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About Southern Gospel and Horns
What is southern gospel brass? Or a better question is, "What can you possibly call it when you're familiar with southern gospel and convention songs such as Amazing Grace, How Sweet The Sound and What A Lovely Name out of the Mull's Singing Convention songbook, but you decide to play it with a horn instead"? Normally I would play these at the piano, and I have done that, for that is the truest form of southern gospel.
Like southern gospel, gospel brass is music whose lyrics are written to express either personal or a communal faith regarding biblical teachings and Christian life. Southern gospel brass is essentially southern gospel music in that it plays the same collection of songs and expresses the same sentiments as southern gospel music, but the instrumentation has been changed to allow for horns and provide the christian a style reminiscent of the 1930's as an alternative to modern country and bluegrass gospel styles. This often includes elements of swing as a fundamental supporting rhythm that drives the melody line to fit into the swing. It incorporates the use of brass and woodwind instruments, and the playing of horns. Songs such as Victory In Jesus and When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder are well known for their "bumpty-bumpty" swing feel. Thus they are compatible with and have the same rhythms as southern gospel brass.
Southern gospel brass is not a new thing. Many southern gospel groups in the past have tried to implement horns into their music. One of the earliest known and rare examples of this is a Statesmen quartet video of them singing the song The Bible Told Me So which depicts a clarinetist coming out between the members of the quartet to play a clarinet solo during the intermission between the verses of the song. Another, less memorable example is the Dixie Echoes which used brass and woodwind instruments extensively on the song Daddy Sang Bass on their 30th Anniversary album.
More recent examples exists, such as Chris Hansen's group the Down Home Horns which delves extensively into the area of dixieland gospel. They even have done big band, and have promoted it through a yearly event at HarkUp Ministries. The group the Pfiefers which had songs on the Singing News southern gospel chart has also done big band music. Another popular group, the Hoppers, used a tenor saxophone extensively on their hit song One More Time and other songs.
So why are we not hearing more southern gospel brass?
Uh, good question. You might disagree with me on the following point. But for the most part, it is very rare and almost just doesn't exist. That is why I made the decision to form this band in the first place. Considering the massive numbers of horn players that schools and marching bands turn out every year, you would think there would be more of this. But as Spirit-filled Christian believers, we prefer good, godly gospel music that praises the Lord, not the worldly or secular. Personel choices are a very important factor.
The problem here is that so many of the musicians that were trained in schools and marching bands as horn players have not the slightest idea how they might use that experience to further the gospel. There are few opportunities and almost no training available to these former horn players that clearly shows them how they might apply their abilities to gospel music. On top of that, many horn players, after they leave high school or college, feel no sense of purpose for continuing to play their instruments, which makes the problem of recruiting horn players even more difficult. With no sense of purpose, many often give up and abandon the art altogether. Family, career, job and employment issues come into play. Only Jesus can give you purpose.
Article by Stephen Jenkins
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