Posted by: Project MicroMundo | September 23, 2010

Band and Independence Day!

Jessica again, with one last band update. We’ve finally had our September 15th performance, and it was a big hit! Independence Day is a big deal here in Guatemala. There are weeks of events, performances, and desfiles in the mes de patria (Independence month). In the nights leading up to the 15th the celebrations are kicked up a notch – the local school kids participate in nightly desfiles de faroles (lantern parades), and the town elects its Señoras y Señoritas de Independencia (Miss Independence) and celebrates its noche cultural, which this year included the performance of Ronnie’s dance students.

Me in my uniform

Me in my new uniform before the parade began.

All of these celebrations culminate in a massive desfile and all-day festival on the 15th. As the resident volunteer band teacher, I was lucky enough to be the sole gringa participant in the morning’s desfile. I even had my very own Banda de Liceo Santa Cruz uniform. A far cry from the uniforms at home, it involved a bright yellow corset (think Beauty and the Beast meets J.Lo) and white pants. It was well worth the sunburn (and perhaps hit to my dignity) to experience marching and playing with the band that I’ve spent so much time with. We started at the very bottom of the town’s hill – as the locals say, abajo. Then we marched arriba (up), all the way up death mountain to the soccer fields in the center of town. Even more impressive, we marched in time: check out the video here, and see part of our “marching dance” here!

It wasn’t until we reached the center of town that I realized just how many people actually live in San Andres. Having never really directed a band in front of anyone, let alone in front of thousands of people, I had a brief moment of stage fright. Lucky for me, there wasn’t too much time to dwell on it – the speakers announced us almost immediately, so I hurriedly passed out the music, tuned the first note, and then it was showtime. And at risk of sounding like an overly enthusiastic parent, I have to say they did a really great job! For a group whose first introduction to written music was only a month ago, they really put on a good show. None of the other bands in the area have ever learned the anthem, so we were excited and proud to be the first ones ever to play it live for the town.


Marching in the desfile.

Guatemala’s anthem has four incredibly long verses, so the fact that the kids developed the sheer endurance to get through it was a testament to how hard we’ve worked. But we made it through to the end, and as the last note sounded, it was hard to believe it was actually all over. It was stranger still to start saying our goodbyes, and hear them planning tomorrow’s practice, knowing that first thing in the morning I’d be on a bus headed to a new location.

Marching uphill

The band tackles Death Mountain.

I hope I’ve taught some things that will stick: enthusiasm for marching, better appreciation of musicianship and their instruments, and the discipline and perseverance needed to learn challenging music. (It was also good for a few of them to practice communicating with a girl in a form other than catcalls.) I’m hopeful that even if using sheet music doesn’t become the norm for the Banda Liceo Santa Cruz, the confidence and pride they felt at the end of our show will be a lasting lesson in the things they can accomplish as a band.

As a final note, I want to send a big thank you to Doug Evans, who almost immediately upon my last post had a Spanish guitar book en route to be delivered to the band! There is still room for some more supplies, so if anyone else has any Spanish-language theory books or materials for cleaning instruments, please let me know ASAP! It would be a huge help, and I know the students would really appreciate it!

Performing the anthem

Finally getting to perform the national anthem!


  1. Wow – what fun! I love the uniforms – they are very Latin Looking! I managed to find a couple of books that are on their way, will see about some cleaning supplies! Great job!

    Eileen (Mom)

  2. Beauty & The Beast meets J. Lo — what a great line! I hope you get to keep that uniform; so much more comfortable than that scratchy UMd thing. Good job!

  3. Jess,

    I have enjoyed your posts about teaching music, especially in the marching band context. I was in a marching band in junior high school and I know how trying it is for a teacher. All of you have really impressed me with this project.


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