Militant Music

[This paper was originally prepared for a class in Music of World Cultures and presented to a group of non-Salvationist classmates in the spring of 1996.]

My initial thought was to explore whether The Salvation Army's work among various cultures around the world had resulted in incorporation of various cultural music styles into the Army's mainstream English-language songs. This subject did not lend itself well to meaningful exploration within the time available for this project.

I settled instead for a related topic with which I have more familiarity and readily available resources. This will be a brief examination of the role of martial music (music with a military style or theme) in The Salvation Army's public meetings. I am concerned here with vocal music for congregational singing in regular weekly meetings. I am not concerned with the use of martial music by Songster Brigades (the Army's term for choirs) or used in special gatherings (camp meetings, Congress, etc.), nor with brass band music except as an accompaniment to congregational singing.

You may wonder what this is doing in a class on Music of World Cultures. The Salvation Army has established a subculture with distinctive musical styles and practices. It is my purpose to examine some of the changes which are taking place within The Salvation Army as evidenced by changes in the music which is in common usage in Salvation Army meetings.

A brief review of Salvation Army history will be helpful. The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 by a Methodist minister, William Booth, in London England. Booth was especially concerned with working among the poorest classes of society and did not set out to establish a separate organization. As he gained new converts they were shunned by the established churches and he found it necessary to provide places where they could worship and express their new-found freedom from old habits and vices which had enslaved them. From the earliest days Booth adapted music which was familiar to the people to communicate his evangelistic message. When the organization adopted a military form of organization and its current name they also began to use military musical styles. Songs were filled with references to fighting in a war, conquering the world, serving faithfully alongside comrades, obedience to the commander, etc. These militant songs were used to great effect, inspiring new converts to join in the battle. The Army grew rapidly, often in spite of fierce opposition from established churches, pub owners, and other leaders in society.

It is my contention that use of these songs has declined and they are now used more often in festival settings than in routine weekly worship. Gathering evidence to substantiate this claim is difficult, especially in such a short time as is available for this project. Ideally, I would like to look at a large sample of songs used in routine weekly meetings at various intervals over the past 50 years or so, and from a variety of different communities. However, since they are routine weekly meetings, there is little likelihood of finding collections of meeting outlines on file anywhere. Since this method was not practical I decided to look at two other sources of information: first, anecdotal evidence and second, analysis of songbook revisions.

The anecdotal evidence includes my own observation that martial songs which used to be common in weekly meetings are now seldom used. I also asked other leaders within The Salvation Army what their experience in this area suggested, always being careful to phrase the question in a manner which would not prejudice the response. Responses I received are summarized below:

#1 - Use of martial music has definitely declined. Folks in our congregations now prefer music which I call "come to Jesus" music.

#2 - Sunday morning meetings have "become more of a comfort blanket with the choice of hymns (rather than songs) being feel good hymns that will offend nobody." Sunday evenings still include occasional martial songs "but these are thought to be exclusive and so they tend to appear most often in festivals."

#3 - It varies widely from officer to officer and from congregation to congregation. There are some officers and some congregations who still tend to use them.

#4 - This respondent was relatively new to the Army and did not have enough experience to provide a considered answer. He did point out, however, that change in musical styles and preferences is natural and should be expected.

While this is not really a large enough sample to allow definitive statements it does suggest there is enough evidence to warrant further exploration of the subject.

The second type of evidence, content of songbooks, is easier to do and may be marginally more accurate. Just because a song is included in a songbook does not necessarily indicate that it is in common use. However, The Salvation Army's policy in revising songbooks has been to retain those songs which were most widely used while dropping seldom-used songs to allow space for new songs. Therefore, over a period of time it would be possible to detect trends in the usage of songs based on their inclusion or exclusion from the published songbook.

I compared the number of songs which I judged to have significant militaristic content or style based on the inclusion of certain words or ideas in the lyrics. I also gave a small amount of weight to specific mention of The Salvation Army (even if not specifically martial in nature), Army authorship, and style of music (using the most common tune). This process is admittedly subjective: subject to my personal bias. If this research were to be continued I would seek a group of people to assist in defining which specific songs are considered to be martial.

The two songbooks are the official English-language songbooks for international use. The older one is the 1953 edition, the other is the 1986 revision (actually the 1987 American version, which adds some songs to the international version). The 1953 songbook contains 97 martial songs out of a total of 983 (or 9.87%) and the 1986 edition includes 87 martial songs in its total of 994 (or 8.75%).

