Sunday, January 30, 2011

the sound of music

Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoon, I am serenaded by the Boys Brigade marching band. Not that they are trying to entertain me. But they practice outdoors by the church, and sound carries far on the MEF campus.

The Boys Brigade is an explicitly Christian organization for school-age boys, somewhat like Boy Scouts. However, while Scouts emphasize camping and nature study as well as recreation, the Boys Brigade emphasizes music along with games and other activities.

Boys Brigade began in Scotland and England over 125 years ago, and their troops are generally based in Protestant churches. The motto is "Sure and Steadfast." The story is told that the first President of the Republic of Zambia, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, was visiting Scotland and was exceptionally impressed by the Boys Brigade brass band that played in his honor. He introduced the organization in Zambia in 1965.

What I find amazing is that the band plays well, and no one can read music! One day in the human behavior class I teach, we were discussing aspects of thinking, learning, and how memory works. I mentioned the concept of mnemonic devices, and used "every good boy does fine" (how I remember the notes for the lines on the treble clef) and discovered that none of my students had ever seen a musical score. Yet they sing beautifully, often with harmony. Clearly, their ear for music has been cultivated from an early age, and they sing a lot, so practice doubtless helps, too.

I think sometimes of the musical The Music Man when I listen to the Boys Brigade brass band. If Harold Hill had tried his con scheme here in Africa, he wouldn't have needed to escape town after selling the instruments and the uniforms. The kids would have been able to play without formal instruction.

And what do they play? Very old-fashioned hymns that date back to the days of the missionaries, like "Blessed Assurance," "Showers of Blessings," and "Shall We Gather by the River." They also play some secular music but mostly hymns.

Last Sunday, someone from the congregation gave the band a pair of cymbals to add to their instruments, and a new decorated baton. They perform at many church celebrations and other social functions. I will miss their music when I return to Arizona.

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