Andre Jebbinson, Staff Reporter
Members of the Inner City Marching Band performing at the MultiCare Christmas Concert at the Breezy Castle Centre, downtown Kingston, in December 2004. - Contributed
THE GLITZ, glamour and hard-core shenanigans of the movie Drumline created a frenzy among moviegoers. However, that rosy presentation of the marching band was only a hint of the culture in the United States and a preview of what it could be in Jamaica.
With all the talent that there is in Jamaica, in reality drum corps are quite different from American communities and the movies. Local drum corps are starving for the spark that would make their efforts feel like an integral part of the community.
They serve a vital role in the some major Corporate Area inner-city communities and across the island, and some of the talented drum corps have been creating bigger waves and getting more attention abroad than they do locally.
Most of the bands were established because there was a need to assist inner-city children. There is, however, discontent in some of these camps as they are not getting the support they need from the private and public sectors.
According to Evel Monty, Band Master for the Eagles Marching Band, based on George Headley Road in downtown Kingston, he and a few others came together and decided to form a band for the benefit of the youths. He said he saw "there was a need to make something happen in the community". Crime was rampant and young children sat by idly with nothing to do.
And, as they say, the devil finds work for idle hands.
"We are trying to get the kids off the streets. We want computer class. We also want classes in math and English. Our goal right now is to secure a home to accommodate these activities," Monty said. He has seen where members of his band have moved on to the military band, the Jamaica Constabulary Force band and other orchestras in the United States.
He told The Sunday Gleaner the story of Andrew, a former band member who was quite a troublemaker in his younger days. It seemed all hope was lost for Andrew, as had been from expelled from the prominent high school he attended in downtown Kingston. Monty helped him to be readmitted to school after being a part of Eagles. Andrew is now the general manager of a company.
"If we get the right support, violence would be way down. It will by all means have a positive impact on society. We tend to be ignored even though we are uplifting the community," said Bill Stephens, band director for Selassie Garden Marching Band. He believes that the band is prefect for helping youngsters who have to deal with mental, physical and emotional stress.
The various drum corps seem to serve a significant purpose but are not properly endorsed by government development organisations. According to Stalyn Willams, band director for the Tivoli Drum Corps, there used to be a competition in which bands came together to demonstrate their musical prowess and dynamic choreography, but that no longer exists. He said subsequent tournaments were planned but lacked the expertise required to make them successful. He believes the Government can do more to promote these groups that are helping to develop the community.
But according to Courtney Brown, Social Development Commission (SDC) regional director for St. Andrew, St. Thomas and Kingston, there is not a coherent policy for marching bands. "In order for us to fund these groups there has to be provision in the Budget that sets a mandate," Brown said. He believes that the SDC should have responsibility for the youth development, but that has been shifted to the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education was contacted by The Sunday Gleaner, but was redirected to the SDC.
As with Drumline, in real life the superb outfits and melodious music arrangements can cause quite an impact on the eyes and ears. Familiar classics and eye-catching costumes are all composites of typical band but equipment is extremely costly.
A French horn could cost as much as $35,000, while a trumpet can cost up to $14,000. Uniforms also cost a pretty penny.
Primary funding comes from tag drives and other private means. On a good day a drive can earn the drum corp about $40,000. But that is still not enough to sustain the demands of the group. Monty said the Eagles functions as a commune and tries to meet some of the basic need of its members.
"I was able to go college through a marching band and move on to various things. We are trying to do the same thing today. We have many success stories. We have people who met in the band and are now married," Monty said. "Marching bands are really playing key roles in people lives, something that the nation or politicians never really accept."
Some bands have travelled to Florida, New York, Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts in the U.S.
"We are saving a lot of lives and seeing a lot of kids through school. We have a good programme that assists with school fees, CXCs, preparation for GSAT, and any assistance we need now is for someone to give us the ability. We would like someone to help us so we can help ourselves and take it from there," Monty said.
Name and occupation changed.