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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Salvation Sound of Music by Christine Schollmeier

The Salvation Army in Germany, where I have lived and worked for over 30 years, is not well-supplied with memorabilia. Two world wars have created havoc in the country; many buildings, including the then Territorial Headquarters in Berlin, were destroyed in the last war and those fleeing from what had been the largest Divisions - in East and Middle Germany - were glad to save their skins, never mind books and mementos. We have no heritage centre or museum, and often it seems that no-one at THQ knows what still exists in the back of a cupboard or a private collector's treasure chest.

That is why I was so thrilled last year when a Salvationist in Bremen Corps showed me his latest pickings from the local flea market: a German Salvation Army song book published in 1890, when the fledgling Army had but a dozen Corps in Germany and Headquarters was still in Stuttgart, having been founded there 4 years previously. No-one knew that such a song book still existed anywhere; the history book mentions "'the Stuttgart songbook" - but a lot of water has gone down the Rhine since that was last used. My enthusiasm must have touched him - he gave me the songbook, which had cost him one Deutschmark.

It seems I now have the only complete collection of German Salvation Army song books. Let me tell you about them.

Our present song book is 30 years old: there are no plans at present for a new one. When it was published in 1971 it replaced a slender edition published after the war; THQ was parked in a former nursing home in Berlin after the large THQ building had been reduced to rubble and was on the "wrong" (ie East) side of partitioned Berlin anyway. Trade Department had somehow been transferred to a town in the Ruhr area where there were no Corps and the song book was as slim as most of the citizens of Germany at that time.

A curiosity in my collection is a song book in German, published in Prague. It bears the stamp of a girls' hostel the Army opened in Hamburg after the War. I have no idea whether the Czech Salvation Army sang in German; somehow I doubt it. Perhaps the Heilsarmee outsmarted the Third Reich with all its printing restrictions by having their song books published abroad? The introduction seems to say as much: "This song book includes...the best of Salvation Army songs and many used to bless in other denominations. Some of our old German hymns are also included". Our old German hymns in Czechoslovakia? Or merely printed there?

Between the wars the Army published a thick little song book in 1926 and before 1914, two others. The song books have no date of publication and can only be roughly dated by comparing the various addresses given as "Nationales Hauptquartier". Headquarters moved quite often in those heady days of an expanding Heilsarmee. The remains of the private fortune of Chief Secretary Jakob Junker, bequested to the Army, made it possible after the First World War for the Army to buy property in Berlin for their first "own" HQ, previously houses had had to be rented.

These early Berlin song books are composed of good to hair-raising translations of the songs which would have been sung in British Salvationist circles. Strangely enough, not one of the great German hymns, no "A safe stronghold" or '.Praise my soul" is included. It seems that German hymns were shunned and only the contents of the British Tune Book were sung, often in very strange translations. Not until the 1926 song book did a few hymns appear that would have been known to the congregations of other churches.

But the Stuttgart Songbook was a revelation. Of course I knew that the Army in Britain and elsewhere in the English-speaking world had taken the tunes of the music-hall and the public-house and put a Christian text to the well-known melodies. (Unforgotten the moment as a raw recruit in Germany, when the Corps band struck up "'We'll keep the Red Flag flying" in the meeting - here it is the tune of a popular Christmas song ... ). I knew of only one or two songs sung here by Salvationists to German melodies. We had accepted that it was a trait of early British Salvationism and had not been imported into Germany. But half the 116 songs in my Stuttgart edition of 1890 are apparently to be sung to German folk melodies or songs with very definitely German connotations, now unknown. It seems that the first Salvationists in Germany were as good as their British counterparts in producing evangelistic ditties to popular melodies, but only one or two have survived to be known to the (older) present-day German Salvationists.

The paper cover of the 1890 song book is in itself of interest. The Army - with its 12 German corps - was hardly known, and the Salvationists took the opportunity of using the inner and outer cover to present themselves to the public. "The Salvation Army is an independent organisation of men and women, most of whom are tradesmen and filled with the general failure today to respect religion, and at the alcoholism and other evils which push people to ruin. Therefore they have come to an agreement to dedicate themselves completely to fighting these evils, just as men offer themselves for the defence of their fatherland against the enemy".

When I was a young officer the Articles of War were changed to forbid smoking for Salvationists. Up until then, so we had been taught at Training College, nicotine was not allowed for officers, local officers and bandsmen; soldiers were to be "influenced against smoking". But my song book of 1890 states explicitly that a soldier will give up the use of intoxicating drink and tobacco "for the sake of others". At some stage, then, the Salvation Army in Germany must have watered down its regulations and allowed what at first had been forbidden. The paper cover describes what the interested reader might expect to find, should he accept the invitation to visit an Army meeting. "There is much singing in Salvation Army meetings, for the soldiers rejoice in their liberation from the vices that formerly tyrannized them and in the joy and peace that no-one can take from them. They sing songs to the tunes they used to sing in the world and heard in concert-halls. This has the result that many are attracted who have a natural aversion to everything connected with "Church" but who, whilst in search of pleasures, find themselves confronted with the truth they so long have ignored".

This quotation, 110 years old, would certainly - taken seriously - revolutionize any new song book our Territory might choose to publish in the future. Heavy metal, hiphop and house, golden oldies and for special occasions the last Night of the Proms sung by Andrea Bocelli - the tunes we used to sing and hear and not the least suspicious to those with an aversion against "Church". I wait with interest for our next song book.

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