The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army was formed by General Booth in order to combat the influence of alcohol and to improve the appalling social conditions in which ordinary people lived, and to bring the spiritual to their lives. The “Sally Army”, like Wesley’s Methodists, preached total abstinence.

Booth teamed up with the great Cardinal Manning of Westminster who also preached abstinence. They used to hold great rallies and marches to publicise the effects of drink. This was the time of “Gin Alley” as made famous in the eighteenth-century prints of Hogarth, when cheap (and largely poisonous) gin was destroying the fabric of family and society.

It was rumoured that many of the thousands who attended these rallies were themselves tight but this didn’t seem to affect either Manning or Booth! The Salvation Army would play their own hymns – often based upon popular tunes of the time – with their own bands and choirs. Revivalist music – a herald of Gospel music – became a very powerful weapon in their armoury.

So many people have heard a Salvation Army band playing on a street corner. As a boy I used to go to Portsmouth’s Southsea beach on a Sunday just to hear the Salvation Army band playing Gospel hymns.

Music will forever be associated with the Army and many professional musicians entered their profession through playing in their brass bands. Their influence on Gospel Music cannot be overestimated and their hymn-playing still stirs people’s feelings and emotions.

Evangelical hymns have produced some very funny ditties. I’m always very amused by two which employ the device of repeating syllables:

“I want a man, man, man, mansion in the sky” and “Take the pil, pil, pil, take the pilgrim’s way”.

You need to exercise great care when writing hymn texts!

Incidentally, like General Booth, Cardinal Manning was an extraordinary character. He was a convert Anglican clergyman whose wife died before he made the move to Catholicism. When he was a Cardinal he used to keep her picture on his desk and when visitors asked him who the beautiful young lady was he would answer, “My wife”. This always caused consternation! He was immensely popular, and over 100,000 people manned the streets of London at his funeral.

It is interesting to compare the Salvation Army with the Wesleys’ Methodism. Both were founded on the principle of total abstinence and both used Gospel hymns as a powerful tool in their crusade against drink. They both espoused the principle that words and music should raise the emotional level at meetings and inspire great fervour among people. Thousands attended their services and they left high on the drug of music!

The Gospel music services of today are basically a re-run of those held by the Wesleys and the Salvation Army. The music and its presentation are different but the emotional intensity remains the same.

These articles may also be of interest to you:

Moody and Sankey – Moody and Sankey – early Gospel Music hymn-writers

Choir Development Skills – Forming a choir – the skills you need

Funeral Music (Organist) – Funeral Music – a Guide for the Organist

Gospel Music – Gospel Music – a fascinating history

Composing for a Congregation – Composing for a Congregaion – some pointers