Charles Fry would have felt right at home at the Schenectady Citadel Corps of the Salvation Army, especially on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
The man who brought music to the Salvation Army 13 years after William Booth founded his church on the streets of London in 1865, Fry would have loved hearing the blaring of brass instruments emanating from the group’s Lafayette Street building in downtown Schenectady. And whether it’s the junior band rehearsing on Wednesdays or the beginners tooting their horns for the first time on Thursdays, the sound would have been inspirational for Fry, who, along with his three young sons, convinced Booth to make music a major component of his faith.
“The old phrase was, ‘teach a boy to blow a horn, and he’ll never blow a safe,’ ” said Mike Himes, major of the Schenectady corps. “Music’s always been thought of as something positive that we incorporate into our joyous faith. We love the sound of the horns, and we’d love to play it from the rooftops.”
Salvation Army’s New York City Staff Band
WHAT: A concert celebrating the Schenectady Citadel’s 130th anniversary
WHERE: First United Methodist Church, 603 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 7 p.m., Saturday
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 346-0222
A busy time
It won’t be from rooftops, but Schenectady’s Salvation Army bands will be plenty busy this week. Eric Jones, Schenectady’s bandmaster and the Salvation Army’s divisional music director for all of upstate New York, has been getting both his adult and junior musicians ready for the 2013 “kettle season.” On Wednesday morning, the adult group will play at the Army’s annual “Kettle Breakfast” at Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia and then perform again on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Clifton Park Center mall. Also on Saturday, at the United Methodist Church in Schenectady, the Schenectady corps’ junior group will perform with the Salvation Army’s highly regarded New York City Staff Band.
“Our kids, probably about 15 of them, will get the chance to play with a world-renowned band, and that should be a wonderful time,” said Jones. “While the Staff Band is performing one of their big fancy tunes, our kids’ group is going to join right in with them. It’s going to be a great concert.”
The New York City Staff Band is celebrating its 125th anniversary and is led by bandmaster Ronald Waiksnoris. A former cornet soloist with the group, Waiksnoris has been conducting the band since 1992 and has overseen tours all over the U.S. as well as Europe and Australia.
Moving into Schenectady
The festivities are all part of the Schenectady corps’ 130th anniversary celebration. It was Capt. Samuel Rainey, Capt. Marion Halsey and Lt. Mary Brock, all straight from London and all under 30 years old, who created the first Salvation Army in Schenectady in 1883. It was Dec. 1 of that year when the group opened its first headquarters in what was Anthony Hall on the northeast corner of Ferry and Liberty streets.
Rainey was a corps specialist at creating local groups, probably only remaining in Schenectady for a couple of weeks before heading somewhere else in the country to create another corps. Halsey is listed as the Schenectady corps’ first officer, and Brock, known as “Shouting Mary,” was her assistant.
“Rainey was here and then gone pretty quickly, while the other two remained here, probably for a year or two,” said Jeremy Allen, who is finishing a book called “On the March: A History of the Schenectady Citadel Corps of The Salvation Army and the City in which it Ministers.” “The Salvation Army grew by leaps and bounds in this country after it officially got started in Philadelphia in 1881. They were opening up corps every week those first few years. There were nine in New York City alone and six in Philadelphia.”
Just a few years earlier, it was Fry and his brass quartet (which included his three sons) that brought the element of music into the Salvation Army. Booth just happened to attend one of their outdoor concerts in 1879 and decided, “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?”
Musicians on tour
In Schenectady, an organized band didn’t really take shape until the turn of the century, according to Allen. By the time a new headquarters was built on Lafayette Street in 1908, music had become a key component in the Schenectady corps, and in the 1920s and ’30s, both a men’s and women’s band were touring the country and Canada helping to spread the gospel message.
“The Schenectady band, both the men’s and women’s, was among the best in the country,” said Allen. “They were both probably around 30 strong, but the women’s number went down because a lot of them left the area for training at seminaries so they could become officers.”
While there is no longer a women’s band, music is still a major part of the Schenectady corps, and the commitment to get young people involved is as strong as ever.
“I give a lot of lessons, but there are also a multitude of volunteers who come here and teach,” said Jones. “Our junior band practices on Wednesday, but Thursday is an open night where anyone can come and learn. The instruments are provided for them, and we have grandfathers teaching grandchildren. It’s not real formal, but it’s a great way for children to get introduced to music.”
Thursday night visitors, according to Jones, come from all over Schenectady County, including Hamilton Hill, the Upper Union Street Neighborhood, Scotia and Niskayuna.
“Someone had a mind about how music was a great way to bring people into the church,” said Jones. “The gospel with music is what we’re known for around the world. And while we try to communicate with the kids we get and have a conversation with them, there’s no pressure on them. It’s not like they have to join. It’s about the music.”