Instrumental ensemble series celebrates 35th anniversary in South
By: Brad Rowland
The Salvation Army’s USA Southern Territory began publishing the American Instrumental Ensemble Series (AIES) in 1987, with an emphasis on versatility and the ability to produce pleasing music that can be performed by small groups. Over a two-day period in late February, musicians gathered in Atlanta for the demonstration recording to accompany the 35th annual release of the series.
AIES includes 16 pieces of published music released annually. The works are divided into four grade levels based on difficulty, and the 2021 edition features arrangements by well-known composers Bruce Broughton and Joseph Turrin, with contributions by Salvationist musicians across the country. In fact, James Curnow, Stephen Bulla and William Himes have contributed selections in all 35 releases.
While the central focus of AIES is providing musical resources for utilization within Salvation Army corps, part of its appeal is adaptability. The music can be performed with various instrumentation, and it also includes transpositions to ensure versatility.
“AIES is a terrific series for smaller groups,” said Nick Simmons-Smith, territorial music secretary. “It works with four, and it works with 40. In these days of COVID-19, it has been the perfect resource for small ensembles in the corps.”
“The series is still intended for corps use. That is our primary audience. The versatility of AIES enables a brass quintet to play, or perhaps one flute, one trumpet, one viola and a bassoon. The permutations are endless, and the fact that it sells to other churches, schools, community bands, and on jwpepper.com is a nice way to enlarge our evangelistic reach. It is also great to recognize familiar, spiritually-driven music being played elsewhere.”
Each release of 16 pieces is accompanied by a demonstration recording, allowing consumers to hear the musical selections modeled appropriately. The recordings are available, along reference material, in video and audio format. The 2021 edition was produced internally within The Salvation Army, and Salvationist musicians were joined by a handful of students from the University of Georgia for the recording process.
“Our partnership with the University of Georgia, and particularly Mr. Philip Smith, enabled us to use quality musicians from the school on our demonstration recording,” said Simmons-Smith. “These students enjoy the experience of a recording session and ensemble playing, which has been in short supply this year, and we benefit from having quality musicians for our recording.”
Though the series has been a hit for more than three decades, its resonance is clear in modern times. In particular, the malleable nature of its instrumentation and size requirements perfectly align with challenges in 2021, with the ability to perform intriguing music, in indoor and outdoor settings, while accounting for social distancing and the use of smaller ensembles.
Still, the overarching focus of AIES, and all Salvation Army music-making, is evangelistic in nature, and the pieces reflect that message.
“There is a very clear message of evangelism through each hymn, and the pieces end up being played all over the world, in all sorts of groups,” Simmons-Smith said. “It is impossible to know who might be impacted for the Kingdom through this innovative resource, but there is a Godly focus to every note being written and played.”
The 2021 series is scheduled for release in early June, and additional information can be found at http://www.ussmusicandarts.org/aies.