Gavin Whitehouse Sings a New Song
by Colonel Richard Munn
The new senior music producer for the USA East talks about his winding path from Sydney, Australia, to this distinctive role, and his love of music in worship.
In late summer, Salvationist soldier and versatile musician Gavin Whitehouse was announced as the new senior music producer for our territory. Across the Salvation Army world, the role is rare, so this is a truly distinct musical component for the USA East. Here is a one-off chance to be artistically innovative, creative, and influential full-time, many a musician’s dream. And yet, as such it is also demanding and exacting, not for the faint of heart.
Gavin follows a list of storied composers and musicians who have sat in that same chair, whose collective work and compositions have enhanced the music of our territory, and way beyond. The good news, the very good news, is that Gavin checks all the credentials for the task ahead. He has an inspiring track record of performing, composing, and energetically leading, recruiting, and inspiring people, especially young people, over many years in our territory.
SAconnects had the chance to catch up with Gav recently, for the story behind the story.
You originate from Australia—how did your journey to the USA come about?
I was teaching music at an Anglican school in Sydney before moving to the USA. My good friend and mentor Graeme Press had come over to this country in the late 1990s and was the divisional music director (DMD) in the Georgia division for a time. I always felt that the Lord might be calling me to follow this path as well, although I never envisioned it would be long term.
In 2005 the Sydney Staff Songsters (of which I was a member) went on tour to the U.S. and Canada. My wife and I had already planned to spend a week in New York City after the tour, and after this, I came across the advertisement for an assistant DMD in Greater New York with a focus on vocal and piano music, so I applied. I had an interview when we were in the city and found out that there was also a position for my wife, Jen, in ministry with the young people of the New York Temple Corps. This was in April 2005 and at the end of July, we moved halfway around the world.
What music roles have you shouldered in that time?
Since we moved to the U.S. 18 years ago, I have been an assistant DMD in Greater New York (10 years) and then DMD in the Pendel Division (eight years). During that time, I was privileged to start the Greater New York Youth Chorus and then lead the Pendel Brass and Singers. In addition to this, I was the pianist for the Eastern Territorial Songsters (as they were then known) for seven years before leading the Songsters (becoming the Eastern Territory Staff Songsters during my time) from 2012 to 2020. I have also led youth music programs at the corps where I soldiered (New York Temple, Times Square, and Philadelphia Roxborough). As well as teaching the youth at the Roxborough Corps, I also currently lead the Senior Band and Songsters.
The USA East is distinct in providing such a musically creative role. At this early stage, what do you foresee artistically for our music forces?
The USA East is indeed very musically creative, and I look forward to continuing the work of those who have gone before me in creating music, not only for our premier groups such as the New York Staff Band and Eastern Territory Staff Songsters, but also resources that can be used in our local corps. I’m not sure what is next, but I’m excited to work with Bandmaster Derek Lance, who has been especially innovative in his programming for the NYSB, and working as part of the team to make this happen.
Army music is renowned for its versatility. Is there a particular genre or style that you especially resonate with?
I truly enjoy all aspects of Salvation Army music making, and especially love the diversity of our expressions in worship. One thing that brings me great pleasure is to hear young people singing praise, and so I enjoy writing songs for kids to sing. One of the first assignments that I am pleased to be working on is collaborating with several composers from this territory and beyond, to create a book of Singing Company songs.
Do you have any concluding words of insight or exhortation for our readers?
The book of Psalms reminds us that we are to “Sing a new song to the Lord,” and so I encourage everyone to find that new song, whether it be a literal song or a new experience in their walk with the Lord.
Thanks, Gav—we look forward to seeing you again in Good News and to hearing the music you make for The Salvation Army.