Maree Downey is the leader of SpiritSong, a Salvation Army choir spreading the message of hope and salvation
I’m an easygoing and relaxed person who likes to laugh a lot and looks for the positives in people. I hope how I live my life rubs off on others. Jim and I have been married for 13 years. We have two kids: Emma, aged eight, and James, who’s six. I love spending time with them.
My family have been in The Salvation Army for generations, so I became aware of God early. I had my first ‘I’ll make a commitment to you, God’ moment when I was eight. Since then, there have been other moments of realisation when I’ve been aware of God’s power and how he works.
I grew up in Rotorua, where Dad led the Salvation Army brass band and Mum played piano for meetings. I have three sisters and two brothers. Dad taught us all to play brass instruments because he wanted a band at church. He taught me tenor horn, I learned piano from a nun and I played violin as well.
We used to have music nights. The TV wouldn’t go on until late. Instead, we’d all grab our instruments and jam. Sometimes we’d try out new instruments. If we had visitors, they joined in. It was mayhem! I’m surprised noise control didn’t come around sometimes. The neighbours told Mum and Dad it was very quiet after we kids left home. Those are good childhood memories.
I believe God has given us the gift of music. As a Christian, I want to use music to share God’s story of salvation and hope.
I’m the leader of SpiritSong, the New Zealand choir of The Salvation Army. SpiritSong is driven by an evangelistic heart. We’re not there just to give a concert or a show, we have a message we want people to understand. We want them to come into a relationship with Jesus. We want to show others that God is real in our lives.
It’s great that we can get together and enjoy making music. And we have the added element of God’s Holy Spirit, which takes our music-making to another dimension. We’re always looking for new recruits, Salvation Army soldiers with a ministry in singing or playing instruments. I’d love to have people queuing up to join us.
I set the repertoire for the group, which has been a learning curve. Challenging but very exciting. We have a contemporary style, which can be upbeat or quiet instrumentally. When I’m selecting music, I look for good lyrics. Our songs have to tell a story and engage our listeners. The music has to be appealing as well, although some of the simplest pieces—simple, four-part harmonies—can be very effective.
I look for music that sets a scene about God and his creation, moving on to pieces that focus on Jesus and his work for us on the cross, and then songs about people’s individual faith stories and how the Holy Spirit helps us in life. We’ll all be on a different part of that journey, but my aim is that audiences can relate to at least one part of it.
The key thing for me in my leadership of SpiritSong is that we want to point people to Jesus!
By Maree Downey (abridged from War Cry, 8 September 2012, p9)