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Pilgrim Songs: the Chicago Staff Band goes west

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

by Lt. Colonel Paul Smith

The Chicago Staff Band (CSB) embarked on a 10-day tour this May which took them to the Northwestern states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho and into the Canadian Province of British Columbia. As the CSB traveled through the beautiful vistas of the Pacific Northwest, the Psalms of Ascent provided a fitting focus. Band members were encouraged to view themselves on a spiritual pilgrimage and to invite those they encountered to journey with them in worship.

The band’s itinerary not only included traditional concerts at corps but encompassed ministry at the Seattle Adult Rehabilitation Center, a chapel service at the Cascade Divisional Headquarters, a concert at a mall food court, workshops at Spokane Citadel and the Coeur d’Alene Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, and a children’s open-air on the Spokane Citadel campus. They also supported the Northwest Divisional Music Councils, joining in ministry with the Western Territorial Staff Songsters.

The tour’s programs were crafted to engage the audience in each location, and customization resulted in an ambitious repertoire of 37 instrumental and vocal pieces. Programs ranged from traditional arrangements such as “The Invincible Army” and “Rock of Ages” to more recent crowd favorites like “Chicago 1967 (Can you dig it?),” “Western Fantasy” by Vancouver Cariboo Hill Temple Bandmaster David Mills (who also served as their tour guide in Canada), and the joyous and energetic “Jubilo, Jubilo.” Major works, including Kurios, The Dawning and Fearless, were enthusiastically received.

Several selections showcased CSB soloists, including Minwoo Kang playing “Glory to His Name,” “Thoughts of Love” by Brett Tolcher, A/Captain Paul Bowyer with “The Higher Plane” and “Love Notes” by CSB Bandmaster Dr. Harold Burgmayer with soloists Ben Kinzie, Lynda Cooper, Major John Aren, Brett Tolcher and Josh Turner. Throughout the tour “The Comedian’s Galop” featuring Zac Smith on the xylophone proved popular. Each night on a second run-through, Zac attempted to set new records rendering the piece, lowering his Galop time to an amazing 1 minute and 12 seconds!

In each setting band members connected with people during intermission, over meals, while teaching workshops and through their heartfelt testimonies during concerts. “I related to others as never before,” said Abraham Leka. “The excitement from the audiences in all our performances was a response to the touch of the Holy Spirit.”

“While it’s always enjoyable to share in band fellowship with Salvationists anywhere, this particular tour brought us to two memorable locations. The remote cities of Chilliwack and Penticton in British Columbia would never be a tour destination for a visiting band. Those folks really appreciated our music and ministry, and we, in turn, were blessed by their genuine hospitality and kindness,” remarked Ken Romin.

Many of the concerts ended with the Mark Hayes’ vocal arrangement “Grace” as the benediction. Audiences were clearly touched as the full-throated band moved among them singing, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years…”

“Sometimes as we moved into the final portions of our programs, the Spirit was so heavy we felt the audience just wanted to remain in God’s presence. No one wanted to leave,” said Bandmaster Burgmayer.

This sentiment was echoed by Steve Hull who, at the band’s final stop, Vancouver Cariboo Hill Temple, noticed a woman singing “Grace” along with the band with a marvelous glow. “I went to talk with her afterward to find out from her husband that she is totally blind, yet the joy of the Lord just radiated from her,” said Steve. “I was definitely blessed by that encounter.”

Former Cariboo Hill Temple Bandmaster Tim Braun summarized the CSB’s concert with three words: “Passion (for the gospel message through music-making); Bold (for the brilliance in sound and a boldness of faith) and Balanced (complementing the band’s fine blend, coupled with imaginative and diverse programming).” Indeed, these qualities are the CSB’s strength as they continue to serve as the “Band with a Sacred Message.”

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