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Piano Keys His Worship

Bram Rader grew up in a famous Salvation Army family, the Rader clan. So it’s no surprise that his first music memories involve listening to Salvation Army LPs on his parents’ old phonograph.

The 1965 International Centenary Congress album and other brass band records from the late 1960s and early 1970s provided background music around the house when Bram was young.

Now an accomplished pianist, he says Salvation Army music has always been a part of him.

“Singing Gospel and Salvation Army choruses and songs at the corps [church] growing up is a vivid musical memory,” Bram says. “I still sing and accompany many of these old [songs], as well as many new ones, at the corps each Sunday.”

Bram was only 4 when his missionary parents, Lt. Colonels Lyell and Elaine Rader, were appointed to the island nation of Sri Lanka. They served there from 1973 to 1986 in the capital city of Colombo, where Bram attended an international school.

Piano on blocks

He played in the Colombo Central Corps Band under his father, who was the bandmaster and a former student of renowned Salvationist musician Erik Leidzen. Bram wanted to play the cornet like his father, but his life changed the day his parents inherited a beat–up old piano from a children’s home.

“They asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons,” Bram recalls. “They said, ‘If you take piano lessons, you can’t give up. You have to keep going.’ ”

Lyell says the piano had to be put up on blocks because their Sri Lanka home was prone to flooding.

“He had to have books on the seat to reach the keys,” his father says of Bram. “It was quite a sight. He took to it naturally and just became absorbed.”

At age 7, Bram started once–a–week piano lessons from another American missionary, Dawn Remtema.

“One of her demands at this early stage was that I do some practice every day, and I’ve kept up this discipline for most of my life,” Bram says. “I developed my skill for sight–reading through many hours, days, and years poring over music scores, which has been my abiding and consuming passion, apart from technical and theoretical training. This skill has served me well in my career as a piano accompanist.”

Back to the States

Bram began that career when he was a teenager. Today, he also plays cornet, euphonium, baritone, and tuba.

In 1981, Bram began studies at the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music in Illinois, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music. Dr. William Phemister, head of the piano department, taught him for four years.

“During this time he instilled in me a sense of Christian stewardship and duty within the performing arts,” Bram says. “I was exposed to many recordings and music scores. The repertoire for the piano is, no doubt, the largest of any instrument of the Western world. It is vast and diverse. It treats the piano [from] a human singing voice all the way to the grand effectiveness of a full orchestra.”

From 1986 to 1989, Bram studied with Bella Shumiatcher, who taught at The Julliard School in New York for many years.

Bram says his two favorite composers for the piano are Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt. He says he wishes classical music were used more in The Salvation Army.

“I think that’s the best music that can be offered to the Lord,” Bram says.

Sharing God’s gift

“Music is a very emotional art. Most composers I play have emotions I’ve never felt. They help me to feel as they felt when I play their music. I think emotion that is reached in music making is of a very high sort, and classical music especially. I think there is a spiritual aspect in the great composers.”

Bram says Salvation Army music has always played a “vital role” in its message but has evolved from a “raucous beginning” into the “higher levels of concert artistry.”

“The great attraction for me, of Army music, besides its diversity and winsomeness, is the spiritual integrity of its godly message,” Bram says. “Our soul–saving music has not lost touch with the Gospel or with the people it attempts to reach.

“As a Christ–centered Salvationist musician, I find it a great responsibility and privilege to share my musical gifts whenever and wherever I can.”

Whether he is playing a brass instrument, accompanying at his corps, or performing a piano solo in concert, Bram says he has but one goal.

‘As a Christ–centered Salvationist musician, I find it a great responsibility and privilege to share my musical gifts whenever and wherever I can.’

Army influences

“I pray always that God will be glorified, not only through my musical excellence but also through my public demeanor and the attitudes of my mind and heart with others,” he says. “Jesus Christ came to share His love and I pray that with the active presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, I will do the same.”

Bram says he believes “the soul of music is melody” and the Salvation Army composers who have influenced him by producing lasting melodies are John Larsson, Bramwell Coles, Evangeline Booth, George Marshall, Ernest Rance, Sidney Cox, Norman Bearcroft, Joy Webb, William Himes, and Richard Phillips. Other influences have come from Catherine Booth, Brian Bowen, Harold Burgmayer, Gordon Ward, and Ron Waiksnoris.

