Andy Miller III
Cover Image for When Brass and String Collide

When Brass and String Collide

May 12, 2021

Standing at the roadside, with their instrument cases in their hands, not sure why they are there, three brothers wondered what their Dad had got them into this time. They were accustomed to the work of the family business, accustomed to work in the church like singing in the choir and other tasks that church people occasionally do. This was different, now they are standing where their Dad told them to meet, their hands and feet growing numb in the cold, hearing the drunks sing at the top of their lungs. “What could Dad have in mind?” Their Dad finally approached nodding and courteously greets them and saying, “We’re going to help a group called the Christian Mission.” What is that, they wondered. Soon they found out that the Christian Mission was a force with which to be reckoned.

Keeping that scene in mind, let’s look at the backstory that led up to it. It was 1878 in the English “cathedral city” of Salisbury, and the Christian Mission began its work. The early Missioners were attacked by mobs from local bars. Food and garbage (waste) was thrown at them, insults hurled, and physical pain was inflicted. This fearless few, led by a woman named Mary Sayers, found older-brother type protection from Mr. Charles Fry and his sons. “Crowd control” and “bodyguards” is the way Salvation History books describe the Fry family. They were coming to the streets as guards for months supporting the Christian Mission, before it became the Salvation Army and before Charles Fry got an idea.

You see Charles Fry was more than a man of muscle. He was more than a master builder. More than a citizen who knew all aspects of Salisbury life. These tough men surprisingly and pleasingly formed a string quartet, and being versatile, they also functioned as a brass quartet. This group of Salvationist was regularly confronted by dissenters who attempted to out-sing the group with popular secular songs. In a moment of genius, Charles Fry came to a conclusion that must have been inspired by the Holy Spirit. So they brought their brass instruments to the Christian Mission open air meeting. About this time The Christian Mission became known as The Salvation Army.

Looking each other in the eye to take the first breath, with the yelling and insulting as their accompaniment, they made their first sound. The dissenters quickly realized that they were out matched as their bar songs were drowned out by the revival songs of The Salvation Army. Songs like “Power in the Blood” or even Charles Fry’s own song that is still in our Songbook “I’ve found a friend in Jesus he’s everything to me” (#344). The Fry family band not only opened the door to brass music in the Salvation Army [maybe mention Booth apprehension toward music], but really, to variety of musical voices. Every musical expression [lift up examples from weekend] in the Salvation Army is indebted to these four crowd-controlling musicians. In most cases, wherever the Salvation Army went, a brass band accompanied them.

God has used music, of many styles, to accompany the march of his Army/our Army, we his Soldiers should be ready to sing, or play, or dance, or shake, or strike or strum in today’s fight. We might even begin to see that this activity is a part of the fight.

The Fry family band keeps expanding. As we have seen through this weekend there is variety of musical voices in conversation and in worship of God. Colonel Lyle Rader, father of General Paul Rader, wrote a book called Revitalizing the Open Air almost 60 years ago. In that book he suggests that the “ring approach” allowed people to come in and join the Open Air so that they could see what was going on without being intimidated. This was contrasted by the stage approach or the crescent formation. He suggests that the band (hence music) was an important plank of this Ring. The “ring approach” reminds me of the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:12: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.”

The body, the Army, and the band grows to include many parts. Now as we stand in our “metaphorical” (explain meaning) Salvation Army Open Air Ring, we look around and see guitar players, dancers, officers and soldiers, preachers, brass players, drum sets, marimbas, xylophones, tympani, artists, greeters, sinners, friends, and of course a few timbrilist.

We proclaim, like the Fry family, a message that needs to be heard in our town. A message that God has come in the person of Jesus Christ to redeem the world, and we his people have the privilege to be sanctified by his Spirit, to be a sign to the world, that it can and will be made right. As the band grows, there are theological implications to be gleaned from the Fry Family band.

1. We have a message that needs to be heard

The title for this portion of the WYC is “simplicity.” General Clifton suggests in his book New Love that Salvation Army worship should be simple but not superficial. “Salvationism has depth, but seeks to avoid complications. ”The way that the words “traditional” and “contemporary” are stacked against each other is tragic; it does not do justice to the wide conversation of Christian tradition. Styles don’t do justice to the Army when we place any adjective in front of worship like contemporary, traditional, American, African, brass bands, or praise band. We don’t worship a style, we worship the resurrected son of God-Jesus Christ. We worship a triune God who has been moving throughout history to redeem and save creation. We have a message that needs to be heard, Charles Fry knew that the early Army had a message that needed to be heard. It doesn’t work to simply blend worship as if we need to appease people by doing one song for the young people and a good hymn for the older generation. This accommodation creates an environment where brass and guitar collide like a crashing vehicle. The collision that I am thinking of is the way that bacon and eggs collide at breakfast, or a collision of love like the “prodigal son” story in Luke 15. I imagine when the Father runs toward his son their embrace could be seen as a collision, but it is a collision of grace. When we really try to work together as a multi-generational movement, in our cultures we have a conversation of grace. Something bigger and better than us emerges—namely the message that forms our movement is heard when brass and string work in conversation.

