Bandsman celebrates 80 years of inspiring musicians
published on 21 Dec 2021
A Salvation Army Bandsman who taught generations of aspiring musicians is still playing the euphonium every day at the age of 94.
For almost 80 years, Alf Wileman played in and led bands, and taught in schools across Sheffield - passionately believing in the importance of music for young people.
His dedication began as a 20-year-old after he returned from a two-year military conscription in 1947, having narrowly missed serving in World War Two, and was approached by the Bandmaster of The Salvation Army Sheffield Citadel Corp looking for people to replace two excellent euphonium players who had left the 40-strong senior band.
It was the beginning of a lifelong journey for Alf who has spent most of his life in the church and charity’s band, with the pandemic one of the most challenging times in his long career.
Alf said: “I played the cornet in the junior band when I was seven years old, which was the choice of the band leader, but I was very pleased and I liked it, even though the instrument was held together with pieces of string! I began to practice daily putting in many hours to reach the standards of band players.
“Then I joined the senior band, which was very busy and we would attend three meetings on Sundays, Mondays and Saturdays, with band practice on Wednesdays. I enjoyed it so much, it was a good fellowship.”
In 1953 he auditioned for the world-famous Foden’s Brass Band, who were British champions at the time.
He continued: “I never dreamt I would get in, but I ended up playing with them for two years and travelled all over the country. We played in Holland and at the Royal Albert Hall in London for national championship contests.
“But I missed the Corps band. I felt guilty and I knew I wasn’t serving the Lord Jesus as I should be. I decided I wanted to be back in the Army band, where my brother was Bandmaster.”
After an absence of two years from The Salvation Army Band, Alf had to wait to rejoin, but it didn’t take long for him to make his mark. Later, he was made leader of the junior band, increasing numbers from six to 36.
He also took a learners’ class, played in the senior band, was divisional bandleader and got full-time work in several schools across Sheffield teaching both individuals and bands.
Alf said: “I enjoyed being a leader and seeing the kids coming along getting into the band.
“One lad, a trombone player I taught is now a professional player. I am proud of him. I also taught a lot of our lads in the Corps and generations of families.”
Sadly, the pandemic has had an impact on what was previously a thriving junior band, which has been out of action since.
He said: “I think music is important for young people. This is a skill that gets taught at the Salvation Army, for free. It keeps children together. We have missed the last twenty months; it has been very difficult.
“It has been a while since I have connected with those young people and I’ve missed them, but it’s been the same for everyone. I’ve been ringing band members up every day through the pandemic.”
Alf continues to practice between 4pm and 5pm every day and played the euphonium as part of Clap for Carers during the first lockdown, featuring on the local BBC news.
He added: “People liked it!”
Alf is happy the band will be playing several engagements this Christmas, although he won’t be going out on those evenings himself but will still play at meetings.
His favourite memory was as band leader of the Salvation Army Young People’s Band, taking them to the Royal Albert Hall for the Hi Neighbour Festival.
All of his family play instruments with his son Paul following in his father’s footsteps in playing the tuba.
Paul said: “We used to see dad practising every day and thought it was the thing to do. I still enjoy playing in the band.
“He is fantastically respected within the community and every time he plays on an engagement someone will say ‘you used to teach me’. People always know him.”