Of the seven martial songs introduced in the new songbook I had initially thought that they were less militant in quality than the 17 martial songs which are unique to the older edition. On reexamination I am not sure that I could make a strong case for that statement.

I have selected two of these songs which are now retired: To Save the World and We are Marching O'er the Regions. Both songs are filled with references to battle, fighting, marching, etc. A common theme in many of these early martial songs is a sense of purpose or mission; a sense of duty, fighting side-by-side with my comrades. This feature is greatly diminished in more recent martial songs. Modern Salvation Army congregations (and sadly, soldiers) tend to think of their church involvement as more of a spectator sport than an active experience.

This could be a reflection of changes in our society in general. When the martial music was written entertainment was more likely to be a concert (or a Salvation Army open-air meeting) in the park than an afternoon in front of the television or listening to recorded music. Another factor which may be involved is the general anti-war, love-and-peace sentiment which first became prominent in the mid-60's and still influences our generation. In any case, it is certain that these songs are seen by many as being quaint and old-fashioned; not needed in a modern Army.

It is my observation that not only is the frequency of use for these martial songs decreasing, but the tunes selected are tending away from the martial style and toward what may be called festival music (or what some of my correspondents refer to as feel-good music).

An example of this is song number 734 I'll go in the Strength of the Lord. Until the early 1980's almost the only tune used for this song was Thou Shepherd of Israel, then Ivor Bosanko wrote a new tune which gained wide acceptance around the Army world and was subsequently included in the new songbook. The new tune is now the one most predominantly heard. In comparing the two melodies it seems to me that Bosanko's tune is more light-hearted, almost a carnival atmosphere. The older tune is more martial, invoking a feeling of constancy, a sense of duty.

I have also included two pieces from a recent recording released by The Salvation Army's Western U.S.A. College for Officers Training. This is a two-year in-residence training program for persons who wish to become commissioned officers (ordained ministers) of The Salvation Army. Cadets (as the students are called) are not allowed to work while they are in training since the college assigns them a heavy workload including field training exercises some evenings and most weekends. There about 60 - 100 cadets in training at any given time. They are all required to participate in the Cadet Chorus (even cadets for whom English is not their native language), so the recording is made by a group with widely varying musical training and skills. These are the people who will be leading Salvation Army operations in this territory for the next few decades. The music they select now may be an indication of future trends.

The most martial of the pieces is probably Great Things which is a medley of about four songs. It is a good example of the light-hearted style of militancy I mentioned earlier. It is also a good example of traditional Salvation Army music because it includes a brass band and a Timbrel Brigade (a group, usually females, playing timbrels (an instrument similar to a tambourine) in a carefully choreographed manner). This type of accompaniment can often be found in a larger Salvation Army unit where the band and timbrelists accompany congregational singing.

The final piece I selected is also from this recording: O William. This sounds like a barbershop quartet. Like the preceding song, it is not as strongly militaristic as the pieces we looked at earlier. I selected this one primarily because I like it: I identify closely with the lyrics, and I thoroughly enjoy the style.