Story of Andy IV

Just as the Army in Salisbury was not being heard before the courageous Charles Fry and his boys stepped up, so too people in our world might have something that keeps people in our context from hearing the gospel. Despite noises that drown out God’s plan, we believe that God’s message needs to be lovingly louder. Our bands might be more than a band, instead to hear through the noise of the world— we serve people in Jesus’ name with acts of mercy, compassion, justice, and love. Our acts of love function the same way that Fry band –they let the message be heard. In order to have our message, God’s message, heard maybe we give a meal to a hungry person, maybe a homeless family is shown hospitality, maybe a child learns to play an instrument, maybe we post an encouraging word on someone’s Facebook page, maybe a visually impaired child has a chance to be educated, or maybe someone is freed from modern-day slavery. The Fry family stands as a metaphor (explain) for our missional imperative today. Internationally we are united in that imperative: “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in his name without discrimination.” Our preaching might come in the form of relief, aid, justice, charity, or social ministry. The Frys were willing to pave the way for the gospel to be heard in Salisbury. Whatever the cost, we want people to hear. Regardless of the instrument or style—we want people to hear.

Acts 2 is the point in the life of the church where the Holy Spirit fills and inspired Jesus’ followers to preach that he was raised from the dead. It could be a miracle of hearing or a miracle of speaking; either way the Holy Spirit used women and men to proclaim the gospel in a way that they could hear it. Acts 2:4-6 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Do you believe that the Holy Spirit can use your words? Use the instrument of your life to fulfill our mission? It’s not going to happen if we don’t have the courage to preach what needs to be heard.

We can trust that as we venture out that the Holy Spirit, in prevenient grace [grace that goes before us] , is working wherever we speak, play, dance, shake, sing, strike, strum, and serve. Confidence is needed in this type of grace, confidence in the fight, confidence in the Spirit. One of the strengths of Charles Fry and his sons is that they were willing to out-sing, out-last, and ultimately out-love the competition. Are you willing to out-sing, our-last, and out-love for those around you who need to hear God’s redeeming word?

There is an important and practical reason that our message needs to be heard. The reason transcends music or our styles. We want people to hear the story of salvation and the way that they story is unfolding around them because once they hear they can then participate. Hence we say “come join our army,” Join in our song. If we want our message to be heard it is heard because we want people to sing-a-long. Our music and ministry must be join-able and sing-able.

2. Salvation Army music must be sing-able. This allows our testimony to be actualized here and now.

The Fry family band made it possible for the young Salvationist movement to sing. The music of the Army as we have seen at the WYC is inclusive it is not bound by instrumentation. We should strive to include people in the singing of the Army. A practical consequence of this is that music in worship should generally have a congregational and corporate focus. We come together as a body and an Army to proclaim God’s activity in our lives and our world, and we should be able to sing together. Quite frankly worship is not about you, God’s doesn’t need our music. In this understanding we begin to see Corps as choir that is enlivened by Spirit. Whether you plan or participate in worship, think of your Corps as a choir. Worship then is not about the performance of a few people, but the participation of the Corps.

By making music sing-able we are living our sixth doctrine, “We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has by his suffering and death made an atonement for the whole world so that whosoever will may be saved.” This doctrine assumes that everyone can join in the song. We are not limiting the work of Christ to a restricted group of predestined people. One of William Booth’s most emphasized affirmations, was that the whole world could be saved.

I am well aware that the brass band can be drag in the mission of our Corps. There are people, in our ranks, who are more committed to the band than to the mission. There are praise bands that are exclusive and feel that no one appreciates their ability. In these cases we can become and Army at war against ourselves. Instead of an Army of love that wants people to join in the song of salvation. This battle misses the point of the singability of the Army.

Salvation Army music needs to be sing-able because our song gives us a way to testify. In this context, we do simply try to ask the question “what would Jesus do?” But additionally we ask the question “What is Jesus doing?” The question is answered in our music, worship, and testimony. He is working in us—his redeemed people. The question “What is Jesus doing” also pulls us closer to God’s specific connection with those who are suffering in our world. Our music and theology should be sing-able so that it can be approachable.

When people are able hear our message and join in our singing we speak prophetically to our world, we speak within the Christian tradition and we are leading people to Christ. The flow is that the message needs to heard, sung, and consistent with our call as Soldiers in The Salvation Army. There is one piece of musical equipment that has been used regardless of the style almost the beginning of the Army. [Any guesses?] It can struck, kicked, you can tune it, you can paint it—it is the bass drum. I think the bass drum is symbolic of the nature of The Salvation Army’s calling.

3. Bass Drum Theology/Mentality

Robert Sandall, who wrote the official history of The Salvation Army, explains that the Fry family band took on a new dimension when they acquired funds to purchase a bass drum. In many Corps today you may not find a piano, an organ, or a set of brass instruments, but many Corps in the United States have a bass drum. It might be in a closet somewhere, but it is likely decorated with the Corps name on it. It’s not a surprise that the key phrase of Vachal Lindsay’s poem celebrating the William Booth’s Promotion to Glory begins, “Booth led boldly with his big bass drum.” A stanza that is important from this poem is not just that Booth led this band of misfits to eternal healing by Jesus.

