Friday Evening and Saturday Morning
An advance party of 5 bandsmen, Harry Browning, Matthew ‘Moley’ Frost, John Sharman, David Taylor and Keith Watts left Birmingham airport on Friday afternoon. After the short and uneventful flight, we were met at Belfast International Airport and taken to Belfast Citadel. Our mission was to work with the renowned ‘Kid’s Alive’ Band in preparation for their joint performance with BCB in Saturday’s concert.
The evening consisted of some small group work as well as full band rehearsal on the piece for the concert, Andrew Mackereth’s ‘Young Crusaders’.
There were upwards of 50 youngsters present, though we are told that there are about 85 ‘on the books’. The Kid’s Alive Band’ is testament to the hard work and foresight of Bandmaster John Moore and his small but dedicated group of helpers in trying to give some purpose and musical training to the large number of young people who live in the vicinity of the hall.
After a good night’s sleep, we were back at 10 am on the Saturday. Unfortunately, due to an important national education examination, there were fewer children present, but this gave us the opportunity to do some small group work and some individual tuition with those that were there.
When the rest of the band arrived mid-morning they were amazed to hear the cacophonous sounds, coming from various parts of the hall.
The main challenge facing John and his team is the wide range of abilities to be catered for, from raw beginners to some very competent players. But what an opportunity they have to introduce these youngsters to the Army, to faith, as well as to develop their musical talents.
As we went into lunch, the first of many excellent meals which you will no doubt be hearing about later, I’m sure that I can speak for my four colleagues that we counted it a real privilege to be involved in this venture.
Saturday afternoon and evening
With a buzz of excitement and the clock ticking towards 2.30pm, the band emerged from the Belfast Citadel corps building to form up, behind the police escort, in preparation for the march of witness through Belfast City Centre to Belfast City Hall.
Once at Belfast City Hall, the band made its way through the Christmas Market crowds to the Garden of Remembrance and The Cenotaph in front of the City Hall where a large crowd soon gathered to hear the band play. The band then moved inside through the main entrance into the grand hall, with its centerpiece being a huge Christmas Tree, and up the central staircase to the first floor Rotunda under the magnificent City Hall Dome where they played a couple of hymn tunes before marching back to Belfast Citadel.
After enjoying a fantastic Chinese buffet prepared by a number of the local Chinese community who attend the corps, the band then moved to Belfast Methodist College, the venue for both that evenings’ festival and also Sunday worship.
The Saturday evening festival commenced with Peter Graham’s 'Intrada, Bless the Lord' cleverly combining the traditional 'Stand up and Bless the Lord' with the contemporary 'Bless the Lord, O My Soul' before moving straight into Philip Littlemore’s arrangement of Morten Lauridsen’s ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ bringing an early taste of Christmas to the evening. Two of the bands soloists were featured in the first half of the programme. Deputy Bandmaster Mark Sharman played the trombone solo ‘You can’t stop God’ by Kevin Larson and Neil Blessett followed with the lovely horn solo ‘King ofKings’ written for him by Gavin Lamplough.
Other pieces featured in the first half were Steven Ponsford’s ‘Servants of God’ and Paul Sharman’s ‘Undefeated’ before the band finished with Leslie Condon’s much loved ‘The Present Age’. The composition portrays a Christian’s struggle to stay on the right path through the challenges of modern life and features the much-loved song, “I’ll Follow Thee”, and later on in the piece with a beautiful
arrangement of “It Is Well with My Soul”.
In the second half, the band’s euphonium soloist David Taylor played 'Varied mood' written by Ray Woodfield. Other items from the band included ‘La Fiesta’, & ‘007 Light’. The band also joined forces with Belfast Citadel’s magnificent Kids Alive Band to play Andrew Mackereth’s ‘Young Crusaders’. In an evening of musical highlights, special mention must also be made of the contribution from The Northern Ireland 1990’s Youth Chorus, recently reunited for a 20 year anniversary, who blessed the audience with their three items.
After Major Adrian Allman's message, the band played Roger Trigg’s ‘Faithful’ written recently on the occasion of the band’s 125th anniversary.
The evening ended with the band playing Eric Leidzen’s March 'On the King's Highway'.
Today's meetings were again held in the Methody Whitla Hall in Queen's University. BCB started with William Himes 'All that I am'. A very emotive piece of music for both player and listener. It was great to hear from the home corps' Kids Alive Band again. Full of youthful exuberance and energy, it was a delight to see so many youngsters giving their all in such a joyful and fulsome manner. Belfast Temple Songsters joined with the local brigade for a massed item and good to see two local corps happy to work together in such a meaningful way.
Major Adrian spoke very touchingly on the sacrifices that we all have to make in our service for the Lord. Sometimes very difficult sacrifices, sometimes very personal ones, but necessary for our continued and successful relationship with our Lord in all that we do.
This was followed by a Cornet and Euphonium duet 'I'll not turn back' played very sensitively by Matthew Frost and Craig Hughes. The meeting came to a conclusion with a spirit of togetherness amongst the whole of the congregation.
The band was then treated to a fantastic Carvery lunch at a local hotel.
The Sunday afternoon concert began with Andrew Blyth's lively march 'Faith on Track' before featuring 3 pieces that were new items to more recent BCB programmes. First, Oliver Ridley (Soprano Cornet) and Andrew Dickinson (Tenor Horn) performed the beautiful duet 'Pie 'Jesu' from Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Requiem'. This was followed by the exciting Cornet Trio 'The Heralds', written by Phil Catelinet and ably performed by Nicola Redhead, Matthew Frost and Harry Browning. The final new item for the afternoon was the Bill Gordon arrangement of 'Extracts from the Finale Symphony No. 4' by Tchaikovsky. This exhilarating piece features a number of challenges for a Brass Band but the performance was well-received by the audience in attendance and a video of the performance can be found below.
The next 3 pieces were much lighter, taking influences from a variety of dance styles. 'Telling it' written by Sam Creamer is a salsa-style arrangement of the tune 'I want to tell you what the Lord has done' while 'Where I love to be' is a piece written in the style of a Tango by Kevin Larsson. The final piece in this section was another composition by Sam Creamer and was a Dixie-style piece entitled 'Anytime'.
As our time in Belfast came to a close, we ended with a more reflective section. Andrew Mackereth's beautiful arrangement 'Beside the Sea of Galilee led into some final thoughts brought by our Commanding Officer Major Adrian Allman. To end our time in Belfast, Eric Ball's 'Triumph of Peace' was performed. This well-known piece has been a mainstay of BCB programmes for many years, under the leadership of a number of bandmasters and includes the hymn 'Peace in our time, O Lord', and in world facing much uncertainty was a perfect way to end what had been a great weekend where the band had been so graciously received by their hosts.