A-OK musicians and artists maintaining a virtual connection

By: Brad Rowland

Like many across the United States and the world, The Salvation Army’s music and arts leaders are exploring ways to stay engaged, all without the usual ease of meeting for in-person rehearsals on a regular basis. In the Arkansas-Oklahoma Division, that means a significant investment in the digital space, with division-wide gatherings now on a weekly basis.

“We invested in something of a streaming studio that we created,” said Andrew Barrington, divisional music director. “It allows us to use multiple cameras, and camera angles, that we can switch between, and I think that is very successful. Of course, we can’t play music together, but we can use recordings and allow people to play along and have that community. A lot of it is fellowship, but there is certainly music education happening as well.”

Beginning on Tuesday, Sept. 29, the division launched its divisional music and arts (DARTS) programming in a four-week rotation, allowing participants to attend monthly, while leaders are investing on a weekly basis. In the four-week cycle, one evening is set aside for brass instruction, ranging from beginner to intermediate, and that includes a rehearsal of sorts for the divisional youth band and the divisional band. From there, one week features contemporary worship instruction, followed by a piano and creative arts night and an evening focused on percussion.

“We didn’t feel like we could stand to be without the contact that we have with our people from around the division,” said Jimmy Cox, assistant divisional music director. “We talked about a video series, but we ultimately wanted to have that live interaction. One of the great things about getting together, even in this way, is to see everybody’s faces. Being able to talk amongst each other and check in to see how everyone is doing. It was really great for the soul, honestly, to see everyone and be together. And, from there, we’re able to make an impact musically and through the arts, even when we can’t fully replicate everything from an in-person rehearsal or workshop.”

In addition to direct music and arts training, the division is also offering a twice-monthly leadership class aimed at investing in local leadership.

“Two of the four nights include a leadership training forum class,” Cox said. “We gather all of our corps music and arts leaders together, which is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. This really gives us the opportunity to do that, providing resources and taking questions to help build up our leaders.”

There is no fixed timetable for how long these virtual gatherings will take place, even with the hope that COVID-19 will relent in the near future to allow for a return to normalcy. However, even during this challenging time, a community brass band is rehearsing at the Oklahoma City Citadel Corps on a weekly basis, regularly drawing 35-40 people on a Wednesday evening. Rehearsals are taking place in the gym, allowing for social distancing, and safety protocols are strictly followed. Barrington indicates that a handful of players are beginning to attend the corps on Sundays, noting that it is “incredible to see that kind of outreach” and “being able to sit back and watch the Lord do his thing has been amazing during this time.”

Though all would acknowledge that virtual delivery is not optimal in the music and arts space, specifically due to rehearsal challenges, leadership is steadfast in its focus to maintain relationships, allow for worship and fellowship, and invest in people across the division in any possible way.

“I think maybe we are going to learn some things that we can do virtually that we can hold onto, even when we’re able to re-establish our normal schedule in the future,” Barrington said. “For instance, this might be the answer for leadership training. Even when we meet in person, we could still hold these virtual meetings to have further training. I think it works, almost better in some ways, than trying to meet together. I could really see some cool things coming out of this challenging circumstance, and we’re trying to do whatever we can.”