OLD  NEW FIRST LINE OF SONG
---- --- --------------------------------------------
698  774 Above the world-wide battlefield
827  775 All round the world the Army chariot
699      Amen for the flag to the Army so dear
877  679 Be strong in the grace of the Lord
792      Christ now sits on Zion's hill
671  681 Come, join our Army
793  798 Come, shout and sing
145  233 Come, sinners, to Jesus
794  799 Earthly kingdoms rise and fall
565  568 Equip me for the war
814  876 For all the saints who from their labors rest
672  682 Forward! be our watchword
569  575 Give us a day of wonders
795  800 God is keeping His soldiers fighting
 96  158 God is with us
     801 God's soldier marches as to war
674  684 God's trumpet is sounding
797  803 Hark! the sounds of singing
796  802 Hark, hark, my soul, what warlike songs
675      Hark, how the watchmen cry
715      Hast thou just begun to pray?
717  804 Ho, my comrades, see the signal
253  321 I am saved, blessedly saved
676  686 I have read of men of faith
760  734 I'll go in the strength of the Lord
267  338 I'm a soldier bound for glory
677  687 In the Army of Jesus
718  805 In the fight, say, does your heart
710  787 In this hour of dedication
719  806 I've found the secret of success
553  593 Jesus, give thy blood-washed Army
495  543 Jesus, my Lord, through thy triumph
711  788 Jesus, thou hast won us
376  432 Jesus, thy purity bestow
798  807 Joy! joy! joy! there is joy in the Salvation Army
     977 Lead on, O King eternal
280  352 Living in the fountain
712  789 Lord of life and love and power
800  809 Make the world with music ring
801  810 March on, salvation soldiers
678      March to the battlefield
802  811 Marching on in the light of God
     162 Mine eyes have seen the glory
723  812 My soul, be on thy guard!
114  197 Near thy cross assembled
702  778 'Neath our standard, we're engaging
     163 Not unto us, O Lord
963      O guest divine, be with us now
679  689 O soldier awake
556  622 O thou God of every nation
727      Oft in danger, oft in woe
803  813 On to the conflict, soldiers
681      Onward! upward! Christian soldier
680  690 Onward, Christian soldiers
713      Redeemed from the bondage of Satan
884  864 Rise up, O youth!
805  814 Salvation is our motto
683  692 Savior and Lord, we pray to thee
818  890 Servant of God, well done
806  815 Shout aloud salvation
684  693 Soldier, rouse thee
685  694 Soldiers fighting round the cross
686  695 Soldiers of Christ, arise
886  866 Soldiers of King Jesus
687  696 Soldiers of our God, arise
688  697 Soldiers of the cross, arise
689  698 Sound the battle cry
690  699 Stand up, stand up for Jesus
807      Strike, O strike for victory
732  816 Strive, when thou art called
821  894 Summoned home! the call has sounded
835  829 Tell them in the east and in the west
C404 700 The Lord's command to go
691  701 The Son of God goes forth to war
982  830 The world for God!
105  169 There is coming on a great day
703  780 They bid me choose an easier path
661  901 To leave the world below
836      To save the world is our desire
692  702 To the front! the cry is ringing
693  703 To the war! to the war
870      Under the flag we've taken our stand
704  781 Unfurl the Army banner
     817 Valiant soldier, marching to the fray
694  704 Wanted, hearts baptized with fire
808  902 We are marching home to glory
809  818 We are marching on with shield
C353 903 We are marching up the hillside
695      We are marching o'er the regions
810  819 We are sweeping through the land
     869 We find pleasure in the Army
705      We meet the foes of all mankind
969      We pray thee, Lord, Thy blessing send
811      We'll be heroes
706  782 We'll shout aloud throughout the land
812  820 We're a band that shall conquer the foe
839  821 We're an Army fighting for a glorious King
890  705 We're in God's Army
840  822 We're the soldiers of the Army of salvation
788  769 What a work the Lord has done
696  707 Who is on the Lord's side?
697  708 Who'll fight for the Lord
736      Will you quit the field?
813  912 Ye valiant soldiers of the cross
---- --- --------------------------------------------
 97   87 TOTAL

734 Thou shepherd of Israel, 487; In the strngth of the Lord, 485*. 8.8.8.8. D.Amph

I'll go in the strength of the Lord,
In paths he has marked for my feet;
I'll follow the light of his word,
Nor shrink from the dangers I meet.
His presence my steps shall attend,
His fulness my wants shall supply;
On him, till my journey shall end,
My unwavering faith shall rely.

*I'll go, (I'll go,) I'll go in the strength,
I'll go in the strength of the Lord,
I'll go, (I'll go,) I'll go in the strength,
I'll go in the strength of the Lord.

2 I'll go in the strength of the Lord
To work which he appoints me to do;
In joy which his smile doth afford,
My soul shall her vigor renew.
His wisdom shall guard me from harm,
His power my sufficiency prove;
I'll trust his omnipotent arm,
And prove his unchangeable love.

3 I'll go in the strength of the Lord
To conflicts which faith will require,
His grace as my shield and reward,
My courage and zeal shall inspire.
Since he gives the word of command,
To meet and encounter the foe,
With his sword of truth in my hand,
To suffer and triumph I'll go.
William James Pearson (1832-92)


Return to James Card home page. Complex World | Worship and Service | A Problem of Living | Who am I?
Good | Bad | Music | Articles of War | The Baby | On Target | Believe It! | Random God | The Other Guys | Pure Joy
© Copyright 1997 - James Card - Permission is granted for non-commercial use of all original material.