The New York Staff Band represents the finest in Christian brass band performance. Holding the distinction of being the first ‘staff band’ in Salvation Army [SA] music history, the NYSB meets the challenge of maintaining the highest standards of musical practice and Christian ministry expected of such a model group. When the band released its first 33-rpm ‘long play’ [LP] back in 1957 under Staff Bandmaster Richard Holz, it was heralded as ‘America’s Foremost Brass Band.’ The liner notes stated boldly: “From the ‘greatest city in the world’ comes one of the greatest bands of the world. The description of the band by a leading New York music critic over 70 years ago–“amateur musicians who play like professionals”–can easily be underscored and endorsed in the second decade of the 21st century. The NYSB has been and continues to be a trailblazer in SA and brass band music making.
The band’s corporate attitude is not ‘professional’ in the modern sense of that word. Rather, while truly outstanding in performance, their approach is that of the ‘amateur’ in its original sense—one who loves what they pursue in art, rather than an approach to one’s music as a ‘job.’ It is worth emphasizing here that throughout its’ illustrious career, the NYSB has been and continues to be a fully volunteer musical organization. Each member gives freely of their time and effort while in the band, all in addition to their regular ‘day job.’
The band continues to motivated by their love of Christ, the essential ingredient in potential staff bandsmen when the group first formed under Commander Ballington Booth in the spring of 1887. That motivation they link to their desire and their calling to lift high the Gospel message. As I have studied and written in detail about this band for almost three decades, its music, its leaders, its personnel, its service record, I can make such assertions with assurance and in doing so transcend platitudes.
This band focused on Christian mission does not get bogged down in matters of protocol, social status, or the latest fad. The NYSB is just as comfortable playing at an Adult Rehabilitation Center or local SA community center as it is at a fancy dinner honoring donors to the SA, or giving sacred concerts in some of the world’s finest venues and with the finest musicians. Their music making serves as an arm of the Salvation Army’s compassionate ministry while keeping true to the highest purposes of sacred music—giving praise and glory to God.
For those interested in the wider impact of this band in places where the band proclaims the Gospel, this selective listing of famous locations where the NYSB has featured–in several multiple times–can provide an encapsulation of their global impact. New York locations dominate, but far-flung concert halls are added to provide perspective: Alice Tully Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Buckingham Palace Forecourt, Carnegie Music Hall, Disneyworld, Madison Square Garden, Metropolitan Opera House (NYC), The National Auditorium (Washington, D.C.), New York Central Park Mall, Roy Thomson Hall (Toronto), Royal Albert Hall (London), Sydney Opera House (Australia), Town Hall (NYC), United Nations, USS Arizona Memorial (Pearl Harbor), Wall Street (NYC), World’s Fairs, Yankee Stadium, Yuinchokin Hall (Tokyo). The band has visited the United Kingdom more than eight times, toured Europe and Scandinavia on multiple occasions, traveled several times to the Far East, Australia, and New Zealand, been across the border into Canada on more than 20 occasions, and performed coast to coast in the USA. In all of this, added t a pace-setting, unprecedented series of recordings, they have played a major, significant role in the nurturing and encouragement of the worldwide brass band community and especially the music program of The Salvation Army.