Vlamo Educational Project In South-African Field Band Academy Successfully Launched
‘We are convinced of the complementary character of the Vlamo (www.vlamo.be) support to the Field Band Foundation’, say Maarten Deschacht and Bart Tienpont at their arrival. This is also the main conclusion of the FBF after launching a Vlamo course about show design and percussion at the recently founded FBF Field Band Academy (http://www.fieldband.org.za/read_more.pdf) in Eshowe, Durban, South Africa. During the last three years Vlamo has been working closely together with the FBF providing teachers for yearly ‘teach the teachers’ workshops. This was accomplished with the financial support of the Flemish government. This year the Field Band Academy has been founded and Vlamo was kindly invited to provide educational support. The Field Band institute guarantees a solid base for a long-term cooperation between both organizations.
Former articles reported about the activities of the Field Band Foundation in detail (www.corpsandband.be). By the set-up of Field Bands (marching bands) in townships around big South-African cities like Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elisabeth, etc., the organization contributes intensively to youth skill development. However, the FBF has decided to go one step further and founded the Field Band Academy. The Academy provides education to adolescents to allow a step-in for further studies but it also assures a good training for future tutors of the Field Bands. Music and dance remain important focuses. Vlamo is very enthusiastic about this new form of cooperation since their modules on show design and marching percussion fit very well in the educational package. They are also complementary to the modules that are organized by the FBF and the Norwegian Music Federation (NMF). The South-African teachers focus mainly on social, financial and (computer) technical skills, while the Norwegian teachers of the NMF teach mainly music theory and techniques for brass players.
An academic year consists of three semesters of six weeks each. Vlamo aims to fly in specialists for one week during each semester to organize those courses. The ‘normal’ school day schedule is then adapted during this week to provide between 4 to 6 hours per day to the Vlamo teachers. ‘Since we did not have to finish a show by the end of the week, we could mainly focus on the methodology to set-up a show from bottom to top’, says Maarten. As all students are returning to the Field Bands after the trainings, it is important to teach about all aspects of setting up a show, organizing rehearsals in function of this and dealing with larger groups. ‘A nice case study was set up on the occasion of this first Vlamo course’, continues Maarten, ‘a traditional African song ‘Meadowlands’ was completed converted and re-arranged in function of a mini show’. In this way, the students were taught how to create choreography and visual effects in function of music, and vice versa, to adapt music arrangements in function of the ‘general visual effect’. While the original traditional song is repetitive, the new composition has become a sequence of an intro, an ‘easy-listening’ tune, a ballad and a powerful swing moment at the end. ‘While the creation of a show requires a lot of elements to take care of, ‘staging’ and ‘integration’ are of primary importance and these terms were the key elements in this first course’, says Bart. The field can be considered a stage of a theater and the ‘staging’, i.e. putting the right people at the right place at the right moment (in function of the music) improves the quality of the show tremendously.
‘Integration’ is all about the combination of visual and musical elements to bring unity into a show. Talking about ‘integration’ in the Field Bands has a special side-effect. Among the students from the townships this is a strong believe that ‘knowledge is power’. This has a clear impact on the (lack of) communication and cooperation between tutors belonging to one Field Band. This mostly results in shows that express no coordination between or integration of the different sections (dancers, pit percussion, field percussion and brass) into the show. This lack of communication can also cause conflicts during rehearsals. The teaching of a rehearsal methodology is thus of crucial importance, not only to improve the quality of the show, but moreover to learn how to function within a team.
‘Listening comes before talking… and we have come to some insights after setting up this first Vlamo course’, continue Maarten and Bart. ‘An approach for setting up modules over a 6-weeks period in a two-year program is clearly different than this of a workshop’. We are aiming to focus only on a limited number of aspects per module and this time we discussed ‘staging’ and ‘integration’. While the FBA students are very eager to learn and new topics has to be dealt with, it is important to repeat the basic elements each time. ‘A practical approach like this ‘Meadowlands’ case study is also much more efficient than a pure theoretic one’. Maarten concludes ‘Referring to methodologies of teaching is mandatory. It takes more time to explain things on a short term, but on a long term people will profit from this’.
Three international teams are working together in the school: The South African educational team and choreograph Musa, the Norwegian NMF team and Vlamo. ‘Despite our totally different backgrounds we have found out that we are actually speaking the same language, and this can only improve the educational quality in the school. We are therefore convinced that a preparative course in Flanders for future Flemish teachers in needed to guarantee this proven methodology’, says Bart.
The concepts and values of the Field Band Foundation (www.fieldband.org.za) are highly appreciated and recognized by partners and sponsors. This success also explains the weekly requests for setting up new Field Band in different areas in South Africa. The Field Band Academy is therefore not only a project of high value but it has also become a necessity. It allows to train people for future support and expansion of the Foundation’s activities. With the help of the international partners this can be also be guaranteed.
Text & pictures: Maarten Deschacht and Bart Tienpont