Strong and loud notes coming from Kearny

by Robert Mitchell

Growing up as the child of Salvation Army officers, Lieutenant Emily (Betts) Kumar learned to play piano and a brass instrument. Today, she leads worship at the Kearny, N.J., Corps and helps with a free music program for children called Forte Friday.

“We teach them things like piano and guitar and we sing with all the kids, along with dance, drama, and timbrels—everything that we have teachers to teach, we try to have a class for them,” Kumar said. “All in all, it’s just a time that we try to encourage kids from our community to come together.”

About 30 children, ages 6–13, gather every Friday at the corps. They meet from 4:30 to 7 p.m. during the school year, but the day starts at 2:30 p.m. in the summer, when the focus is also on troop programs like Sunbeams, Explorers, Girl Guards, Rangers, and Honor Junior Soldiers.

The Forte Friday program has been around for more than a decade in Kearny, Kumar said. The name has a symbolic meeting.

“It means a nice, strong, powerful sound,” she said. “The founders wanted a strong program where students could come in and be fed the Word of God and be taught music in a way that would help them in the future.”

The young musicians learn from various instructors, including longtime local soldier Dianne Bazylewicz. The focus is on preparing for the territorial Star Search competition this time of year, but the children also put on small concerts for parents and the community.

Kumar said Forte Friday has led to new families coming to the church for worship and Bible study, including one clan where everyone is either a senior or junior soldier. Like most corps in the New Jersey Division, Kearny is seeing an influx of Hispanic newcomers.

When students register, Kumar makes it clear that Forte Friday has a spiritual focus, The Salvation Army is a church, and the program is centered on a biblical foundation.

“All of the music that we teach them, all of the songs that they sing, and all the troop lessons are centered around Bible and scripture lessons,” she said. “Parents know that right out of the gate, and truthfully I think our greatest testimony is just in how we treat the kids and the joy we bring, and the joy they bring to us.”

Kumar said she is a “huge believer in the impact of this kind of ministry” because Salvation Army music and arts programs help children grow spiritually and find a place of belonging in the world when they might have trouble fitting in elsewhere.

“The biggest thing a lot of people don’t realize,” she said, “is the confidence they gain from learning these instruments and how it plays into children’s lives.”

For more information on The Salvation Army in Kearny, N.J., go to