INTERNATIONAL STAFF SONGSTERS BLESS, CHALLENGE AND INSPIRE
The long anticipated visit of The Salvation Army’s premier vocal group The International Staff Songsters had finally arrived. Months of planning a preparation resulted in many challenges and blessings throughout the weekend.
Jointly hosted by Morriston and Swansea Citadel Corps the weekend commenced on Saturday evening in the beautiful setting of the Collegiate and Parish Church of St. Mary in Swansea’s City Centre. Surrounded by beautiful stained glassed windows there could have been no better venue for the ISS to present their message in song. The venues acoustic was pleasing and the diction of the group meant that every word sung was clear to those gathered to hear them. Commencing with ‘Boundless in Love’ which was written by Stephen Pearson and Richard Phillips for the Boundless 2015 International Congress in London the ISS positioned themselves around the body of the church before moving into formation at the front. The final movement of ‘Anastasis’ full of the joy and excitement of Easter Sunday made way for Nicholas King’s arrangement of ‘Your Grace Still Amazes Me’ following which prayer was offered by Staff Songster Emma Davis.
A broad variety in the style of the selected song choice ranged from classic Salvation Army repertoire, classical works as well as arrangements of modern worship anthems.
‘Just Like John’ can only be described as a novel item being a vocal arrangement of the long popular brass arrangement of the same name by the founder and first leader of the ISS – Norman Bearcroft. Thoughts around the Advent season in ‘Lux Aurumque’ showed controlled and sustained singing of the Latin text which fitted the setting perfectly.
Staff Songster Pianist Richard Phillips provides many arrangements and original works for the group. ‘A Choral Symphony’ (another collaboration with Stephen Pearson) was the major vocal work for the evening. Coincidently Morriston Songsters have just started rehearsing the middle two movements of this work and were able to hear the complete work. The ISS were given the opportunity to rest their voices for a few moments during the Congregational singing of ‘All Hail The Power of Jesus’ Name’.
The first soloist spot of the evening
featured Staff Songster Rachel Gray in G.F. Handels’ ‘Lascia Ch’io Painga’ her voice showed the maturity of sound beyond her years. Turning to the piano Richard Phillips presented his own arrangement of ‘Count Your Blessings’.
Wales is noted for male voice singing and the men of the ISS showed that those from across the bridge are just as good in the David Phelps arrangement of ‘O Love That Will Not Let Me Go’ (maybe it was the fact that the three men on the front row are all Welsh speakers!!). Bill and Gloria Gaither have contributed so much to the contemporary music scene over the years and in another arrangement by Richard Phillips their ‘I’ve Just Seen Jesus’ challenged many of those who were present. The first half of the programme concluded with ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’.
After 15 minutes catching up with old friends, making new ones and a chance to stretch legs the second half commenced with a selection of songs by Sidney Cox. ‘Sing Along with Sidney’ had the congregation joining in with songs they have sung often over the years. Staff Songster Gemma Hinchliffe provided the next solo ‘I Am Me’ composed by another former leader of the group – Len Ballantine.
Tom Fettke is a name familiar to many songsters around the Salvation Army world. His arrangement of ‘Via Dolorosa’ with words and music by Niles Borop and Billy Sprague is one of his lesser known arrangements but is still full of the quality expected from him and took the thoughts of the listener to Calvary. Executive Officer Major Paul Main then brought thoughts from Scripture based around Doubting Thomas and the other disciples locked in the Upper Room and how Jesus brought peace to them – and that that peace he can bring is for everyone. This time of reflection was concluded with the a-capella singing of the classic ‘Jesus Himself Drew Near’, the words of Arch R. Wiggins and music of George Marshall at its best.
From classic Salvation Army repertoire to Mozart’s Overture ‘The Magic Flute’ that has been given the Swingles Singers treatment in Ben Parry’s arrangement. The final soloist of the evening Staff Songster Karl Westwood’s contribution was ‘I’ll Walk with God’.
The evening drawing to a close no programme by the International Staff Songsters would be complete without the singing of ‘More Than Wonderful’ which summed up the whole reason for the evening. The benediction spoken the ISS moved back into the congregation to conclude the evening with John Rutter’s ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’.
An evening of high quality singing, entertainment, challenge and multiple blessings over many returned home thanking God for this group of singers (not to mention the accompanists and technical support team) who are dedicated to giving their time and talents to encourage local Salvation Army Corps and Centres, but not only that but to bring those who know nothing or little of the love of God closer to Him.
Check out more photos from the weekend here.