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Monday, 1 August 2011

The Dutch National Songster Brigade by William Sprokkereef

Amsterdam Staff Songsters
The first Dutch Headquarters Songster Brigade was formed in 1905, to provide musical support during meetings led by Commissioner Estill. The Songster Leader, Major Bondam, was the Editor of the Dutch Musical Salvationist, the first edition of which was published in the same year. Disbanded in 1906, they were reformed by Commissioner Whatmore in November 1916 under the leadership of Staff Captain J. P. Rowle, a former Amsterdam Staff Bandmaster. However, again the section quickly disbanded and remained in-operative until 1923, when Major Ronitz was appointed as Executive Officer and Lieutenant Gerrit Claeijs as Songster Leader.

Gerrit Claeijs was born in 1888. His parents were soldiers at the Hague I Corps but as a young man he did not care much for the Army, which his parents had joined. He started working in a Christian bookshop after his father died and became interested in the Army when he attended a festival given by the International Staff Band during their 1907 visit to the Netherlands. So impressed was Claeijs by the Band and its music that he started to attend meetings on a regular basis and after hearing Staff Captain Brouwer describing his work in the Netherlands-East-Indies made the decision to become a Salvationist.

He became Songster Leader of the Hague I Corps, which was situated opposite the bookshop where he worked. Claeijs entered training in 1921 and his first appointment was as translator to Commissioner Howard and subsequently as secretary to Commissioner Povlsen, who recognised Gerrit's musical abilities by appointing him as Leader of the Headquarters' Songster Brigade. This group supported Commissioner Povlsen in festivals, campaigns and congresses throughout Holland and also made several records on the Odeon label.

In 1926 Gerrit Claeijs married Lt. Nelly van Nith. This was a practical partnership, husband composing melodies for which his wife wrote the words and many of these songs were first performed by the Headquarters' Songster Brigade. Claeijs also translated songs from The Musical Salvationist issued in English by International Headquarters. The Claeijs served as Corps Officers until 1931, when Gerrit was appointed to the Dutch National Headquarters as Head of the Music Department. He continued to lead the Songsters until they were disbanded around 1940. In May 1956 the Netherlands National Songster Brigade was re-formed by Bernard Verkaaik; this group is known today as the Amsterdam Staff Songsters.

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