNeil and Major Heather Holman. This was a hard act to follow, but Doug Holman and the Songster Brigade were up to the task, opening their first portion with “Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord,” an exuberant piece of music featuring tenor soloist Captain Terry Smith, and a powerful anthem from Tom Fetke entitled “Exaltation.” This number also happens to be the title track of the CD the Royal Oak Citadel Songsters have just released at the concert for $10.
As the Songsters exited the stage, Jim returned to the stage and with the help of Commissioner Barry Swanson, presented an award for excellent service to an individual who has taught countless musicians over the years (including Jim and Bill themselves) and has left behind quite a legacy at the Royal Oak Corps, and that person is none other than my namesake, F. Maxwell Wood. (The ‘f’ stands for “Frederick,” ya know). Totally humbled and blessed by the thank you everyone in the auditorium gave him in the form of a standing ovation, Max came up to the stage to join his former student and accept his award. Another surprise came from both Bill and Jim: the two had co-written a piece in honor of Max to be played at this very concert, appropriately entitled “Legacy.” The world premiere performance was conducted by both composers, Bandmaster Himes leading the first half and trading off, in a synchronized fashion, with Professor Curnow for the second half. The piece was a setting of four of Max’s favorite songs: “O Happy Day,” “Enter, Enter,” “In Thee, O Lord, Do I Put My Trust,” (taken from Jim’s earlier piece ‘The Great Salvation War’), and “Do Lord,” culminating into an impressive climax. It was definitely a special moment for Max and everyone who has been affected by him and his ministry in some way, shape, or form.
Captain Sally Broughton returned to the piano and this time, with reinforcements! With partner pianist Bandmaster Himes, the two performed a piano duet arrangement of Ray Ogg’s classic march “Rousseau,” featuring a tune with words Bill dedicated to his alma-mater Dondero High School, the venue the concert was being held in. There were also some most appreciated references to “Hail to the Victors,” the University of Michigan fight song.
This was followed by the second set from the Songsters and they too brought reinforcements in the form of Major Heather Holman, who was the featured soloist in the laid-back and jazzy selection “Goin’ to the Holy City,” accompanied by a musical ensemble featuring brass, bass guitar, piano, and drum kit. This was followed by Captain Sally Broughton leading the Songsters in “He Arose,” one of my new favorite choral pieces. It begins in an ominous, minor key (somewhat akin to Halloween) with the numerous verses, each in a different “evil” key and then changes into a bright, up-beat presentation of the chorus. It was definitely a crowd-favorite and Captain Sally’s animated expressions and conducting helped the Songsters relay the good news that “[Christ] arose a victor from the dark domain!”
Under the direction of Bandmaster Himes, the band closed the first half of the concert with his three-movement suite “To the Chief Musician.” This special piece was written for the retirement of Commissioner Richard Holz and is quite unique, going beyond the normal brass band scope and by including vocal chants from Psalm 100 and singing. The highlight of the suite was at the end of the second movement after the final trombone chord as it was answered by the band humming a note on the chord very softly before fading into nothing. Just a beautiful type of color we normally don’t see in a brass band piece. Vocal soloists provided by Matt Coakley (trombone), Mark Gallop (bass), and Doug Holman (bass trombone). This was a triumphant way to end the first half.
The second half was kicked off with Bill at the podium, conducting the band in “Milestone,” the march he wrote for the Chicago Staff Band’s 75th anniversary. It features his own hymn tune “Dearborn Street” to which the words “Lord of the Years” are associated. This march is different from a lot of music I’ve played before, but that’s one thing you could say about Bill’s writing: it’s very innovative, featuring a cut-time rhythm throughout the piece, runs from different sections of the band (especially the Solo Cornets), and more. It was definitely an appropriate march for the occasion.
At the start of the second half, you will have noticed the tons of empty chairs surrounding the band and the people standing in the back where the Songsters stood. This half was dedicated to the massed alumni band/Songsters, each taking a different conductor. It was great to finally play with so many familiar faces I’ve gotten to know over the years such as Bill & Darlus Kumpula, Commissioner Barry Swanson with the basses, Bill Himes & Ed Rowland in the Euphonium section, Steve & Jacque Hull, Sandy Rowland, and countless others. The alumni Songsters were up to bat first and with Doug leading them, they conquered Gavin Whitehouse’s up-beat “Adoration, Thanksgiving, and Praise.” When Bill took the stage, the Songsters shifted gears to bring what has become my favorite Songster piece: “Isaiah 40.” This a Capella work was a blessing to both the performer and the audience, expertly conducted by the composer himself. The Alumni Songsters finished their portion under the direction of former Songster Leader Ian McNeil, who had a hand in teaching every member on stage either directly or indirectly through his teaching of Doug. With such emotion, he led the Songsters in another anthem from Tom Fetke, “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name.” Some could say this was the highlight of the entire Songster portion of the evening. Another personal joy for Ian was rehearsing this with his grandchildren Ian & Lyndsey Kumpula singing under him for the very first time. McNeil daughters Kelly and Jamee were very proud of the legacy left by their father.
The alumni band then took the stage and prepared to play Jim Anderson’s groundbreaking march “Goldcrest.” What an amazing surprise it was when Greg announced that Max Wood would be leading the band in this performance. Personally speaking, it was my very first time playing under Grandpa’s direction and it was amazing to see the pure joy on his face as he was able to use the term “Bandmaster” once more. This was followed by Jim’s meditative “Guardian of Our Way,” molding four well-loved songs which refer to the care and direction of Christ the Good Shepherd. In contrast, Bill brought to us his march “The Witness,” a march written in his earlier days as a young boy. After some great closing remarks from Captain Peter, Bill led us in the benediction featuring massed band, massed Songsters, and the voices of our congregation in the Salvation Army’s national anthem: “O Boundless Salvation,” which culminated in a wall of sound that was nevertheless controlled. What a thrilling and fitting conclusion to a wonderful festival of praise, music, and worship.
Thank you to all of those who came and we hope you enjoyed a wonderful night! To God be the glory!