South Africa hears the drumbeat

by Cozy Baker, DCW Features Editor

This article was originally published in the May 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 2).

South Africa is on another continent from most of corpsdom, yet conducts ceremonies of cherished traditions. Herman Mashaba is the chairman of the Field Band Foundation. In a country that seeks to reduce apartheid, AIDS, poverty and more, performing arts is employed as a powerful tool, just as television hostess Oprah Winfrey’s school for girls has helped.

Lessons that would apply to other circuits globally should be studied. Here are excerpts from Mashaba’s 2007 annual report and U.S. Chairman Scott Morgan’s American summary. With British spellings and referrals to “bands”, these units march as drum corps using American-made bugles in the key of G. Their groups are called bands because the term is more universally known in that country and has been quite helpful in gaining financial grants from large corporations.

Mashaba stated, “It was hardly three years after the birth of our democracy that the [Field Band] Foundation was born as a vehicle to make a contribution to the reconstruction and development of our society through the cultural means targeting the youth. Since those humble beginnings in 1997, when the Foundation started with 600 youngsters in four provinces, we have experienced a phenomenal growth far surpassing our wildest expectations.

These major achievements are a confirmation that our mission is the correct mission, answering the needs of our target audience — the SA youth.

“Significant progress has been made in the area of performances as evidenced by the outstanding displays by various bands at the National Championships to celebrate our 10th Anniversary [held last fall]. The production of the first CD of the Foundation couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It is not as if all these achievements were attained without challenges . . . At the international level, progress was made in strengthening our relationships with our partners/stakeholders in Norway, Belgium, USA and The Netherlands.

“With the HIV/Aids pandemic ravaging our country, it is worth mentioning the resounding success achieved by our HIV/AIDS workshops. The results of the prevalence survey conducted by Aganang in April 2006 to establish the frequency of the HIV infection among FBF members concluded as follows: the overall result was that 99% of all FBF participants tested negative (prevalence of 0.6%). Considering the national prevalence in the 15-24 age group as being 16% for females and 4% for males (HSRC Survey), this represents a major achievement.

“When you hear parents saying, ‘My kid never used to listen to me; now he does,’ you know the FBF is doing something, which goes beyond music. They are getting life skills.”

Scott Morgan is the USA chairman of the FBF board. Here are selections from his report:

“The Field Band Foundation, Inc. has gained many new friends and supporters throughout this past year. As testament to this, we welcomed aboard two new members to our board, Jim Luce and Mary-Shannon Ryan.

Mary-Shannon Ryan traveled to see the championships for the first time ever and we have high hopes that she, as well as Jim Luce, will remain as integral and longstanding contributors to the continuing future and success of the Foundation.

Dave Gibbs of DCInternational’s Blue Devils and Brian Hickman of DCI’s Glassmen also joined our cause, and we look forward to a continuing relationship with DCI in the coming year.

“James Collins, a young videographer who recently graduated from the renowned and respected Harvard University, has begun work on his video documentary of the Field Band Foundation in South Africa and is sponsored by a Fulbright Scholarship and mtvU.

We thank them for choosing to put their time and resources toward creating a greater exposure for the Foundation, and await with bated breath to see the completed results of their efforts in the future.

“Our newest supporter is Toron, an investment management firm in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, that has already displayed their level of commitment by holding two fund-raisers to support the FBF.”

Blenskis, Gibbs, Hickman

Morgan continued, “Roman Blenski, CEO of the Pioneer drum corps ( in Milwaukee, USA, hosted another three of our members this past summer. It is amazing what a difference the commitment from an individual can make and for six years now Roman has been a dedicated supporter. So we are glad that he could also join our celebrations this year.

Publisher’s note: The 21st Century Drum & Bugle Corps Foundation, Inc., based in Madison, WI, has contributed financially to sponsor the young people who come over each summer to march with Pioneer. The funds provide the South African members with clothing and spending money during their time in the United States. They return following the season and use what they learned to teach other members of the corps in their country.

“Our members continue to find the training and rehearsal schedule in the USA very tough, but the work ethic of the USA bands [corps] is such an example of effort equals outcome. And that lesson, for any youngster, is vital.

“Our members bring this lesson with them on their return to SA. The experience of living in another country obviously has huge developmental advantages and we must again thank the Pioneer for the commitment and care that they show our members.

“We were also very privileged to have Brian Hickman, CEO of the USA Glassmen Drum Corps ( and David Gibbs, CEO of the Blue Devils (, attend the championships and act as judges. This meant that we really had a world-class panel of judges, but more importantly, we hope that this is the first step toward building relationships with these corps and DCI in the USA.

Videographer, Michael Zapanta, joined them on the trip to the Field Band Foundation and will be producing a documentary on their trip here to use for development of USA and FBF relationships.

“Thank you to Jennifer and Jonathan Oppenheimer for their fantastic help with the air tickets for our youngsters to travel to the USA!”

CEO overview 2007

“Our 10th Anniversary year has been momentous. Reaching a milestone such as this always attracts a little reflection. Have we achieved what we set out to do?

“The 1996 concept document set out the objectives of the Foundation that would be established in 1997: Lifetime opportunities for the youth lessons in life such as willingness and ability to cooperate with others, being depended upon by others, a sense of pride, not only in oneself, but in the organisation as a whole, a sense of belonging, punctuality and responsibility, striking up firm and loyal friendships, gaining self-esteem and confidence, a desire to serve others, hard work, discipline, obedience, perseverance and dedication . . .”

“I think we can say that we have achieved all of these objectives. Field bands will become an integral part of sporting activities in South Africa — not yet achieved!

“Will be accessible to all and not only the talented few” — This has been a huge achievement as many of our band members have discovered talents they were not even aware of. It’s not exclusive, even though it may concentrate on disadvantaged communities, as the universal language of music transcends all barriers.

“The FBF was conceived and born in response to a deep-felt need by the founders to give something back to South Africa. Given the    country’s recent political history, which had resulted in thousands of young people and communities being marginalised, and the concurrent re-integration of SA back into a competitive global community, the timing could not have been more opportune.

“36 Norwegians have worked with the FBF in South Africa and 23 Field Band youngsters have studied and worked in Norway. When they return from Norway, they continue to work in the FBF and the skills they acquired are passed on to the communities.

“While the FBF is essentially a life skills programme, it has achieved a large measure of its success due to the healing powers of music and dance. While no document can capture the magic of an FBF performance, it is clear that the quality of music making has improved in leaps and bounds.”

Drum Corps World continues to follow the progress of this worthwhile activity in South Africa and we want our readers to be aware of the impact the movement that began in the United States 87 years ago (1921 American Legion convention) is having on the young people in a country devasted by the AIDS epidemic.

The Field Band Foundation, through their executive director, Retha Cilliers, and all the hard-working directors, instructors, parent supporters and assistance from individuals and organizations in the United States and in Norway, is making a difference in the lives of more than 3,000 young people through music.

For more information about the groups in South Africa: