Reviews - Literary Reviews

Eric Ball His Life and Music (1903 - 1989)

Eric Ball

by Dennis Taylor

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

ISBN: 9781443841184

Eric Walter John Ball was born in Kingswood, near Bristol on 31 October 1903 and this new book provides a comprehensive account of his life and career.

His early musical influences came from two of his uncles Walter who took him to concerts, and George, who introduced him to the piano on which he developed his improvisation skills, which in later life he used to great effect improvising gospel songs in Salvation Army meetings and festivals.

Erlc Ball's formative years were variable owing to his father being unable to settle in one place for long, but during the travels a church organist gave him piano lessons along with some harmony and counterpoint.

It was whilst still in his teens he became bandmaster of Southall Salvation Army Corps Band, a posltion he held until becoming a Salvation Army Officer. At the age of eighteen he obtained a position in the Editorial Department of the Salvation Army and became one of a line of composers who raised Salvation Army music making to a high level In 1929 he submitted his first composition and through to 1944 became the most prolific composer for the organisation.

On the 5 April 1926 Eric Ball married Olive Dorsett at Southall Citadel. They decided to become Salvation Army Officers and their subsequent involvement in the Army is detailed. So too is Captain Eric Ball's reforming of the S.P.& S. Band, receiving piano and organ lessons from St Peters church, Staines, and his many appearances as a soloist or accompanist at the piano or organ recitals. Years later during an interview he said 'as a youngster I wanted to be a cathedral organist, but the Lord intervened and my main career has been in brass bands and choral music'.

In I942 he was appointed bandmaster of the International Staff Band and promoted to Major, but in 1944, at the height of his career, he resigned from the Salvation Army.

Eric Ball's sudden resignation came as a shock to Salvationists and the brass band world alike. The reasons behind his decision is discussed along with the subsequent consequences. He was now eligible for military service and was posted to ENSA. However, by the end of the war doors had already opened for him to embark on a new career.

The beneficiary of the change was the secular brass band movement. His lnvolvement in conducting various bands (including a fourth section band), composing, adjudicating, guest conducting concerts in the UK and abroad plus speaking at lectures and seminars are considered. In addition, though little known in the UK, his substantial work with the Free Evangelical Church in Thayngen, Switzerland, is revealed.

Following a meeting with John Henry Isles, the owner of the British Bandsman and R Smith & Co, music publishers, with offices at 210,The Strand, London, Eric Ball was invited to join the firm and his twenty years service, including 15 years as Editor of the British Bandsman-magazine is considered. In 1953 he was welcomed back into the Salvation Army and his bridge building in the development of brass band music, both in the Salvation Army and secular brass band movement is explained.

The total output of Eric Ball's music is collated, each work being listed in chronological order of publication. The pieces fall into four categories; Brass Band (sacred and secular), Vocal (choral and solo); Ensemble and Solo Instrumental and Unpublished works. The types of music in each category are shown (eg. Selection, Tone Poems) and are given a detailed survey along with the list of the seven different combinations of instruments he used in his compositions.

Completing the book is an Alphabetical Index of the output, an index of the various types of music. And a Bibliography. It benefits from a Foreward by Professor David Greer of Durham University (retired) and includes a number of illustrations.

Eric Ball set new standards for brass band music, especially in the use of colour and this excellent book which details the life and music of arguably the most important composer of brass band music in the 20th century and has restored him to his rightful place in musical history.

Dennis TaylorThis book by Dennis Taylor is a commendable addition to the growing literary world of brass bands and he is to be congratulated. The British Library has the book on its catalogue list.

Sydney Swancott