After four CDs on which I play music from the Gowans and Larsson musicals, here is a fifth and final one on which I record favourites from my other music.
The musicals dominated my musical output for about 23 years – from 1967 to 1990 – but before then, and indeed during that time, I wrote other music as well. As a young officer I was a member of the training college staff for seven years, and during those years composed music for the commissioning pageants at the Royal Albert Hall and for other training college occasions. I have included some representative pieces from that era on the CD.
For a number of years, my mother, Flora Larsson, and I worked together as a song-writing team. From the songs that we produced together I have selected eight for inclusion.
General John Larsson
During the time we served in Chile – from 1980 to 1984 – I wrote a series of Scripture choruses which in the first instance were published in the international War Cry. I have included five of these on the CD.
In addition I play a number of personal favourites from among my other published and unpublished compositions which I trust will also appeal to listeners.
May both music and words be of inspiration!
was not meant to be a musician, or so I thought. I gave up music when I entered training to become an officer.
At the age of 14 I took off both as a pianist and a brass player when my parents were appointed to Buenos Aires, Argentina. They arranged for me to have classes with the renowned concert pianist Valentin Zubriski. I could already play, but when he heard me at the keyboard he exclaimed ‘No, no, that’s all wrong. You are tickling the keys. A proper pianist plays with the full weight of his arms and shoulders coming through his fingers.’ I had to go back to playing the C scale for weeks until I had mastered the technique.
By the age of 17 I was the bandmaster of our corps band of about a dozen players, and enjoyed scoring music with a South American lilt for them.
Then at 18 I responded to God’s call to officership. As I entered the portals of the International Training College in London, I remember saying to myself: ‘This is the end of music-making for me. It’s been good, but now I am going to be an officer.’
And so it was. No more music. I had given that up – to serve the Lord and the Army as an officer. But when I was a young member of the training college staff, Captain Harry Read, and later Major Leo Ward, asked me to write music for the cadets’ commissioning pageants at the Royal Albert Hall – pageants that became more like musicals every year. It seemed that music was coming back into my life, but I was not sure it was right.
On the new CD ‘John Larsson plays – beyond the musicals’ I record 25 tracks of favourites from my other music. Of these, seven are songs born during those training college years. They include God’s soldier marches as to war, You’re not alone, and It’s new. As always, the words of the songs are printed in the CD booklet.
Then with the 1968 Youth Year the era of the Gowans and Larsson musicals began, an era that was to last for the next 23 years. On the first four CDs in the ‘John Larsson plays’ series, I have recorded a total of 115 songs from these musicals, providing nearly five hours of continuous music.
The first musical, Take-over Bid, brought to a head my inner disquiet about the ever increasing role of music in my life. I went to see Major Fred Brown, then the corps officer at the Regent Hall, and shared my dilemma with him. Was it not time I gave up music, I said, and devoted myself only to the more important aspects of my ministry as an officer?
Fred listened attentively and then spoke words so simple that a child could have uttered them, but which came to me as a revelation: ‘John, if the Lord has given you a gift it is because he wants you to use it.’ And through those simple words the Lord gave music back to me and said ‘use it – for me’.
During those years of the musicals I also composed music for other songs, many of them with words by my mother, Flora Larsson. I have recorded eight of these songs for the CD, among them Miracle of grace, God’s Moment and A light in Heaven’s window.
A light in Heaven’s window seems to be a favourite with many. The video of David Daws playing it as a cornet solo is the most-viewed video on the UK Territory’s YouTube Channel – www.uk.youtube.com/salvationarmyvideo - and at the time of writing has been watched more than 110,700 times!
I wrote A light in Heaven’s window when I was the corps officer at Hillingdon. Our songsters had been invited to sing at united songster councils for the four London Divisions, and the songster leader asked me to write something for the occasion. I wrote the music first and my mother captured the feel of the melody with her wistful words.
I submitted the song to the chief secretary, who returned it saying that as a matter of policy they would like the songsters to sing an already published song. No problem – we understood.
Some weeks later I decided to submit the song for publication to the music editorial department, which then was part of International Headquarters. When I unfolded the music that had been returned to me, a piece of paper dropped out. It was an internal memo from Lieut-Colonel Brindley Boon, the territorial music secretary, to the chief secretary – which someone had forgotten to remove.
If this webpage can be read in Heaven, I know that my good friend and mentor Brindley Boon will smile when I tell you the following. In that memo to the chief secretary, Brindley had indeed written about the policy of using published music, but had then added: ‘This is not one of John Larsson’s better melodies’.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I mailed the song to the music editorial department. But I need not have worried. By return came a letter from Lieut-Colonel Charles Skinner thanking me for ‘this superb song’. It was so good, he said, he would publish it in the next issue of The Musical Salvationist!
The CD also includes a number of the Scripture choruses I composed when we served in Chile from 1980 to 1984, which were first published in the international War Cry. Among them are Sing and make music and The Lord is near – both of which are now in the new song book.
Included are also three of my arrangements of song book words: The living waters, God’s love to me is wonderful and Joy! Joy! Joy! The CD ends with the last song I ever submitted for publication, In the face of a child. This song with words by John Gowans was published in 1993.
The new CD is the last in the series. ‘There is a time for everything,’ we read in Ecclesiastes. And the recording equipment has now been disconnected for good. There are other worlds waiting to be explored.