The Salvation Army’s love of music had humble beginnings. In 1878 Salvationists in Salisbury were facing opposition when a local man, Charles Fry, and his three sons decided to bring along along their brass instruments to bolster The Army’s open-air meetings. For a few years the Fry family accompanied William Booth on campaigns around the country before forming a band based at The Salvation Army’s headquarters in London. This was the first ‘staff band’ that would inspire the creation of many more. For an Army on the march, brass instruments were better than violins and thus became the dominant instruments within the Army world, though other instruments like the concertina, tambourine and guitar were also used.
The Salvation Army began singing hymns to accompany the music and encouraged its members to write songs to be sung at meetings. Early meetings included congregational singing, but solo singing was helpful in spreading the message of salvation. Singing brigades were formed; members were expected to sing, speak and pray. ‘Sing so as to make the world hear,’ said William Booth; Salvationists have taken up this challenge to fulfil their mission through music.
Musical Instrument Factory
With the rapid development of brass bands in The Salvation Army during the 1880s, The Army’s Trade Department opened a Musical Instrument Factory in 1889 at the Trade Headquarters, 56 Southwark Street, with a staff of two men and a boy. For the first three years, the factory only assembled cornets and conducted repairs, but from about 1893 the factory began making valves and manufacturing all brass band instruments: cornets, horns, baritones, euphoniums, trombones and basses.
The Musical Instrument Factory mainly produced instruments for brass bands but they also manufactured other types of instrument to Salvation Army requirement, including those for timbrel groups.
For more information about the musical instruments in our collection, see our page on MINIM.
Musical recordings from Salvation Army bands
William Booth said: ‘Soul-saving music is the music for me.’ All Salvation Army music is devoted to this end.
Listen to some of The Salvation Army’s early tunes here.
Find out more about The Salvation Army’s founders, leaders and early pioneers.
Find out about opposition to The Salvation Army’s expansion in the Victorian era.
Discover the origins and history of The Salvation Army’s social work.
Find out about The Salvation Army’s relief work around the world.