We are the brass band of Christ

by Will Fletcher.

‘Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Grimethorpe, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

This is how I imagine Paul might begin a letter if he was writing today to the church in Grimethorpe, a Yorkshire town synonymous with brass banding, rather than to Corinth. I choose this as someone who enjoys playing in, and listening to, brass bands. Since moving to Yorkshire, it has been such a blessing to be welcomed into Deepcar Brass Band where I make up part of the bass section on the B flat tuba.

Playing a bass instrument, we rarely are trusted with the tune. For those of you of a certain age, you may remember ‘Tubby the Tuba’. If you don’t, get online and find it! It tells of a tuba in an orchestra desperate to play the tune, but always getting it wrong and upsetting others. I won’t spoil how this story of high drama ends…

Yet without each part of the band playing their part the piece of music can sound empty. When the band plays a hymn tune, as it often does to warm up, in four-part harmony, the rich sound can be so beautiful in a way that the melody on its own cannot. Therefore, each part of the band is necessary.

I’m no Greek expert but I wonder if Paul did write to the Church in Grimethorpe he might continue, ‘You are the brass band of Christ, and individually members of it. For just as the brass band is one and has many members, and all the members of the band, though many, are one band, so it is with Christ. Therefore, the cornet cannot say to the trombone, “I don’t need you”, nor again can the euphonium say to the tuba, “I don’t need you.” If all were a single member, where would the band be?’ (My sincerest apologies to St Paul for that butchery of his text!)

So far it may seem like a classic application of a famous passage – in the Church we all have different roles to play which we need to do in order to bring about a beautiful tune. Yet there are added points which maybe the image of the body doesn’t portray, but which could be of some use for the Church today.

Firstly, in many pieces of music, not just for brass band but all manner of orchestra and ensemble, there isn’t just one tune being played. Often, whilst one instrument has the melody, another instrument has a countermelody. This isn’t just a bit of harmony to support the main tune, but something different that brings a bit of added sparkle and beauty. In our churches, we shouldn’t be of the opinion that there is only one tune and everyone else’s role is in supporting that tune. Many different people may have melodies and countermelodies, separate areas of ministry and mission that together make one beautiful whole.

The best pieces of music aren’t just about the notes that are played, but also about the rests that instruments have. As a tuba player, others in the band laugh at how many rests I have. But having different instruments coming in and stopping provides colour and impact. As churches we may need to get better at encouraging people to have spells of rest so that when they are active they have the energy to serve well and bring that much needed colour and impact.

So, may we continue to work to make our churches a coherent band, each member playing their part and remembering to rest. May we be attuned to the various melodies and countermelodies that people can offer to make up a glorious tune. For as St Paul may have said to the Church in Grimethorpe, ‘For when one member plays a wrong note, the whole band suffers; if one member plays a beautiful tune, the whole band rejoices.’

3 thoughts on “We are the brass band of Christ”

  1. Thanks for this Will. The other thing I like about Brass Band is the fact that the solo parts are shared around and no player, however good, can play solo for too long because their lip needs a rest! Paul might have included that in his letter as well!

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  2. As a West Riding lad, I love brass bands too. No experience and no talent other than listening. I would stress too that my experience is that brass bands seem very democratic, far from hierarchical and, amazingly, constantly developing new talent by fostering young people’s skills and tastes. Really good modern analogy – thank you.

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  3. Should we draw lots to decide who gets to tell the most vocal, domineering member of their church it’s time to take a rest? 😉

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