How playing music in a band creates a better life

The PULSE-project is a result of a long-standing cooperation between the South African Field Band Foundation(FBF) and the Norwegian Band Federation(NMF). The meeting point between the two organisations, and the space where PULSE operates, is that the activity of music can be a positive force in a person’s life. Not only artistically, but also in terms of social and personal development, holistic health and as a strong, supportive community strengthening individuals to be in control of their own lives.

In both Norway and South Africa the Marching band/Field band is an expression of national culture. In Norway, the NMF is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2018, and the marching bands are considered an indispensable part of the Norwegian National day celebration. In South Africa, brass music has been present in local communities for a long time. In addition, South African Field bands include a pit section with marimbas and steel drums, as well as a section for African dance.

Through being viewed as authentic Norwegian/South African cultural expressions, the activity is already in a large part legitimised and accepted into the local communities. Since the bands first and foremost are activities for children, it helps in terms of recruitment and safety that the parents already recognise, understand and accept the concept to which they entrust their children.Both the FBF and NMF have realised that the regular gathering of many young people through joyful activities is an ideal arena for transferring skills and values to guide them towards a successful life. The FBF states its role in social inclusion and development as follows: ”To create opportunities for the development of life skills in the youth through the medium of music and dance.”(FBF Programmes Overview). In the FBF life skills program are subjects such as HIV/AIDS awareness, conflict management, social inclusion and discipline, amongst others.

Both FBF and NMF are working on developing a health strategy for the respective organisations as a recognition of the organisations’ social and societal responsibilities in this field.

The cooperation between NMF and FBF has been going on for 15 years, with the PULSE exchange programme and the focus on music and health being the most recent project to be launched. Previous projects have involved exchanging tutors and instructors for mutual development in music skills and pedagogical abilities.

In Norway, South African participants contribute to local marching bands both with musical skills and also with competence in fields such as social inclusion and relations to linguistic and other minorities in the bands. In South Africa, the Norwegian participants contribute with skills in relation to fulfilling the FBF´s social and developmental objectives. In particular, PULSE in South Africa are working towards making the field band a safe and supportive place to be for the members, and facilitating a healthy environment for learning both the musical skills and the life skills that the Field Band Foundation provides its members. This is done by focusing on the positive impact the activity of music has on a person’s health and well-being, as well as on inclusion for everyone, with an extra focus on members living with disabilities.

For Norwegians reading this, it might not be immediately clear what the Field Band Foundation in South Africa is all about. As mentioned above, FBF utilises the activity of music to reach out to children with life skills programmes and activities for bettering both their health and their prospects in life.

Life skills, as it is used by the FBF includes both providing members with knowledge about topics such as HIV/AIDS, hygiene and substance abuse, and positive, joyful and affirming activities that develop the members imagination, team spirit and self-discipline.

The context of the work the FBF does takes place amongst youths in the most disadvantaged areas of South Africa. These are young people who live in a society experiencing high levels of unemployment and few opportunities for development. The communities in which the FBF work, experience drug abuse, crime, sexual misconduct and a high frequency of HIV/AIDS and teenage pregnancies. As an example 61,1% of the field band members have unemployed parents.

The Field Band Foundation aims to break these cycles of generational poverty by providing youth with useful skills, which are the teaching and music skills provided so that young leaders can learn to transfer these skills to the other members. The FBF also runs programmes supporting children in distress, providing basic items such as bedding and school uniforms. Currently the FBF reach 6 742 members in 9 out of the 11 provinces across the whole of South Africa.

Starting with the activity of playing music together in a field band, the FBF introduces youths to a supportive community of peers, and a healthy and joyful place to spend their free time. Through this, it is possible to strengthen people’s positive feelings, build self-esteem, and aquire life skills and self-discipline. With a new and more positive outlook on their future prospects through the aquiring of new skills and a sense of self-worth, the youth are more inclined to change their behavioural patterns into more positive ones, staying away from self-destructive activities and choosing instead to further their own personal development. Out of the youth that have completed the entire course of the education opportunities the Field Band Foundation offers, 75% have found employment.

Through surveys, youth in the FBF express that the field band gives them “joy of playing and dancing together”, helps them “improve life skills”, “learn to follow leaders”, “being able to become a leader” and “showed me what I was capable of”(Music And Health Survey, PULSE, 2014).

And it all started with playing music in a band.

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Written by Ine Nord / PULSE

Pictures by Ine Nord and Sello Ramosepele

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