Gravitating to the School Marching Band

An Institute Marching Band drummer.

I found solace hanging out at the school athletic field in several ways but it was mainly a way for me to stray from my classmates and make new friends who, like me, found comfort in hanging around the field. It was there out on the field that I discovered how some students who attended the Institute from the interior of the country resided at a dormitory at the school.  

Some of the boys I had met in class were staying at that small dormitory but no one really bothered to investigate their living arrangements which were really sparse and the boys who stayed there had no one to oversee their continuing needs as newcomers to the big city.  Few of us students even knew about this dormitory set up.  Leave it to me to follow my curiosity about my paisanos.

I noticed on my visits to the dormitory, however, that I had to stand outside the doorway; not that the boys there would have minded me coming inside but to give the rest of the boys in the dorm a modicum of privacy.  You can picture just how crowded the set up was with the boys going about their business in that tiny dorm trying to stay out of each other’s way.

I would, nevertheless, talk to the boys about where they were from and their families and that sort of thing.  In this manner I slowly acquired some knowledge about the far flung regions within the Province of Chiriquí and Veraguas. These two provinces in particular were where most of my new friends were from.  To tell the truth, the places they talked to me about seemed as distant and unknown as China or Japan; places I figured I’d never get an opportunity to see in my entire life.

Quite frankly it was a breath of fresh air to meet these boys at the dormitory and since there was no place to study at the school, I invited them to go with us to study in the evenings at the only Public Library available which was up in the San Felipe district. I secretly felt sorry for those kids who, unlike me, were far away from family and childhood friends.

Then again, the whole situation at school made us unite and become more studious and determined in completing our academic preparation.  Intermittently, I would also go back to my dentistry trade shop and help out during the year and I also found time to continue writing to my Pen Pals in South America.

At any rate, another benefit I picked up hanging out in the school field after class was that I got to watch and cheer on the school marching band since the school yard was their practice ground.  I took my place alongside their many other fans to simply take it all in and root for and get to know the best players in this drama.

The drum section especially captured my interest and I was given a chance to participate one day and show what I had learned all the time we’d been gawking just following the action. I was surprised to discover that I could play the rhythms flawlessly without ever having observed or practiced ever before. I remained more than eager to stand on the sidelines biding my time until, at any moment, when the Band Master was pressed for someone to fill in, I would be more than willing to oblige.

This is how I ended up being recruited for the Banda de Guerra del Instituto Nacional de Panama for the upcoming 3rd of November Patriotic Day Parade.

This story will continue.

2 responses to “Gravitating to the School Marching Band

  1. It is interesting your story about the students from Chiriqui and Veraguas.It brought back memories of the true making and development of the Panamanian. At Abel Bravo we had some students who had moved from that region with their parents to live in Colon, I imagine for work purpose.

    One of them was Rosa Sanchez, who shocked us when we found out that she could understand us whenever we spoke in English.

    She told us as if it were the most natural thing that she learned English from an old Jamaican woman who lived in her building with her family( Panamanian born). According to Rosa, the old woman used to sit in a common area of the building to catch breeze or sun and whenever she passed they would communicate.

    Rosa told us the old lady would stop her and talk for a long period of time in English. She said in the beginning she just nodded politely but stayed put and always made the old woman end the conversation. Eventually Rosa became fluent in English and in school, it became easy for her to write it.

    This was the old way in Panama between young people and their elders,where the older person always had the last word. These were some of the grand moments between different people that compelled the average Colonense to learn to speak English. The beauty of Colon in its heyday.

    The older West Indians were very imposing and believed it was their duty to teach and look over the younger ones regardless of their ethnicity.

    What made the city of Colon very interesting in the past was that it had a very cosmopolitan flair and most people understood English.

    It would be interesting if Panama returns to those days, not of just a physical development but one in which its people grow intellectually and recognize that they are part of a larger picture, the global community.


  2. Raymond Grant


    The essay was a very warm felt piece. The follow up on the Colon marching band experience reminded me of having read that they are 3 things that a pleasure to experience. That is the flight of an eagle, he soars higher before a storm; a general in front of his army, he inspires them to action when he points them to charge and conquer and he right along with them leading the way, and the other, the other as most people know about, as to do with the intimacy between a male and a female the first time.

    But, it is the matter of a general in front of his army, that most remind me about the bands assemblies of Colegio Abel Bravo and La Salle in Colon in the mid 1960.

    Since then, band participation as become not only a civic manifestation it is also consider a cultural manifestation. Of particular importance are the drums in the African culture as a message carriers. Yes, yes, I to have a natural disposition for the playing of the drum, seems like it is in the blood.

    Now, now, I have come to learn that the old timers inside and outside of Panama, can still participate in the tradition. Yet, the rhythm of an innovated beat that should be expected of them as message carries, is the beat of becoming organized civic societies, involved with the study, preservation, and promotion of their much loved band traditions. As a organized society, such civic duties may involved awarding price money in honor of a past distinguished citizen from their community, to the band and/or school that display the old fashion November marching spirit, of years gone by. Such price money could very well be air marked to acquire cultural development books in one aspect of culture or another that receiving organization could benefit from.

    More often than not, one becomes a caoch after practicing an edeavor for a number of years. I caught a glimpse of one of panama legendary baseball players, doing the very thing.