Army’s Top Cornetist Thrills So. Cal. Music School

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David Daws

By John Docter –

Even before he was 10 years old, David Daws knew how to find time to practice. “If my family went away on a trip, I would bring the cornet and play in the car while we were driving along. But,” he quickly adds as if to say ‘don’t try this at home’, “it was a silly thing to do really…and I haven’t done it since.”

While Daws, 33, has long since moved his practicing to more stable facilities, the drive to squeeze the most out of every minute is still very much with him. It is this attitude that has helped elevate him to two of the most prestigious chairs in the Salvation Army band world–principal cornet in both the International Staff Band and the Enfield Citadel Band–and has earned him the reputation as one of the Army’s premiere soloists.

Recently, Daws and his wife Sarah were special guests at the Southern California Division School of Music held at Camp Mt. Crags. There, they taught, inspired and performed for over 160 music campers.

Between the ISB and the Enfield Citadel Band, Daws rehearses three nights per week, is on duty with the Enfield band on Sundays and performs an average of three to four additional concerts each month with either of the two bands or occasionally as a guest soloist with another group. When you add those commitments to his demanding career as an insurance sales consultant it is easy to see where a passion for effective time management comes in handy.

“It’s difficult to fit it all in,” he said. “You have to use your time well. Every day I have to schedule a set time to practice and fit my work around it. Then it’s done. If you’ve got to try and fit it in when you get home at eight or nine at night when you’re tired, you don’t practice effectively.”

“When we make music, our primary goal is to bring glory to God,” he said, “…so you have to be in shape. Whether you’re playing in front of 5000 at the Royal Albert Hall or in front of 200 at Mt. Crags…you’ve got to be a consistent player.”

Staying in top musical form is such a priority for Daws that he frequently stays home from out-of-town sales conferences. Meetings that are often held at luxurious resorts are as much a free vacation as a working trip. “Last year I should have been in Crete for a conference,” he remarked, “but the band was recording the week after. I felt if I missed a band rehearsal I wouldn’t have been in shape.”

Daws is the model of a modern cornet player, combining blistering technique and power with gentle lyricism and an instinctive ability to phrase a melody. His sound is warm and colorful and completely controlled throughout the entire range of the instrument. “I try to combine the lyrical playing with power and strength. I’d still rather be known as a lyrical rather than a powerful player,” he said. “I strive to play melodies in a way that will touch people.”

He credits much of his musicality to practicing hymn tunes. He explained that by working on tunes you address many playing problems all at once, from warming up the lips to phrasing and breathing. Daws also noted the importance of listening carefully to other musicians, especially vocalists. “I’ve learned so much about playing melodies from listening to singers,” he said. Among his favorites are (Australian Salvationist) Jaqui Proctor, Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra.

David is the son of Lt. Colonels Ken and Olive Daws. His father was promoted to Glory just a few weeks ago.

Daws joined the ISB in 1981 at the age of 17 and has been the principal cornet since 1993. He has been a member of the Enfield Citadel Band since 1987 (principal cornet since 1993) except for a two-year stint as bandmaster at Regent Hall.

It was after joining the Enfield Band that his playing reached a new level. “I got a lot of opportunities under (Enfield Bandmaster) James Williams,” he said. “I continue to learn from him. And sitting next to (former principal cornet) Keith Hutchinson was a great thrill.”

Being a member of such top-flight groups has given him the honor of playing under some of the most respected bandmasters in the Army. “One of my most memorable experiences was playing ‘Nimrod’ during Ray Bowes’ final engagement as ISB Bandmaster. It was the last piece he conducted (as bandmaster). He got totally into the music. He always gave all of himself.”

Bowes’ successor, Robert Redhead, was also a strong influence. “Not just from a musical standpoint but as Christian. He always put God first.”

The current ISB conductor and the band’s former principal cornet, Stephen Cobb, has also been extremely helpful, according to Daws.

Daws stated that he sees a definite trend toward more contemporary styles in Army band music. But he’s quick to note that regardless of how old a piece is, it has to be something people want to hear. “In my band at Mt. Crags this morning we played ‘The Invinceable Army’ which is over 40 years old and the kids really enjoyed it. So you can see that the older music still works.”

While some people think there might not be a place for bands anymore, Daws believes that brass band music in the Army is vital. “We played Brian Bowen’s ‘Easter Hymn’ (at camp) with that glorious ending that cannot fail to inspire people. Band and songster music can do that.” Still, he cautioned, “it has to be used properly. And programs have got to be kept moving and with plenty of fun in the right places.”

Last year, Daws, accompanied by the Enfield Citadel Band, recorded a CD of Army solos for the well-known British publishing and recording company Egon Publishers. Titled “I Hear the Music,” this collection was Egon’s top selling CD for 1995.

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