Category Archives: Salvation Army Band

The Master Musician

 By: Major Kris L. Wood, Maplewood Worship & Community Center

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I was born a musician.  It could not be helped, actually.  My father was a young boy when he and his brother followed the Flint Citadel Band of The Salvation Army as they marched down the street.  They followed the band to the Salvation Army building and there heard of God’s love for them.  They rushed home and pulled their parents and sister to the Salvation Army “hall” where the preacher gave an inspiring message that led my father and the rest of his family to accept Jesus Christ into their lives.  Later a woman approached my father and asked him if he liked the band.  “Yes!” he responded with great excitement.  “You can learn to play a horn like that too,” she offered, “We have a beginner’s class just for you. Would you like to play a horn of your own?”I will never know who that woman was nor did she have any idea what her invitation would do to change the lives of so many people.  My father became a soloist on his cornet at a young age.  He played as the featured soloist all over the Mid-West and even in Ontario, Canada.  He played on a national radio broadcast and won the top prize.  His name was soon well known as a young musical genius with perfect pitch.  At the age of nineteen he became one of the youngest bandmasters in the Salvation Army world and the youngest to ever hold the baton of the famed Flint Citadel Band of The Salvation Army.  He went on to study music education and performance at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois.  After five years he graduated with a Masters Degree in Music Education.  He received many offers from around the country to take positions in symphonies and at universities but he felt called to go back to his home and continue the music that had given him his start; The Salvation Army.  However, there were no paying positions with The Salvation Army, so he had to find work in order to support his family and follow his passion for ministering through music and The Salvation Army.

For thirty five years he was an elementary school music teacher in the Ferndale, Michigan school district. He was known by everyone as Mr. Wood.  He taught countless thousands the joy of music through their instruments.  He tutored students in our basement studio and he mentored many great musicians through their education and on into their professional careers.  To name those students would be a waste of time; literally.  There are just too many to begin to list.

However, growing up in a home filled with music was a wonderful gift to me and my sisters.  We never knew a day without singing, humming, whistling, brass instruments practicing or recordings playing out through the state of the art stereo system that our father always maintained to perform at it’s highest level.  The emotional comfort and the strength and confidence that came from full immersion into music cannot be measured, but my sisters and I can testify to the powerful impact music has had on our lives.  Music became a tool that my father used to connect with me when I was going through a difficult time in my life.

He asked me one day to accompany him to the stereo shop where he was going to be looking for a new set of high end speakers.  I went along because the thought of high end speakers made me think of how my own musical favorites would sound.  I could only dream of how the band Chicago would sound blasting at maximum decibels out of our basement sound room.  I could only drool at the thought of the exquisitely piercing blasts of Maynard Ferguson’s trumpet filling my house.  I had to go with my father, so I went along; even though I was in a time of life when I felt that he was the dumbest man alive and had no idea what I wanted, needed or cared about.  He knew more than I could ever know.  It was in that elite sound room in a small store on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak, Michigan that my father reached out and connected with me in a way that would change my life.  My father, unbeknownst to me, had grabbed my cassette of favorite music and slipped it into his pocket.  Then, sitting like a Prince at the side of my father, the King, the music began to play out of a sound system that was valued at over $10,000!  
Best of all, it was my music, not my Dad’s Salvation Army Brass Band music.  My Dad was testing new speakers with my music!  I could not believe it.  He knew something after all.  He smiled at me when he told the man to turn it up a bit louder and to boost the bass.  Ah, sweet rapture!  Maynard was wailing, Chicago was harmonizing and even Stevie Wonder’s voice resonated in a way I had never heard it before.  Then, pushing the limits of any adult’s endurance, I fast forwarded the cassette to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.  My Dad closed his eyes and absorbed my music as if it were Beethoven, Bach or Condon.  The voices twisted around my head in a musical gyroscope of sounds mixed with special affects and incredible musical mixing.  My Dad was smiling, I was smiling and the sales man was smiling.  ( He was thinking that he was going to sell a ten thousand dollar system.  It did not happen.)  That day, I understood that my Dad understood music.  He understood it, appreciated it and loved it; even if it was my chosen music and not his.  Never did my Dad ever tell me to turn my music off in the house.  It was music and it was good.  I sit here today thinking about the tolerance and open mind that he had to possess in order to listen to all the immature, misguided and really horrible music that crossed through my years and played over the stereo system he had purchased.  Yet, my Dad never criticized; only listened.  In those hours of sharing music together in our basement sound room my Dad and I forged a deep and lasting relationship.  I learned that we did not have to agree, we did not have to share the same tastes or the same ideas, we did not even have to understand the other but we did have to respect each other and appreciate the passion that the other held.  Those ideas transferred from music and impacted every aspect of our lives.
Today, my Dad is 81 years old.  His heart and mind are constantly filled with music.  He hums tunes, fingers the complicated movements of trumpet solos with his right hand, conducts silent symphonies and sings out the songs of his life.  Each day he plays his cornet, sometimes for hours.  He listens to music, judges movies not on their screen play but on their musical score, writes arrangements for small ensembles, and lives a life that is accompanied by a glorious musical score.  He hung up his baton this past year; after conducting for 62 years. (I must confess that I was upset that this happened, not wanting to let go of the past and all that.)  Yet, I know that all around the world people are singing songs, playing instruments and living life with the joy of music in their hearts, because of my Dad.
Recently, I have reconnected with an old friend.  We have reminisced about many old times together.  Last week we remembered a special project my Dad started in the Ferndale School District called, Summer Band.  It was a music program that families could pay a small fee and enlist their children into so that they could keep honing their musical skills over the summer.  We played concerts in the parks of Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge and Oak Park.  Parents brought picnics, put out their blankets, children played on swings sets, and the sound of music echoed across the evenings of a simpler life and time.  That is where my friend and I first met.  He played trombone and I was playing tuba that summer.  Who would have known that forty years later our love of music and our passion for God would have brought us back together?  We look back to those days as the great days of our lives.  The conductor of those great days?  My Dad.  How fitting indeed.  I wonder if God smiles upon that woman who asked the simple question so long ago, “Do you want to play a horn of your own?”, and says, “You did a great thing that day.”  I wonder if she can see the impact of her encouragement, the lives that were turned in the right direction through music, the souls that walk the streets of God’s glory because she offered a cornet to a poor little boy.  I hope and pray that God has granted her that blessing.  It is because of her that I am who I am today.  It is because of her that the world is a better place.  It is because she cared that my Dad has spent his life as the Master Musician.
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