Salvation Army bandsmen flood streets of Pasadena
By: Brad Rowland
On an annual basis, millions ring in the new year by observing the Tournament of Roses Parade. The event is broadcast on several platforms and, for those fortunate enough to live within commuting distance, hundreds of thousands gather along the route to catch a glimpse of the splendor in Pasadena, California.
For decades, The Salvation Army has been prominently involved in the proceedings and, in 2019, the organization celebrated a milestone of participation. More than 300 musicians and nearly 400 individuals in total marched in band formation representing The Salvation Army in what Kevin Larsson, the bandmaster of the event for nearly 20 years, termed “the largest Salvation Army open-air in the world.”
“It was a thrill to march with nearly 400 Salvationists through the streets of Pasadena, California,” said Nick Simmons-Smith, territorial music secretary. “Many parade watchers wished us a Happy New Year, while others thanked us for the work of The Salvation Army.”
2019 was the centennial anniversary of the Army’s involvement, marking the first time that a musical ensemble reached that milestone with the parade itself. Prior to Jan. 1, individuals from seven territories across the globe gathered for rehearsal and festival preparation, ministering to thousands over the course of an extended trip.
The USA Southern Territory was represented, over the course of eight days, by 34 members of the Territorial Youth Band. Though the ensemble performed together on multiple occasions, individuals from the four American territories, Canada and Bermuda, New Zealand and the United Kingdom and Ireland territories were split into eight performing bands. Those groups operated in worship at different local corps on Sunday morning, while gathering for rehearsal (and rest) at Camp Mt. Crags.
In addition, participants gathered for “Bandfest” at Pasadena City College, joining together with other musical forces involved in the parade to perform a set of music for those gathered. The Army’s ensemble performed hymn tune arrangements, including “St. Francis” and “Amazing Grace,” making sure to provide a worship element.
As the parade arrived on Tuesday, Jan. 1, a long day was on the horizon. Band members encountered a 4 a.m. local wake-up call in preparation for an 8 a.m. start time. A Larsson arrangement of a march centered on “Amazing Grace” could be heard during the 5.5-mile parade journey and, while endurance is key, the showcase went off without a hitch.
“It was a proud moment for me to be a musician in The Salvation Army,” said Terry Wood, a cornet player and soldier from the Florida Division. “To march alongside so many fellow young Salvationists from around the world passing thousands of people at any moment was incredible. I could see people singing along with ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘This is My Story,’ and knew that our message was heard.”
When the dust settled on the parade itself, there was more work left to be done, with the Southern Territorial Youth Band visiting Santa Monica following the parade for sight-seeing and, of course, additional rehearsal. On Jan. 2, the eight bands, previously split under the direction of bandmasters from across the world, provided a concert at the Tustin Ranch Corps, and it was a rousing and inspiring festival of music and fellowship.
Finally, the Army’s musical forces gathered once again on Jan. 3, with hundreds again marching through the streets. This time, however, the parade route was directly through DisneyLand, with a festive atmosphere and the ability to minister to thousands in a different and awe-inspiring venue.
All told, it was a grueling, yet uplifting, journey for those in attendance, as the knowledge that the gatherings were for a greater purpose rang true.
“It was a long eight days with many early mornings, late nights and lots of events crammed into every day – but being around our young people definitely energized me and inspired me,” Simmons-Smith said.
Plans are already being made for 2020 and, while next year’s parade may not feature the same volume of contributors, The Salvation Army will be at the forefront. Until then, there is time for reflection and the realization that the Army’s work continues locally and the young people involved will carry valuable experience and inspiration, back to their home corps.
“I was extremely proud of our young people,” said Simmons-Smith. “Not only for their musical excellence but for their spiritual maturity, enthusiastic Salvationism and esprit de corps during the journey.”