|Bandmaster William Walker - 1927-1938|
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Born in a remote village in the county of Cumberland, William Walker was only a lad when he became one of the first bandsmen at Keswick. His father, a church organist and choirmaster before meeting the Army, was the bandmaster. William himself later became bandmaster at Lancaster and then, after several years on solo cornet as deputy bandmaster at Pentre, took over leadership of that large South Wales band.
In April 1927 Pentre Band visited Boscombe for an Easter campaign that proved to be an outstanding success spiritually, musically and financially, and the bandmaster very much endeared himself to the corps folk. Upon his return to Wales he received letters inviting him to take over leadership of Boscombe Band. As he wanted a change for health reasons - he was probably still recovering from the sudden death of his wife in 1926 - and because his son Harold was only partly employed in the pit, owing to a coal strike, he decided to make the move and in the summer of 1927 he was commissioned as Boscombe Bandmaster.
He soon recognised the bandsmen to be a fine lot of fellows, most of them willing to learn, and set about the task of making Boscombe one of the best bands in the Salvation Army. The regular thursday night practice was supplemented by a tuesday sectional rehearsal, each night concluding with a 15 minute spiritual so that the bandsmen would be kept aware of where they were going.
A dour, stern-faced, disciplinarian, the bandmaster somewhat frightened the newer band members and they did not all appreciate the abrupt, straight talking manner which once led him to say to a trombone player
If I had a tone like that I'd take it home and jump on it
Nevertheless they soon warmed to a character who proved himself to be a deeply religious man and a gracious Christian. Believing in putting first things first, the musical advancement of the band would have mattered little to him if it were not accompanied by spiritual advancement. He took as his motto for the band
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed
Numbering between 36 and 40, the band produced a sound described as full, but not loud, with Elijah and brass arrangements of other classical music providing the backbone for its musical development. Rarely using a baton to conduct the band, the bandmaster relied instead upon the expressiveness of his hands. When it came to the singing, for which the band was renowned, he became very emotionally involved, especially if the piece concerned was, Jerusalem for which he had written words and melody.
27th March 1928 was a great night for Boscombe Band for it saw the presentation by Sir Dan Godfrey of a new set of Class "A" silver-plated instruments costing £600. Following their dedication by Colonel Cowham (Divisional Commander) Sir Dan himself conducted the first item - Handel's Worthy is the lamb - and the evening proved thoroughly enjoyable to all concerned.
Sir Dan Godfrey, who was largely responsible for the success of the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra, continued his close relationship with the band by attending annual musical festivals held at Boscombe Citadel. He had special respect for the band when under the guidance of Bandmaster Walker, and later presented them with a framed portrait of himself with the inscription
A souvenir of many happy associations with the Boscombe Corps - Onward Christian Soldiers
The portrait was proudly displayed in the band room.
During the next few years, several weekend campaigns were undertaken, with the band travelling to Wimbledon, Plymouth, Cowes, Portsmouth and Kidderminster.
At Plymouth Congress Hall the Sunday afternoon festival was chaired by a very distinguished personality, Lady Astor, whose opening speech proved to be quite lengthy. Being unable to tolerate it any longer three sailors rose to their feet and, in no uncertain terms, reminded her that they had really come to listen to the band.
With the next day being Whit Monday, the band gave two further musical festivals in the morning and evening. During the afternoon five bandsmen made their way to the local football ground, where, standing in full uniform, they watched the match between Plymouth Argyle and Chelsea! The festival in the evening finished with a plate of cornish pasties which contributed little to the enjoyment of the bumpy homeward journey.
The weekend at Cowes proved the loyalty of at least one bandsman. Frank Smith, unable to comply with the bandmaster's dictum If your work interferes with your banding, give up your work had to miss the Saturday festival.
He made sure of missing none of Sunday's activities by setting off from Boscombe at 5am and cycling the 30 miles to Southampton, where he boarded the ferry to Cowes and joined up with the band. At the end of a busy day he returned to Boscombe the same way.
