Drum corps in South Africa chart impressive numbers

by Steve Vickers, DCW publisher

This article was published originally in the May 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 38, Number 2).

I’ve been following the progress of the Field Band Foundation in South Africa for the last decade and what has been accomplished is nothing short of amazing. From the dreams of Johann Zietsman, who discovered the American drum and bugle corps activity by attending a competition in Ithaca, NY, back in 1980, to the current movement that now involves thousands of young people, it has been a highly successful journey.

The 21st Century Drum & Bugle Corps Foundation, Inc., founded in 1996, has been helping the Field Band Foundation through its executive director, Retha Cilliers, by providing funding to assist half a dozen South African young people to spend the summer marching with Pioneer in Milwaukee, WI, the last few years. They take what they have learned in the U.S. and return to their local groups to pass along the teaching methods and instruction they received during the whirlwind DCI tour.

Zietsman envisioned a musical program in his home country like what he saw in Ithaca and spent more than 15 years searching for support and funding to begin the activity. He connected with two brothers who owned a large plate glass company and they provided the start-up capital to purchase sets of American G bugles and drums. From dream to reality, the Field Band Foundation now operates several dozen performing groups, scattered among South African townships and having a direct impact on the lives of more than 3,000 members.

The groups are called bands in South Africa, but they are primarily using G bugles and some B-flat instruments.

In a recent survey of 2,252 of the members, the following statistics have been released, showing how far-reaching the movement is demonstrating:

• The average age is 14.5.

• There are 49% males and 51% females participating.

• A total of 272 different schools are represented among the membership.

• Growth in the number of young people taking part from 2007 to 2008 was 35%.

• The number playing brass instruments is 476 males, 166 females; playing percussion are 339 males and 86 females; 194 males on steel drums and African marimbas, and 228 females; and 59 male dancers, 668 female dancers.

• Nearly 92% of the members had no previous musical playing experience.

• 43.07% of members are from two-parent households; 34.1% living with their mother; 1.6% live with their father; 9.5% live with their grandparents; 4.57% live with an uncle or aunt; 2.04% live with a guardian; and 5.1% live in a place where no adult is present.

• Mothers are unemployed 55.49% of the time; 39.56% of the fathers are unemployed; 4.94% are from households with an unemployed aunt, uncle, guardian, brother or sister; and 61% have no income source at all.

Obviously the conditions are difficult for the majority of the young men and women who are fortunate enough to be in one of the corps/bands sponsored by the Field Band Foundation. One of the primary reasons for the existence of the activity is to provide education on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa, where a huge percentage of the population is affected by the disease.

What is being accomplished is quite remarkable and that is why Drum Corps World and the 21st Century Drum & Bugle Corps Foundation, Inc. continue to do whatever they can to help promote the good work that is being done through the example of drum and bugle corps.

To learn more about the Field Band Foundation, visit their informative Web site:


Donations can also be made through the site for an extremely worthwhile cause. The U.S. contact is Scott Morgan, chairman of the board, who can be reached in New York City at phone and fax:212 925 3075 or by e-mailing him at: scott.morgan@fieldband.org.za.