Emma Davis reports on the recent Cobham Hall reunion organised by her father Greg.
On Saturday 12th November, Maidstone Salvation Army hall was buzzing with the arrival of seventy excited musicians for a one-day reunion. Every one of the delegates, some of whom had travelled the length of the country to take part in the day, were former students of the Salvation Army’s National School of Music between 1977 and 1990, when it was held at Cobham Hall in Kent.
After a cup of tea, some perusing of poster-sized whole school photos and a quick chat with old friends, it was straight into rehearsals for the evening’s concert. The Band was very ably led by Howard Evans (Boscombe), while Susan Turner (Stowmarket) shared her expertise with the Girls’ Chorus. All the music chosen for the concert had been performed previously at a Cobham Hall festival, meaning some old classics were resurrected, such as ‘Paean’ (Peter Graham), “Mid All the Traffic’ (Paul Marshall), ‘The Old Wells’ (Eric Ball) and ‘Gone My Care’ (Ray Steadman-Allen). The rehearsals were an opportunity not only to learn the notes, but also to renew friendships and to revisit fond memories of the Cobham Hall Music Schools, which were important and even defining weeks in the lives of those who attended.
The whole school then joined together to rehearse the massed items, which included ‘Come, Join Our Army’ and ‘Jesus, the Name’, both by Lieut-Colonel Norman Bearcroft. The pieces were conducted by the composer, who had flown from his home in New York and was also the compere for the evening.
The delegates were served a well-deserved roast dinner which was preceded, in true Music School style, by a sung grace to the tune of ‘Harton Lea’. In the spirit of condensing a week at Music School into a day, the dessert was also preceded by a sung grace, this time to ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’. It was evident from the noise level and the regular outbreaks of laughter that ‘the Cobham days’ were an inexhaustible and enjoyable topic of mealtime conversation.
A good number of family and friends came to support the evening’s concert, which opened with an invigorating massed performance of the march ‘Cobham Hall’ (Norman Bearcroft), including the singing of ‘Able to Save’ by the Girls’ Chorus. Norman’s enthusiastic and easygoing hosting style was enjoyed by all, as were the anecdotes from previous Music Schools. The standard of performance from both sections was remarkable given the short period of rehearsal time – the Girls’ Chorus’ rendition of Eric Ball’s ‘Morning Song’ was beautifully sung, creating a calm yet uplifting atmosphere which the audience respected by remaining silent at the conclusion.
The Band’s playing of ‘March Militaire Francais’(Saint-Saens arr. Michael Kenyan) was to an impressive standard, but the most challenging item on the programme must have been Ray Steadman-Allen’s well-loved ‘Romans 8’. The piece holds a special significance for ‘Cobhamites’, as it was composed especially for the Music School in 1985 to fit in with the topic of the Bible study sessions throughout the week. The Band coped well with the technical demands of the music, but more importantly conveyed well the emotion of the topic it describes; God’s promise of future glory to those who follow him. The intense silence that followed the last chord will surely long remain in the memories of those present.
Special thanks were given to the three conductors for their hard work, and to Greg Davis (Chatham), the main organiser of the event, who initiated the idea of a reunion through a social networking site. The whole school then presented Norman Bearcroft’s ‘Just as I Am’, which brought a busy and exciting day to a poignant close.
This reunion was a precursor to a full reunion to be held at Cobham Hall. Any “Cobhamites” who may be interested in a future reunion are encouraged to join the Facebook group for “The Salvation Army National School of Music Cobham Hall”.