Resplendent in their red 'lion tamer' tunics and new white caps (then available for half a Guinea) the band marched the newly tarmaced streets of Kidderminster in June 1933. Being a very hot day (part of the hottest summer on record) the tarmac began to cling to the bandsmen's shoes and when they marched into the town hail to commence the evening festival it deposited itself on the newly laid carpet. The Mayor warmly welcomed the band but, privately, was none too pleased.
In all other aspects the weekend was a great success, with the Kidderminster papers claiming Boscombe to be the finest band to ever visit the town. Even 50 years after the event a member of that congregation wrote to The Musician recalling the masterly playing of that difficult selection Mount of Olives.
The cornet solos of Harold Walker, one of the bandmaster's six children, were featured in all of the band's musical festivals and his presence on the solo cornet bench gave great impetus to the advancement of the band. Before transferring to Boscombe he was already known to be a fine cornet player - his reputation, no doubt, being acquired as a result of 2 or 3 hours of practise every day, with much of this time being spent down a coalmine.
While a Boscombe bandsman, he made two gramophone records of well known melodies and variations for Regal Zonophone and his talent was much in demand. He was offered a position in the SP&S band, together with a job sorting rags, but this offer was declined.
A more lucrative position was offered as trumpet player in the Bournemouth Municipal Orchestra and, even though coming at a time of personal crises, Harold Walker turned it down, deciding to keep the Best for the Highest. Many years of outstanding, unbroken service resulted from this decision to devote all his talent to the glory of God.
In November, 1934 the band were honoured by their inclusion in a festival at Queen's Hall, London, together with the bands of Tottenham I, Harlesden, Rayleigh and Kettering. The first Boscombe item was a cornet solo Tucker, played by Harold Walker, during which he accidentally blew out the slide of his 1st valve. Calmly he bent down, replaced it and carried on. The audience were thrilled at his brilliant delivery of this difficult solo but the composer, Erik Leidzen, found more than a few faults with it. Writing his impressions for The Bandsman and Songster on 15th December 1934 Bandmaster Leidzen was critical of almost every section of the piece, saying of the soloist
Rhythmic figure in introduction somewhat blurred. At A too many pauses in cadenza. Bandsman Walker does well on the slower parts and has a very fine tone. His variations are a bit heavy and in this connection it may be said that a fast note cannot (for obvious reasons) be a long one. Learn to tongue lightly and pointedly and you will increase your speed. Cadenza fine, considering accident, hut I could not hear top note at presto. Speed up presto, take stacc. dots literally and it will be heard.
The band's second item Memories almost met with his approval
Band better in this piece. Horns at times rather effective in characteristic figures in Introduction. The two bars before A had all the humour intended and actually made me smile! Sop look up 3rd bar in B please! K not bad, but cornets too heavy on semiquavers, resulting in a somewhat spluttering effect.
30th June 1935 saw the arrival at Boscombe of two lady officers, Adjutant Wingett and Captain Grover, and the reactions of the bandsmen to their arrival were vividly described in the book Great was the Company.
The faces of long rows of bonnetted women songsters, and of men musicians with their glittering instruments were turned on her [Wingett] as she ascended the platform.
She had been made aware of mixed feelings among the latter! As she put it privately to Grover
The bandsmen and others even higher up are not happy, poor dears. Its through having a woman CO for the first time in 25 years
The fact was also that they hadn't a hope that a woman should shoulder the expense of their long needed bandroom. But Wingett had already seen for herself the state of affairs, and described it in a private note to London.
Boscombe has the most dowdy hall in this lovely town. God's house should be the best! The band want a room, the officers want a room, the Home League want a kitchen. Alongside there is a disgraceful piece of vacant land with a broken down shed. Cannot something be done?
On the 11th May 1936 the builders moved in and meetings were transferred to the Temperance Hall. The hall re-opened on 15th July with the bandsmen at last having their own room, which was much appreciated, as shown in this local newspaper article of 1937
There has been an all round improvement in the band which now comprises some 40 instrumentalists. The interest and enthusiasm among the younger members is very noteworthy. The new band room which was recently added to the Citadel is proving a boon to the men and is greatly appreciated by them. It contains a library of spiritual and musical books, and a large photo of the founder adorns the wall.
