Playing with the banda

Here in Oaxaca, there is a brass band (banda) tradition. A large group of brass players, or sometimes brass and woodwinds, plus a few percussionists, plays traditional music VERY LOUDLY. I’ve heard a few of the bandas play, and it is always energetic and pretty rough (call it punk folk). Everybody knows the tunes, in the banda and in the audience.

I just got back to the hotel, having sat in with the banda that is made up mostly of the students from the festival. Bear in mind that there is no music written out, so I was a step worse than sight-reading (reading music for the first time). Trying to discern what chord is being played amid the cacophony was a challenge. The horn section consisted of my youngest students here (16 years old). They had remarkable endurance and great rhythm. I contributed little beyond taking up space. But I had a hell of a good time.

A few posts ago, I wrote about my new triple horn. It’s what I brought here, and I am loving it. But holding it in position for 45 minutes straight produced a bicep burn that can only be good for me (I hope).

A tradition like the village banda makes a huge difference in the musical lives of both children and adults. The loss of bands and orchestras in schools in the US will be devastating to musical culture, as we have already begun to see. It’s not just that people here in Mexico love music, which they do (the chants of “Otra! Otra! Otra!” [“Play another”] prove that), but that music here is more participatory and more deeply ingrained in the culture. Most of the students I am teaching are dirt poor. They are playing on the worst instruments I have ever seen (let me publicly thank Instrumenta Oaxaca, the festival here, for hiring a brass repairman, who worked 12 hours a day for a week to try to get these instruments working – this guy should get a Cuban Mechanics award). But they are playing in the banda and getting fired up about music starting at a young age. They are now hungry to learn. They are dead serious about playing their instruments. They respect their teachers. They are great kids, and it is a joy to teach them. Even if I have to do it in Spanish.

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