Students Helping Students Across The World

October 30, 2009

After a stint in the army, and in the corporate world, David Hobart enrolled at BMCC last year to pursue a business degree. Like most BMCC students, he successfully balances a job with his academics.

But Hobart’s job is unique—he is the founder of The Spirit of the Lakes, Inc., a non-profit drum and bugle corps that started in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Drum and bugle corps are bands that consist of only brass and percussion instruments (no woodwinds), and color guard. They became popular in the United States after World War II.

“When the vets came back from the war, they needed something to do, so they joined the fire departments and American Legions  and created these competitive units called drum corps,” says Hobart, who has played in drum and bugle corps his entire life; mostly as a trumpeter.

Launched in 2001, Spirit of the Lakes has since evolved into an organization with an operating musical ensemble, which consists of pianists, a cellist and a violinist. The group tours throughout the Northeast, performing live, and leading music-related workshops.

Earlier this year, Hobart had an epiphany that would change the lives of students not just in New York, but in Africa as well.

The Field Band Foundation of Africa teaches teens life lessons
“I decided Spirit of the Lakes would team up with the Rochester Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps—where I serve as an officer—in January to provide an outreach program to the Field Band Foundation in South Africa,” says Hobart. “The Field Band Foundation bands are much like their U.S. counterparts in providing education, direction and discipline to teens.”

Additionally, the teenage band members are taught important life skills. “They learn how to live in South Africa, how to stay away from crime and how to prevent themselves from the high risk of HIV/AIDS,” says Hobart. “I spent a month in South Africa meeting with the foundation officers and staffers to verify their program’s legitimacy.”

According to Hobart, there are 20 bands throughout Africa with more than 3,000 members. “More than 4,000 teenagers are currently on a waiting list in Africa to enroll in a band,” he says. “There aren’t enough instruments to go around.”

Donating instruments to South Africa
Hobart and the members of Spirit of the Lakes decided to create a program in the U.S. and Canada where drum corps, marching bands and orchestreas could donate instruments to the kids in South Africa.

“The response has been overwhelming,” says Hobart. “We have collected nearly enough equipment to start one band in South Africa, thus, providing a service to many of the underserved.” 

Generally, one instrument is shared among three band members. “One instrument can have a positive influence on three lives,” says Hobart. “The members perform African music on Western instruments.”The students in Africa who are involved with a field band must maintain a certain GPA and practice during the week, after school. The uniforms they wear are all manufactured in South Africa, and when it’s competition time, each band receives additional funding from the government lottery, individuals or corporations.

Kids ‘feel very proud’ to participate in drum corps
According to Hobart, being involved in a marching band in South Africa, “you’re standing out in a community. It’s a proud sport. You’re making music for people. It’s different than here in the States.”

He credits the professionalism of the field band with improving social skills. “One kid I met in South Africa told me that if it wasn’t for the discipline of the band, he wouldn’t be able to sit here with me at a table and just have a cup of coffee,” says Hobart. “Now he’s been matriculated into university on a scholarship through the Field Band Foundation.”

Hobart stresses that in the United States, it’s less challenging to make music. “In Africa, we’re dealing with the townships—we’re talking tin shanties with lots of poverty and crime. When the kids see the marching band come down the street, they really want to be part of it.”

This is why Hobart will continue to work with drum and bugle corps in the U.S. to send instruments to Africa, while eventually pursuing a master’s degree in business.

Hobart doesn’t play the trumpet as much as he did as a teenager, because, “I’m very involved with the business,” he says. “After going to Africa, I decided this is my passion. I want other students to have the same positive experiences with music that I did.”   

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