Future All-Stars Weekend Finale shines bright

by Warren L. Maye

Montclair Citadel in New Jersey hosted a heartwarming festival of band performances, moving testimonies, and choral singing by 58 Salvationist Army musicians both young and seasoned. Members of the New York Staff Band (NYSB) joined forces with newer musicians to culminate a weekend of music crafting.

“All these young people have worked hard to prepare to worship with you this afternoon,” said Lt. Colonel Kathleen Steele, territorial program secretary and executive officer of the NYSB, as she welcomed the crowd. “I will tell you, yesterday we spent seven and a half hours rehearsing. Yes, you heard that correctly. With an additional four hours on Friday night. That’s a lot of rehearsing, and that’s a lot of time with a horn on your face or banging percussion. But it’s been a great weekend.”

Steele alluded to the challenge of every musician who must feel and taste a cool metal mouthpiece against their lips. Only with practice, they say, can one develop the facial muscles and control needed for a good, strong sound. From all accounts, it appears the Future All-Stars met that expectation.

Watching children grow

“I think it is remarkable that the standard is reached and that these kids want to serve in this way,” said Ralph E. Pearce, the divisional director of music for The Salvation Army’s Southwest Division. Born the son of Salvation Army parents in Glasgow, Scotland, he also began his love for music at an early age.  “And I just hope that they maintain in serving in this way.”

Pearce seemed to voice the sentiments of other parents in the room.

“If you want a mommy’s perspective, when I’m sitting in the audience and I’m watching and hearing this amazing sound coming out, as a mom, all I can remember are these little kids whose feet didn’t even touch the floor the first time they held an instrument,” said Major Tawny Cowen-Zanders, general secretary, Eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware Division. “And to think how their dedication and their gift from God is given to them has brought them to this point, it’s just astounding. It’s beautiful.” 

Still going strong

The Future All-Stars Weekend began about 21 years ago, and many of its founders were in the room and on the platform alongside the newer musicians.

“I’m just so thrilled for the kids this weekend. They worked so hard,” said Aaron VanderWeele, principal euphonium player and soloist of the NYSB. “They work hard every year. When Ron Waiksnoris brought this to our attention to start something like this over 20 years ago, he put me in charge of developing this. To see what it has become now and to see that generations have been impacted, it’s just—it’s beyond words.” VanderWeele paused for a moment, then said, “It’s just a complete God thing. He took this vision and blessed this territory with it.”

Ron Waiksnoris, who ranks among the best conductors and musicians in the worldwide brass band community, with over 24 years as musical director of the NYSB, said, “It’s pretty gratifying for me to see something that the band started more than 20 years ago going strong. These talented kids are kids who are engaged, who get it.”

He continued, “I’m a fan of tradition. I know it’s not everybody’s thing, but I think tradition is wonderful. Whatever this is, it has become a great tradition.” Waiksnoris looked once more at the group of excited kids from as far away as Puerto Rico, Canada, and other parts of the world, and said, “I have to say, I’m really pleased with the diversity in the group. This looks like a little bit of how life ought to be and a little slice of heaven, not only community-wise, but music-wise.”

Heartfelt testimonies

Stirring testimonies from Abasionoh (Abby) Etuk, who narrowly escaped death in a head-on car crash, and Carl Lumarque, who used music to inspire him through difficult life experiences, helped put the Future All-Stars ministry into sharp perspective for everyone in the room.

“I think the takeaway for the kids is learning to praise the Lord through the darker times in life and to stay constantly looking up to the Lord instead of focusing on the wilderness that they are walking through,” reflected Fred Mbesi, regional music leader for the Greater New York Division.

Fit in like family

Derek Lance, the Eastern Territorial music secretary and bandmaster of the NYSB, conducted the Future All-Stars as they rendered powerful arrangements of pieces such as “La Fa Es la Victoria,” “Glorify Your Name,” and “Illuminate,” among many others. He thanked the Green Family Foundation for its continued support, and Captains Joel and Kathleen Ashcraft for their leadership of the weekend.

“They came in right away and just fit in like family,” Lance said. “Their words and inspiration were perfect.” Lance reiterated the message of the Ashcrafts, who said that The Salvation Army was in good hands. Later, Captain Joel Ashcraft told SAconnects, “These kids are called ‘Future All-Stars,’ but they are our leaders of today.”