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Thursday, 18 August 2011

The Timbrel & The Salvation Army

Having proved how useful musical instruments were in attracting crowds to open air meetings, William Booth, in the War Cry dated 27th March 1880, stated his wish that as many officers and soldiers as possible should learn to play instruments.

The musicians of those days were not as proficient as might have been wished, but a great variety of instruments were pressed into service. The War Cry of 17th February 1881 carried a picture of "Miriam, a Forerunner of the Prophetess of The Salvation Army" with timbrel in hand.

Up to this time nobody in The Salvation Army had ventured to beat a tambourine, but the picture inspired Captain Charles Rothwell who was stationed at Mansfield, Nottingham. Seeing a tambourine in a pawnbrokers shop he lost no time in buying it, and Mrs. Rothwell played it in the processions which "filled the devil with disgust, the newspapers with comments, the barracks with people and helped sinners into the fountain!

When Mother Shepherd, accompanied by her two youngest daughters Polly and Sally, took charge of West Bromwich Corps in June 1881, soldiers and people alike took no notice of them. Sally, noticing her mothers distress, and having heard William Booth state that he would even wear a red coat for Jesus, turned her red lined white coat inside out and headed their small procession beating a tambourine with immediate effect.

The use of the timbrel spread quickly. In the War Cry of 7th October 1882, George Scott-Railton noted that 1600 had been sold in the space of six weeks and warned the Army's timbrelists that they should not beat their tambourines without at the same time singing! 

When conducting meetings in Scotland, Catherine Booth boldly claimed that tambourines and fiddles were as sacred as organs. The General suggested that when tambourines were used, there should be something to balance them, "such as clappers, bones, fifes or banjos!"

Nearly 120 years after the introduction of the timbrel into Salvation Army music the majority of Army Corps feature a Timbrel Brigade in their music sections, although now no one would ever suggest that the timbrelist lacks talent!

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