“When I think of Bram Rader, I think power and joy,” says Waiksnoris, who leads the New York Staff Band.

Burgmayer, music director in the Army’s Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware (Pendel) Division, calls Bram “a gift to The Salvation Army.”

“Whether improvising on a hymn tune as an offertory, accompanying a soloist, or stirring our hearts with a rhapsodic classic, Bram Rader brings a depth of devotion to every note he renders at the keyboard,” Burgmayer says.

Over the years, Bram has played with the Greater New York Youth Band under Ward; the New York Staff Band under Bowen and Waiksnoris; and the Chicago Staff Band under Himes.

First solo album

“I’ve been under the best of the best in terms of the experience that I’ve received in these fine leaders,” he says.

Bram says he enjoyed his years with the New York Staff Band, which included a tour of the Far East.

“It’s great fellowship,” he says. “Some incredible leaders have emerged from [the band], and some wonderful musicians. They’re outstanding technically and always spiritually sound. I’ve always admired the spirituality of the leaders of these bands.”

His only solo album, “Aspiration: To Be Like Jesus,” released in 2010, includes 18 diverse selections from Chopin and Liszt, Lois Rader, Eric Ball, Erik Leidzen, and Bill and Gloria Gaither.

Bram has been featured on four other albums as a soloist and is recording an album this year with the Pendel Singers. He has performed as a soloist all over the world, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, Latin America, Australia, and Pacific Rim nations.

Today, he can be found playing at his home Salvation Army corps in Bethlehem, Pa., and as a collaborative pianist at Northampton Community College and Moravian College in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania.

Bram is also an accompanist for auditions, senior recitals, and competitions at various venues, including The Julliard School, Rutgers University, SUNY Purchase, and the Wheaton Conservatory.

More than music

In Bram’s spare time, his favorite music to listen to is still Gospel and Salvation Army brass band recordings. His parents have a collection that includes choral music and the Gaithers, but he does occasionally sneak in pop albums from Billy Joel or ABBA.

Bram would like to record more albums in the future, but he is writing more than music these days. He has put together a series of devotional essays that he plans to send to publishers.

“I love reading and I’ve always been encouraged as a writer,” he says. “My writing reveals my best thinking and my best spirit in Christ. I find that writing helps me to …  think out internally what I’m really going through.

“I find that I articulate my deepest thoughts and feelings better through writing than through extemporaneous speaking. … the same is true in my music making. I am more thoughtful and original in my composing and arranging than in any impromptu improvising that I attempt to do.”

Bram also would like to someday write a book outlining his thoughts on music and another one sharing his daily prayers, which he writes out longhand.

Legendary family

“Writing devotional thoughts and prayers during my morning devotions helps me to become centered in Christ,” he says. “I am more apt to truly praise Him and to love Him when I am careful in what I say or write.”

Bram says his favorite books are daily devotionals by such authors as Philip Yan-cey, C.S. Lewis, and Oswald Chambers.

If Bram needs any help writing his devotionals, he won’t have to look far. His uncle is retired Salvation Army General Paul Rader. His father is the former ambassador for holiness in the USA Eastern Territory.

Bram says his parents are his heroes.

“They support me in every way, and it’s just an honor to be under the same roof as saints,” Bram says. “I consider my parents saints.

“It’s a joy to share in their ministry. They often ask me to accompany them when they speak. My dad is my main inspiration. He’s the closest [to a] Jesus–like person that I know. My mom is a counterpart to that. She’s the second half.”

Let Nothing Supplant Love of Jesus

Pianist Bram Rader writes more than music; he has written a series of devotional essays that he hopes to have published. Here is an excerpt from one of his latest, ‘Christian Artistry.’ ‘Never lose your personal identity in Christ to the muse of music. Never allow your love for music to get in the way of your love for Jesus. No matter how winsome or authoritative or beautiful music (or anything else) is, if it usurps Christ’s own ruling in our lives or in any way detracts from following the divine and perfectly loving will of God, it becomes an idol and causes one to break the commandment of God.’

by Robert Mitchell

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