Monday, July 23, 2007

Twelve trombones wail over the quick beat of snare drums and cymbals as dusk settles on Dupont Circle. The musicians point their brass instruments to the sky as they hit the high notes, praising God.

They play and move with the symmetry of a gospel choir. The soulful sound draws in pedestrians like a magnet.

“Our music touches everyone, I don’t care where you’re from,” said John R. Walker Jr., president of the Madison Lively Stones. “If you come out here and stand out here and listen to us play, you’re going to move or rock or step side to side and clap your hands.”

This “trombone shout band,” similar to a gospel brass band, has staked out sidewalks across the District for more than two decades. Noise complaints forced it to move from Georgetown to various street corners in Dupont Circle.

The 32 musicians are from the United House of Prayer for All People in Northwest. A rotating group of about a dozen plays south of Dupont Circle in Northwest each Monday, Tuesday and Friday night this summer.

Though the members call their musical talent a “God-given gift,” few spectators realize the band’s religious mission.

“Wholeheartedly, we give our spirit, and we put out our music, and typically the audience or the crowd is drawn in,” said James Tate, 33, who has played the trombone and sousaphone with the Lively Stones for 20 years. “If you come to a church service, you’ll see that it’s the same thing. It’s the power of the music.”

The band, named after the church’s bishop, Samuel C. Madison, also accompanies preaching and prayer at nighttime services.

Since its founding in Massachusetts in 1919, the predominantly black apostolic church has carried its trombone shout music as it spread across the country.

The District is home to five United House of Prayer churches, including its national headquarters. About 80 percent of the church men play a brass or accompanying instrument, said Stanley Woodly, a preacher at the church.

The sound of the Lively Stones has been compared to New Orleans jazz, but band members call it a unique and spontaneous mix of gospel, jazz, reggae and blues. The band appeared at Wolf Trap in 1994 for a night celebrating brass shout bands and has performed at the opening ceremonies of the Washington Convention Center and the MCI Center, now the Verizon Center.

Members typically begin to play “as soon as we can pick up a horn,” Mr. Tate said. “It’s just a craft that’s handed down.” His 8-year-old son, Jalen, comes out most Friday nights to play.

The band gained its first female member, April Dumas, three months ago when she moved to the District from Norfolk. One of her first stops upon arriving in the city was the United House of Prayer.

“I feel good,” she said. “I don’t want no other females to come up here. I want to be the only one.”

Although the band still improvises traditional gospel hymns, the music has become more organized.

“They’ve gotten more refined,” said Sky Scott, 36, who has lived in Dupont for 15 years. Noting the record sales and business cards, he said the band appears to be more professional.

The Lively Stones has started raising money to buy a bus to travel to sister churches across the country. Mr. Walker said members especially want to visit New Orleans.

The fundraising process has been slow because the band depends on spare dollars thrown into a black bucket on the sidewalk. Mr. Walker said an average $150 is collected per night.

“The fundraising is second to everyone’s enjoyment in terms of being members of the band,” Mr. Tate said. “You can’t sell what God has given you.”

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