Jesus came from out the court-house door
Stretched his hands above the passing poor.
Booth saw not, but led his queer ones there
Round and round the mighty court-house square.
Yet in an instant all that blear review
Marched on spotless, clad in raiment new.
The lame were straightened, withered limbs uncurled
And blind eyes opened on a new, sweet world.

The Bass Drum is bold and prophetic.

An early example of the Army’s prophetic use of music is that many cities passed laws to keep the bands from playing in public. In 1882, headquarters issued a polite order, stating that bands should not play as they marched in front of other churches. You can almost hear the prophetic statement being made to the cathedrals, as the Army bands disrupted quiet prayers, proclaiming that God is on the street as well. They were announcing the “All ready, and get ready of the kingdom.” [expand –does your band need to get going?] [prophetic context]

Today our bass drum sounds as we prophetically speak to our world in Jesus’ name. In my city, Arlington, Texas, I host one of the most publicly known supporters of the Salvation Army in the USA —Jerry Jones, who owns the Dallas Cowboys American Football Team. Several years ago our city voted to give $350 million to partner with the Dallas Cowboys to build the biggest most expensive sports stadium in the world. At the same time, Arlington is the biggest City in the USA and maybe the world (closing in on 400,000 people) that does not have public transportation.

Yet there is a waiting list to get into our shelter of 90 families. So our city was willing to give a billionaire millions of dollars but is unwilling to support its own people. The Salvation Army in Arlington must speak out against this injustice. The Army’s prophetic beat, and bass drum mentality needs to ring in the streets of Arlington, Texas, to Mexico City ….[invite listeners to say their city], we need the Army’s bass drum movement to be heard in your community against the problems that your people face.

The Bass Drum is Steady:

The story we tell of God’s action in history—a large story that is much bigger than the Army. Our songs should connect with the great orthodox convictions of the incarnation, the resurrection, the Trinity and God’s creation out of nothing. Like the song How Great is Our God (“the godhead three in one, father, spirit son…”). A hymn or chorus should proclaim who God is, what he has done as we think about his cosmic plan. A test to see if our worship is “steady” (that is consistent with our own idenitity and our Christian orthodoxy) and indeed Christian, is asked by one of today’s leading missiologist (scholar or world Christianity) , Dr. Timothy Tennent. He says, “If a hymn or chorus could just as easily be sung to your lover or a Hindu god you can be sure it misses the mark [of Christian worship][Emphasis mine].”

The Bass Drum becomes a mercy seat.

How many of you know someone who was saved when kneeling at a bass drum? While on the march the bass drum would be flipped on one side so that three or four people could kneel at it as an altar. Music is a means to the end of proclaiming God’s work in the world. Music then is a signpost to what God is doing.

The way that God’s message is heard, sung, and consistent with our identity necessarily begs us to think about the content of our singing. This content is far more important that our styles. What is important to us as a movement? I was challenged by an author who said, “You tell me what you sing and I’ll tell you who you are?”

4. An Important Word in our Song book—Content

The Frys were drawn to the Christian mission and later to the Salvation Army, not just because of methods and boldness. They shared a common theology through our spiritual grandfather John Wesley. The content of their songs and preaching was reflective of their own. I took some time to review the first words of songs in our songbook.

The word “Come” starts 75 songs, “Come thou fount of every blessing…” [313] “Come join our Army to battle we go…” [681]

The important word for corporate worship, "we" is used 80 times: “We are witnesses for Jesus in the home and in the mart…”[832] I have often change the word to “wal-mart” to be more contextual.

Coming in with 102 entries is the name Jesus. “Jesus, keep me near the cross” [115] and of “Jesus though art everything to me.” [600] Still with 102 it is only number three.

With an emphasis on personal testimony in the Salvation Army it is not surprise that the pronoun ‘I’ occurs 140 times. “I know a fount where sins are washed away” [257] and “I want to tell you what the Lord has done” [335].

Coming in first place by a long shot is a word that is placed at the beginning of a song 317 times is the word that attempts to give expression to the inexpressible;

a word that the greatest poets of Salvation Army history utilize 317 times. These songs all begin with the word “Oh.”

“Oh for a thousand tongues to sing…” [64]. The use of this word demonstrates the roll of experience in Salvation Army history, as there has been something that has happened in our lives, and we can’t seem to keep from writing poetry and recording songs. With that word we describe the life of our soul. “Oh, how he loves you and me…” “O come all ye faithful.” [85] And last but not least, the Founder’s song, “Oh boundless salvation deep ocean of love.” [298]


If we believe that we have an important message as an Army. We can trust that God has used music of many styles as we proclaimed loudly that we have message that needs to be heard, we have a song that needs to be sung, and that message is prophetic, consistent, and evangelistic [like a bass drum] and we have content that expressed our identity as God’s Army. Let us therefore sing, dance, play, strum, and play in the fight. When this happens we will see a collision of grace as we willing give of ourselves in the fight.

Copyright ©2024 Andrew S. Miller III