Glen Ellynites (and, I’m sure, a few Lombardians) poured into Wal-Mart this past Saturday to finish up some last-minute shopping. “Super Saturday,” as the Saturday before Christmas is known in retail circles, is often the time to get closest-to-Black Friday deals. Deciding to take full advantage of the opportunity presented before them, members of the Salvation Army Band gathered at multiple locations, in place of the usual bell-ringers. The small ensembles brought the holiday spirit and Christmas joy to multiple shoppers by playing carols, such as Good King Wenceslas, that are commonly associated with Christmas.
Band member Bill Himes was all smiles at passing shoppers, holding his cold baritone closely in between songs. Himes explained that the philosophy behind adding instruments to the collection sites has been a strong part of the Salvation Army for years. “It’s traditional in the Salvation Army, we just stuck with the British tradition,” he said.
Himes explained that brass is a primary player for the band because those instruments can be played in any weather. He added, “A clarinet, flute or strings run into problems with the cold, or if they get wet. Brass just doesn’t.”
Himes explained that the band is made up entirely of volunteers and contains over 50 musicians. “We all break up into small ensembles and this year the conductor assigned us time slots and strategic locations. We all played in three-hour increments. It was much more organized this year,” he said. “The last two Saturdays have been the big holiday push—it’s just not Christmas without it. It’s in our blood.”
This band started at a large Salvation Army church located in Villa Park. The church has an extensive, and strong, music program, so finding volunteers for the band was not difficult. This type of ensemble volunteering is an annual occurrence for band members as well.
According to Mr. Himes, band members also volunteer to play at other places, such as Cook County’s Maximum Security Facility, during the holidays. He said they go in playing carols and it does something for the men. They’ll read Luke, chapter 2 from The Bible, play Silent Night, and the men in there just melt. Himes said, “You could look into the most hardened gang member’s eyes in there, shake his hand, say ‘Merry Christmas’, and see him melt. I think it’s that someone thinks of them during this time, but they love it. This scene repeats itself every year.”
In addition to the others who the band plays for during the holidays, Glen Ellyn Wal-Mart shoppers certainly seemed in better spirits than usual after hearing the well-toned brass instruments, whether they added change to the dangling red bucket or not. That being said, let the lyrics to Good King Wenceslas set the stage for the true holiday spirit:
Good King Wenceslas Looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing