South African Field Band Foundation is more than contests

On the final weekend of September, the Field Band Foundation in South Africa, made up of 24 drum and bugle corps using American G bugles, held their annual National Championships. The number of young people taking part in this endeavor is nearly equal to the number who take part in corps across the North American continent!

It was started in 1997 to develop programs focusing on youth social development through music and dance, HIV/AIDS and life skills education, employment, scholarships and exchanges with other countries, including the U.S. and Norway.

Each group has two rehearsals a week, one music notation class each week, individual lessons for seniors, a minimum of 30 performances per year, the National Championships, workshops for all FBF members on behaviour change, inclusive of a life skills programme, HIV/AIDS information, annual prevalence study, interaction with formal institutions locally, workshops to increase organisational capacity, formal exams providing recognised qualifications for members, sustainable environmental projects and employment opportunities created through relationships with prospective employers such as the SANDF and the commercial sector.

The concept is built on the global youth activity known otherwise as show bands (drum and bugle corps in the U.S., Europe and the Far East). This specific discipline was chosen first for the long historic presence of brass music in South African communities and it also allows for large group participation. All 24 projects of the Foundation have a minimum of 125 youth actively involved.

The FBF supports the UN Millennium goals:

• Reduce poverty: 57.3% of the members’ parents are unemployed. The first priority is to break the cycles of generational poverty by providing youth with useful skills. South Africa has a growing tourism industry, providing many opportunities for members to either be employed or to exercise their entrepreneurial spirit.

• Gender issues: The FBF includes gender equality in core values and practices these values daily. It is also addressed in a module in the Life Skills programme.

• HIV/AIDS prevention: The Foundation has an extensive programme in place — in partnership with Aganang, a World Health Organisation accredited NGO. The focus is on prevention and information. The HIV epidemic will not be stopped in Africa unless a comprehensive holistic education programme is in place to support information about HIV prevention. Information itself is not enough. The members need a reason to change their behaviour and by providing them with a renewed view of their own future, they are more inclined to behaviour change.

• Global partnerships: These are essential for the developing world. The Foundation has been very fortunate to develop two programmes with the Netherlands and the U.S., and an extensive partnership with Norway.

• Improve education: The FBF encourages academic excellence and school participation.

• Sustainable environment: The focus is on protecting the environment.

The FBF is an innovative, imaginative and exciting organisation with a strong track record for youth development through music and dance. Their target audience is disadvantaged youth who come from communities where unemployment is high and access to youth-oriented educational activities are limited.

Members come from households where 41.2% live with both parents and 58.8% with single parents/grandparents or guardians. The members’ average age is 14.6 years old and over 80% had not had access to music/arts education before they joined the FBF.

The Foundation presently has 3,626 members from 257 schools in 133 townships, 45.9% are males and 54.1% are female.

Drum Corps World believes in the program being offered by the Field Band Foundation and has been following the progress of the organization since Johan Zeitsman, one of the founders, first contacted us in 1980 after he saw the Drum Corps East Championships in Ithaca, NY. We value being able to share the success of this activity in South Africa with our readers around the world.

DCW staff member Peter Jan deWerk from The Netherlands has been to South Africa and tells us that these groups are fun to watch and have a special touch of the African culture. Thousands of kids are being kept busy with a very worthwhile purpose that is highly beneficial.

This article originally appeared in the November 2007 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 14), mailed to subscribers on October 25, 2007.