Instilling—and then Measuring—Confidence in Young Band Members

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Instilling—and then Measuring—Confidence in Young Band Members

Amanda Holt, Strategic Information Specialist, Field Band Foundation


Photo: Field Band Foundation.

Here at the Field Band Foundation (FBF) in South Africa, we grow marching bands. During over two decades of operation, we have established after-school band programs in 22 communities across the country. Six thousand children participate in field bands across South Africa. These bands operate in rural and peri-urban communities that have little in the way of cultural, educational, or public health infrastructure. After-school activities are few. And yet, within these communities’ growing bands, people are growing, too.

FBF aims to help our members become holistic leaders in their families, social groups, and communities. Our success in that effort hinges on our ability to instill confidence in young players and staff, providing them with opportunities to boost self-esteem, find agency, and learn new skills. For some, that happens through music. Through aural training (and not sight-reading), student band members are able to join local performances and street parades—fostering not just confidence but a sense of pride and place in their communities. That feeling goes both ways; seeing their children grow provides those communities with reason for optimism and joy.

This mutual support has led participants to turn away from destructive activities and join community projects outside of band, like cleaning up local areas or assisting with local healthcare initiatives. Berenice Borake, 18, joined when she was ten years old: “As a teenage girl I had many negative habits, like stealing things from small supermarkets, smoking cigarettes, and taking drugs… I am very thankful for Field Band for supporting me through that difficult stage and giving me someone strong to believe in and grow into.”

Scatec Solar Petrusville/Philipstown Field Band performing in the FBF National Championship at the Imperial Wanderers Stadium, Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Michel Bega.

Other students find their voice in different ways. Band member Neo Makosha, 17, grew through leadership. “In 2019, I was appointed to become a Peer Educator. I am not an A-student and I had never had an opportunity like this before—to become a valuable asset in the band… I am now able to stand up and do my speech for home language and English without fear.”

Recognizing their importance to our work, we recently designed a Confidence and Empowerment Index to start measuring our progress in fostering those feelings. The Index is loosely based on Albert Bandura’s concept of “self-efficacy” as defined in his Social Cognitive Theory, which refers to a person’s belief in their capacity to control how they function and the events that affect their lives. We think of this belief as the foundation of our efforts to perpetuate internal motivation, wellbeing, and personal accomplishment.

Using self-reporting mechanisms, band members and staff complete an annual survey with different questions for junior students (6–13 years), senior students (14–21 years), and staff. These questions cover areas such as competency, agency, optimism, and role modeling, along with work environment and resilience at the staff level. It is important that we include staff feedback, as many staff members have come up through the bands, graduating from player to tutor-in-training to tutor and finally to band leader.

Last year, the survey results were interesting. Crime, not Covid, was the prevailing fear across polling groups, with gangs/kidnapping/human trafficking topping the list at 31%. Among those polled over age 14, “abuse” was named a major issue, with 15% reporting sexual abuse and 15% reporting abuse in other forms. These are alarming figures, and Field Band’s Social Officers are not trained social workers. They are, however, trained to teach life skills such as “Saying No,” “Relationships,” and “Accessing Help,” as well as to provide one-on-one support, home visits, and referrals to trauma and abuse experts.

Other responses were more predictable but no less important. The survey indicated that emotional coping mechanisms improve with age, with older band members reporting healthier coping mechanisms and lower levels of grief and suicidal thoughts. Band members report that FBF remains a safe space where members can seek support, coming in second only to family/friends as a place of safety for both groups.

De Beers Kimberley Field Band performing at the FBF National Championships, February 2020. Photo: Field Band Foundation.

Against this backdrop, it is gratifying to see Field Band instill values of resilience and confidence. Among our senior band members, 87% reported high levels of confidence across all categories in the newly implemented Confidence and Empowerment Index, with 88% claiming to have role models within FBF. Perhaps unsurprisingly, our senior students were the most confident group, as just 78% of staff exhibited high levels of confidence on the same index. Among both student groups, members have reported a stronger understanding of self and excitement at the possibility of following a dream. Among staff, the highest percentage of positive responses came in areas like optimism, agency, and competence in their roles.

Changing structural inequalities seems like a daunting task, but our work is driven by the connections we make with our band members and staff. Their willingness to engage our senior leaders in open dialogue has made the Confidence and Empowerment Index an important, evolving tool for highlighting areas of strength and growth. Their honesty allows us to continue our work, which was founded on the idea that enjoying music with other people, learning new skills, and expressing emotions in healthy ways are the keys to individual courage and agency, strengthened community, and joy for those who participate. When we feel that togetherness, this work isn’t daunting at all.