‘Songster Series’ puts spotlight on choral music in Carolinas

By: Brad Rowland

Music is often good for the soul and, across The Salvation Army world, many are looking to fill the void left by the inability to gather together in singing. With that in mind, the North and South Carolina division launched a six-part Songster Series in February, aimed at both recognizing and cherishing classic choral works and bringing musicians together virtually.

“The series really grew out of a desire to work in ministry with our adult musicians in the division,” said Nathan Cole, divisional music director. “We’ve been doing a lot of virtual work targeted to young people, and we found a need to reach out to our adults in a new and innovative way, and it has been a challenge during the pandemic.”

Cole, who grew up in a large corps in Bristol, England, took solace in a 40 or 50-member songster brigade during his youth. That opened doors to singing and worshipping through vocal literature, and that background helped to inspire the new series.

“That history has really stayed with me, but I wanted to approach in a different way,” Cole said. “A lot of the stuff that is going online has been virtual choirs when individuals are recording separately with some editing to put them together, and those are great. But what we wanted to do is record solo versions of six popular and well-regarded songster pieces, launching something of a series.”

Six pieces of music are recorded with a twist in that, originally, the works were written and arranged for full choirs. Within the series, they are adapted for solo vocal performance, accompanied by piano. Each piece was recorded at divisional headquarters in Charlotte, following health and safety protocols, and musicians from the division are featured.

In addition to the musical enjoyment, viewers of the video series are treated with interesting background on the selections, as well as a spiritual foundation. That is key to the presentation and, as Cole notes, the investment from the composers adds a great deal.

“We had a response from the composers that was well beyond my expectations,” said Cole. “When I wrote to them, I wasn’t expecting the kind of time investment many of them provided. Particularly John Rutter was fantastic, sending a detailed video within 24 hours despite his busy schedule and sizable profile.”

All six parts will be available in the coming days, and each video can easily be shared through the division’s music and arts YouTube account, with lyrics displayed over the musical selections. One focus of the series is the ability to easily utilize and implement the works in worship across the division, or even the Southern Territory, and Cole indicated that “one of the things we were keen on was that anything we created during this time could also be utilized in the future when we are gathering together again.”

Singers and musicians, both in the Carolinas and elsewhere, hope to reconvene in the near future to make music together. Until that is safe and possible, the series is drawing real attention, and the early returns are quite positive.

“It’s been extremely popular so far in my experience,” Cole said. “I think part of that is because people are missing the opportunity to sing together. It’s also a different twist in that it is a soloist performance, but with the combination of the music, spiritual background and a little bit of history, I think it works well as a total package.”

An installment, featuring a lengthy introduction from world-renowned composer John Rutter, can be seen below.