This is Jess, and for my debut blog post, I’m going to talk about my project here at Volunteer Petén: working with the marching band! The School of Natural Resources has a small band that meets a few times every week. It’s mainly comprised of percussion, trumpets, and trombones with almost no woodwind representation. That’s because the main goal here is volume – for a small band, they produce a huge sound! There are often parades, or desfiles, in town (three since we’ve been here), so the band is kept busy.
The biggest difference between the band here and bands in the U.S. is how music is learned. In the U.S., students are taught from a young age to read music. Here, students play entirely by ear, with not a sheet of music in sight. The director plays the tune on the xylophone while the students listen closely to pick out their parts. Then they practice and practice until they’ve got it down.
The difficulty in this method is consistency. What one student hears might not be the same as the next student, and this leads to discrepancies within parts. The goal of any band is unified sound – as they say in Drumline, “one band, one sound!” That’s why my project over the next month will be giving the band an introduction to reading music: el pentagrama (the staff), las notas (notes), and las claves (the clefs). Through our practices we are going to learn more about tuning, listening to other parts, correct breathing and posture – all the tools needed for a more cohesive and refined sound.
Despite the limited resources and challenges, there is a strong enthusiasm and hunger to learn here, and we’ve already made a lot of progress! In our first week, students learned the basics of reading rhythms. Things got a little hairy when we got to la síncopa (syncopation), but the students pushed through and were counting like champs by the end. Next, we tackled the concert B flat scale on the trumpet and trombone. This was a great introduction to slide positions, concert tuning notes, and attention to pitch.
Our last post discussed education in Guatemala and the challenge of keeping kids in school past their early teens. Getting kids involved in extracurricular activities is one of the best ways to prevent drop outs. Students whose friendships, social lives, and hobbies are tied to an extracurricular have much more to lose by dropping out than students with no involvement.
As a lifelong member of the marching band, this project is very close to my heart. That’s why I want to send a huge thank you to Beth Wofford and the Mighty Sound of Maryland, who have enthusiastically agreed to work with me in getting these kids the resources they need! The students already know a bit about the MSOM, as I brought my 2009 DVD and showed our Pregame performance in our first lesson. They were quite impressed, and your support is going to be a big help, so thanks!
Coming next: Breathing exercises, complex rhythms, and reading basic music!