Many of the spiritual books in this library had, in fact, been donated by General Bramwell Booth whilst 40 song books were given to the band in 1934 as a retirement gift from General Higgins.
Although grateful to Adjutant Wingett for their bandroom the bandsmen were not always pleased with her timekeeping. Their Sunday routine already included a pre-breakfast kneedrill at 7.30am, three openairs, and three indoor meetings. With most bandsmen reluctant to use a bus on the Lord's day and few of them having cars this routine already proved a rush - only made worse by the morning meeting continuing until 12.30 or 12.45 as it usually did.
To these year round activities were added summer openairs at Meyrick lift (on Monday evenings from 1928) and at the Rotunda (Sunday afternoons from 1936).
Early in 1938 the BBC sent Mr Denis Wright to hear and assess the band's broadcasting potential. Following the audition the bandsmen sat tensed like ramrods, holding their breath until the verdict had been announced. When told of their success they slumped with relief, and, after the departure of the assessors, they were nearly dancing with joy such was their excitement. Although surely thrilled by the outcome Bandmaster Walker could not even raise a smile but sat stern faced, as usual.
Denis Wright highly commended the bandsmen on their technique and general performance and soon arrangements were made for a live broadcast. This took place at Bristol Citadel where the band was leading the meetings on l2th/l3th February. The programme notes described the band as one of the best in the South of England. A great favourite with Sir Dan Godfrey who speaks in appreciative terms of its musical efficiency. The band not only gives splendid festivals but are particularly adapted to conducting very impressive and inspiring services.
On Sunday afternoon the band performed their festival as normal then, after a short interval, commenced a live broadcast at 4pm. The twenty minute programme consisted of Scandinavian Songs, Cornet solo Wondrous Love - played by Harold Walker - and the march The Fount.
Back at Boscombe, Adjutant Wingett had forestalled any absenteeism from the afternoon meeting by installing a radio - daring any of the congregation to stay at home. Wives, families and friends sat with bated breath as the band came over the air and as soon as the broadcast finished there was a huge sigh of relief and thunderous applause.
Having completed 50 years of active service in Army banding, Bandmaster Walker retired on Monday 16th May 1938 at the conclusion of a weekend of thanksgiving and commemoration led by Lt. Col. Durman. That same meeting saw his commissioning as songster leader, with Sylvester Henning and Harold Walker being appointed bandmaster and deputy respectively.
While in some respects my retirement brings me a little twinge of sorrow, mainly my harp is tuned to concert pitch and I am playing in a major key, for I have fought the fight of 50 years as bandmaster and local officer. To God be the Glory.
We have spent years in pegging away at ourselves and at the music, but the band has now arrived at the stage where it is proving a blessing to thousands who listen to it from time to time, whether in the Citadel, in the openair or on the cliffs in summertime. Many testimonials to this fact have been received, both from persons of high rank and from the man in the street.
Of the musical efficiency of the band others must speak. Suffice it to say that I lay down the baton with confidence that the band is going to be better than ever. 'Onward and Upward' must be its motto.
The bandmaster was highly respected not only for his exceptional musical abilities but for his sterling salvationism and his insistence on getting priorities right. The souvenir programme produced for his retirement includes two tributes which help explain his great success.
Others may have striven for mere musical excellence, but the message of the music has always been predominant
in the bandmaster's interpretation and in consequence he had lifted his band to a very high standard
It is not humanly possible to place a valuation upon his service, but his example in loyalty, devotion and
the lifting of musical standards has made its mark upon the musical realm of our great movement. He has ever sought to put 'first
things first' jealously guarding the motive of soul saving music
Apart from the gardening which provided his livelihood, most of the bandmaster's time was dedicated to Army activities - next to heaven is the Army hall for me. His sincerity and enthusiasm proved infectious among the handsmen who recall this period in their lives with the greatest affection. Without a shadow of a doubt the gifted leadership of Bandmaster Walker transformed Boscombe from an average to an outstanding band laying the foundations for others to build upon.
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