National Capital Band stays in tune despite pandemic

Dec 4, 2020 | by Brad Rowland

National Capital Band stays in tune despite pandemic

By: Brad Rowland

Musicians and artists across the United States and the world are operating in very different ways as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For The Salvation Army's Potomac Division, this includes strict health and safety protocols, schedule changes and a focus on flexibility, but the National Capital Band continues to make an impact through both fellowship and worship.

The division's musicians and artists, led by David Delaney, divisional music director, began supporting praise and worship activities via streaming platforms back in May, but the traditional "season" looks very different for the band in 2020-21. Each September, the band gathers for a retreat that traditionally features an overnight stay at Camp Happyland. This year, the retreat still kicked off the season's activities, but it was moved to the Alexandria Corps, held in one day, and implemented safely through protocols that include increased spacing between players.

"The retreat is always a mix of rehearsal, devotional time and small group breakouts," said Dr. Steve Kellner, assistant divisional music director bandmaster of the National Capital Band. "We really value that spiritual time. It is also sometimes, as it was this year, the first gathering of any kind to begin our season. It's really a nice way to kick things off."

Kickstarted by the retreat, the band began engaging in weekly rehearsals on Monday evenings. In previous years, those rehearsals were held at divisional headquarters, though the Alexandria Corps is also hosting the weekly meetings, simply due to the need for increased space for distancing. Those gatherings are needed to maintain a high level of musicality, but they are also crucial for fellowship and, in 2020, they are broadcast for others to enjoy.

"We've even shared some handy live footage of our rehearsals," said Dr. Kellner. "It's actually surprising and encouraging how many people have watched and seemed to like it. I think people are sometimes starved for this kind of Salvation Army music-making, and there is an appetite for it during this time."

Though the band is unable to perform with the same level of frequency as in the past, the group recently supported the Potomac Division's first rally, and an impactful Prayer Walk on the National Mall, as well as performing a concert at the Lincoln Memorial in early October.

"We try to arrange for some sort of concert at the National Mall for every band that visits us, from the territory or around the world," Dr. Kellner said. "So, we've probably done a dozen or more in recent years and have a relationship with the park service to get the necessary permits. It is always a treat to play at or near the Lincoln Memorial, and that was a great time for us to get outside and play, doing so safely.

"We combined together with the prayer walk, and that was really cool to be a part of. We played a concert as part of that, and people gathered safely around to listen to us and get information about the band and The Salvation Army. I think the band is a great outreach tool for our message."

Though the band cannot put on its usual slate of Christmas-focused concerts in December, there are plans in place for a divisional webcast on Sunday, Dec. 6. The band will be able to play in the safe venue at Alexandria Corps, and Dr. Kellner notes that the musical ministry can be shared "not only within the division, but across the world, with the power that format provides."

Not unlike other Salvation Army ensembles in the Southern Territory, the National Capital Band is simply attempting to do whatever it can while ensuring safety. Dr. Kellner indicates that positive impact is already taking place within the band, saying it has helped himself and others "cope with the difficult situation around us." With gratitude to divisional and territorial leadership for their support, he believes that the feedback will continue to be positive, and the National Capital Band is making investments to allow for more outdoor ministry as the weather cooperates in the spring season.

"I've been of the opinion that we just have to make it happen and continue playing and worshipping," Dr. Kellner said. "In a lot of ways, if you're a Christian and a Salvationist musician, this is your life and you need this outlet. This is the way you serve the Lord and how you serve others. We are doing so safely, and that is very important, but we really wanted to figure out the best way to make sure we could have that fellowship and worship and outreach through music that we all love."

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