Thursday, 13 October 2011

Dogs aren't just for Christmas; Steelbands aren't just for Carnivals

Dear Debs

In the middle of the carnivals and festivals this summer came a poignant moment. On the last Saturday in August, which would have been Donovan's 23rd birthday, six Doves/Foxwood played at Harehills Cemetery for the unveiling of his headstone. John said that Donovan wouldn't let it rain; and there was a moment when we watched the rain fall on one side of the trees, but not on us. Obviously we played You'll Never Walk Alone.

I've always discussed the value of music with my music students; for the highs and lows in life; for happy and for sad; for the weddings and the funerals. Six years ago Sheena, staff member from City of Leeds died, and her son and daughter [David and Lyndsay] asked the Sparrows if they would play at the funeral. The band, mostly then years 9 to 11 [aged 14 to 16] felt uncomfortable and said "it wasn't right". David and Lyndsay came to meet them and told them how much it would mean; six players agreed to do it, and then we had a skirmish about playing the calypso numbers. They said "it wasn't right", and David and Lyndsay had to talk them into it.

In the end, Lawnswood Cemetery 2004; Sheena so popular the whole school was closed for the afternoon, and we Sparrows cried and played our way through Dead or Alive, You'll Never Walk Alone, Le Onde and the theme from Swan Lake.

This summer it was hard too when it came to playing in Harehills. The family around the grave; should we really be playing Under the Boardwalk or Diamonds Are Forever? Yes we should, and yes we did, but it was difficult. And out of our band, one was a cancer-survivor herself, and one had lost her own very young brother-in-law to the same disease and, in fact, Chris had shared the same cancer ward with Donovan all those years ago.

But I guess, of equal importance, when six school student pan-players played at Lawnswood, and when three steelpan teachers and three students played at Harehills, they played played as musicians. And their role, in both instances was secondary, as background; they played music in order to support mourners at a very difficult time in their life.

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