Communities under marching orders
Marching bands have thrived for decades. The oldest of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean is the Montego Bay Boys and Girls Club Marching Band in St. James, which will be 76 years old in July. The marching band culture is part of the musical traditions of Africa where percussive drums and dance are married and evolved to include wind instruments for most outfits. Part of a rich tradition within Jamaica's musical culture, the best-known marching bands are associated with churches, schools and community centres across the island.
According to Earl Dacres, drum major of Seaview All-Stars Band, the main function of the band is to bring together the talents of the youth within the communities, whether they are versed at playing an instrument, dancing or even to acquire administrative roles that can help develop their skills over time.
"The band is a product of a community walk-through carried out by the police and St Jude's Marching Band in 2002. It was seen as an opportunity to get youth of Seaview involved instead of having them idling in the streets," Dacres told The Sunday Gleaner.
At band rehearsals, many of which happen in the evening hours, children as young as four years old gather to watch the performing members. Band members still juggle full-time jobs (ranging from newspaper salesperson to nurse), school and family, which sometimes creates logistical problems for bookings, travelling and even finding the time to practise. Nonetheless, the residents of communities such as Seaview, Tivoli Gardens, Green Pond in St James and Portmore, among others, can hear the sounds of instruments until the wee hours of the night.
The marching bands' relevance to the community is, in most cases, unrelated to the music or the synchronised moves of the dancers or cheerleaders. Assistant director of the Magnificent Troopers Marching Band, Milton Wong, said, "It does a lot for the children. Parents look up to the band for grooming and remedial purposes."
The stories of the children who become part of a marching band are usually untold, but band practice is the place many release their frustrations through dance and especially on the drums. It has become a safe haven - a second home. Some even gain a family, having been involved in community events, parades and even funerals where the band is booked to play comforting musical pieces.