Beyond the B Flats...

There are many wonderfully gifted men and women who, when offered the role of Corps Bandmaster, have allowed themselves for a split second to think about the “power and glory” of such a position.

Setting the tempo of congregational singing, conducting the “big piece” at the “big band concert”, the power of being listened to, telling people what to do, being “respected”, or even finally having the opportunity to hear your own interpretation of “Just as I Am!”

Or it may simply come down to having large white “curly wurly’s”* on your shoulder!

However, for anyone who has done the job, getting in front of a group of musicians and waving a stick about is a relatively small part of the job.  

Perhaps I should say that the musical choices you make as a Bandmaster – rehearsal planning, who plays which part or instrument, are actually the easier part of the job. 

With so many collections of music to choose from – each designed for specific, or even flexible, scoring with literally thousands of published pieces – selecting music that underpins the narrative (usually the preacher’s sermon text) on Sunday morning is actually not that difficult.  More on choice of music on another blog by the way…

The real challenge to the volunteer Corps Bandmaster is fulfilling the many tasks of the job that one does not necessarily think of when accepting the prized commission of B/M (with the curly wurly’s* that come with it).

Here are just a few of the jobs the B/M has to juggle:

  • Worship planner
  • Pastoral care visitor
  • Counselor
  • Inventory manager
  • Librarian
  • Instrument repair technician
  • Calendar planner
  • Program planner
  • Youth Worker
  • Motivator
  • Information technology officer


Let’s look at a few aspects of the tasks above.

Even if you have an outstanding team of local officers (and many of us don’t), you need to CONNECT with your band members.  Share a meal with them, take them out for coffee, keep up with the prayer requests, check-in with them periodically, all these things build a sense of “buy-in” and “team” from your membership.   

COMMUNICATION has been the buzz word of the last 10-15 years.  This can happen on so many levels, but is so vital.   Emails with reminders, information, prayer requests; Attendance charts (for absences); Facebook updates; Cue sheets for rehearsals and Sundays; web pages; and actually talking to your membership  can go a long way to avoiding unnecessary confusion, conflict, or lack of commitment.

An oft overlooked aspect of leadership is CONTINUATION.  Where are the next generation of bandsmen and bandswomen coming from?   Your corps needs to have a fully functioning beginner band/learner program in order to maintain and strengthen.   The Bandmaster needs to have a vested interest in this process – either by teaching himself or encouraging current band personnel to get involved.  

It is also worth thinking about the continuation of the Bandmaster role.   This is not a job that you NEED to have for 20 years - although COMMITMENT is clearly a prerequisite for the role.   The B/M needs to think about training up other leaders:  A dependable deputy B/M that could take over.  He or she will actually need experience of leading the band – not just when you are away.  He or she may also need some actual training or feedback…. Who better than the current Bandmaster?  Are there young people who have shown some leadership potential, or interest?  Have them lead a hymn tune at rehearsal, train them how to prepare a piece, what to listen for, how to rehearse a section, etc.   Receiving your Bandmaster commission should not be the finish line! I personally believe in accepting the job for a period of 2 years at a time allows for good evaluation from the Corps Officer, and also good self-evaluation on whether you feel you are in the right role.  It could be that you are simply too busy to give the job your very best.

A spirit of COOPERATION and COMPROMISE is the hallmark of a humble Bandmaster.   Working in concert with the Corps Officer to plan worship and choosing a band selection that illuminates the narrative of the worship service, rather than “just something the band wants to play” or “something that is now ready” will ensure that the band remains a vital and effective component of the worship service and of the corps itself.   

A CONTRITE spirit is often needed, and I believe it is okay for a strong leader to admit that they are wrong.  Occasionally rehearsing a section for the benefit of the Bandmaster shows you are human, and when dealing with personnel issues or conflict – it’s okay to admit you may have made a mistake yourself.   I don’t think bandsmen expect the Bandmaster to be perfect.   Thank the Lord for that!

It is vital that the Bandmaster be “alive in the Spirit.”  An active prayer-life, and a desire to study God’s word will inform your leadership of the band.  A Bandmaster has a different meaning for me than say a Conductor or Director.  The role is more than the music.  Connecting the lyrics of the music is vital in securing a good “performance” – and I use that word with caution, understanding that we are using our skills to allow the Holy Spirit to bless others – and ourselves.  CONSECRATE yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you. (Joshua 3:5).

Let me reiterate that even if you have a strong team of local officers or band board - the Bandmaster’s handprint should be on all the above tasks and activities.  Good luck trying to achieve everything – I know I don’t – And I hope this blog does not in any way discourage you from the commission of Bandmaster, for that is not my intention.   I encourage you to have a go at one area that you feel you might be underachieving in.  I strongly recommend having a vibrant spiritual walk, and trying to connect with your group as much as possible.


* Curly wurly’s are the traditional Bandmaster’s white trim – still worn in some parts of the Army world.   Perhaps one of the more ostentatious trimmings a Salvationist can wear – on a par with Songster leader and other music leaders, but beyond anything a Commissioner or General wears – these braided threads weave a pattern that could weigh heavy on a B/M’s shoulders, in more than one sense!