Horns Across the Border

Every once in awhile, things happen that were just meant to be. In spite of the obstacles, the light shines through. Miracles abound. Such was the miracle of music-making in Nogales, Sonora on January 23, 2014.

For the past three years I have walked across the border each week to Mexico, heading to the aid station called el comedor, the place of refuge for migrants traveling both south and north. Dodging machines that kick up the dust of the desert, and watching contractors build the infrastructure for a more secure port of entry at the border, I’ve pondered the humanitarian cost of this billion dollar project—this fortress in the desert. Last week I saw fractured limbs and deep gashes from missteps climbing over the wall and stumbles in the desert. A few weeks ago I held an eight day old infant, his mother stunned and immobilized, as she picked over the clothes and shoes the Samaritans carried to the comedor.

Peg and baby Santiago

Peg and baby Santiago

Hidden beneath our lofty ideals of security and sovereignty lies a grim truth: We’ve designed walls that hurt people. It is a serious trade-off. We attempt to control the movement of people across sensitive geography thereby inflicting suffering upon the bodies of the most vulnerable. Tons of tomatoes and chilis pass through the new port of entry on huge trucks, bringing Americans affordable food. The people, however, the ones who pick the fruit and harvest the crops, are cast aside and forgotten. They sit inside the comedor, dreaming of ways to breach the wall, trying to figure out how to earn enough money to survive today and tomorrow.

Feeding the hungry at the comedor

Feeding the hungry at the comedor     (photo: John Toso)

There has to be a better way to resolve this problem of borders and the violence we inflict on each other. People ought to be able to move from one area to another and retain their dignity as human beings.

Last summer, as my hopes for national comprehensive immigration reform and legislative action dried up like the parched earth of the desert floor, the germ of an idea began to develop.

I have another life, a life of making music. I thought about creating music with our Mexican neighbors to the south.

View of Nogales, Sonora

View of Nogales, Sonora    (photo: Marty Ethington)


I pound the timpani in an excellent concert band in Green Valley, Arizona. Playing in orchestras and bands has been a lifelong avocation for me, keeping me sane when my work life as a nurse seemed overwhelming. Together with Tim Welch, Green Valley Concert Band President, we hatched a plan about performing a concert in Nogales, Mexico. We would call it “Horns Across the Border.”

The goal was to collaborate in a performance with the Nogales Municipal Band, but I learned that the band no longer met regularly, and so had disbanded. The question was, how do I get in contact with Mexican musicians so we can make music together? How can we rehearse together? Can they come to Green Valley? Should we travel to Mexico? Can the Mexican musicians cross the border? Is there any interest in Nogales?

Miriam, Lance and Sandy getting ready for a Nogales concert

Miriam, Lance and Sandy getting ready for a Nogales concert

Logistics were an issue. Should we stage a concert at the wall, with the Mexican musicians on one side, and our Green Valley Band on the other? We’ve built a wall that physically and psychologically hurts people. The wall acts upon the soul; it acts upon the flesh as well. People get hurt. It is not a warm and fuzzy welcome mat.

Can music transcend some of the divisiveness and fear that the wall represents?

Pat Trulock and Susannah Castro pass out pamphlets for the Border Community Alliance

Pat Trulock and Susannah Castro pass out pamphlets for the Border Community Alliance

With the help of Bob Phillips, CEO of the Border Community Alliance, and Alma Cota de Yanez, of the Fundación del Empresario Sonorense, A.C., I contacted the U.S. Consulate in Nogales, Sonora, and was delighted to learn that they were interested in this idea of a bi-national concert with our band. Christina Almeida, Diplomacy Officer with the United States Consulate, immediately set up a date, October 17, 2013, and we began making plans.

I quickly called John Snavely, our conductor, and Tim Welch, Band President, and they enthusiastically said, “Yes, let’s do this!” The Teatro Auditorio de Nogales was reserved on the appointed date. We rehearsed in mid-September; band members quickly applied for passports. We rented a bus and van. Arrangements were made for a light supper for band members before the concert. We would reach out to the musicians in Mexico and invite them to our concert.

A flash mob band performance in the Safeway grocery store

A flash mob band performance in the Safeway grocery store

And then, the U.S. government shut down. On October 16, 2013. It was the sequester, and our concert debut was canceled. We were stopped in our tracks. Boom. End of story.

I was furious. Furious with the Republicans, the Democrats, the Tea Party, Obama, all of them. Profoundly discouraged, we licked our wounds for a few weeks, grumbling about the dysfunction of our government.

We lived through the closure of Federal offices and facilities. I wondered how Congress could allow this to happen.

Picking ourselves up, we scheduled another date, January 23, 2014. I crossed my fingers that the government could keep on task and act like grown-ups.

And then the light shined upon our band of merry music-makers.

Debbie Gurocak performs "Carnival of Venice" on her golden flute

Debbie Gurocak performs “Carnival of Venice” on her golden flute

Rescheduling a performance on January 23, 2014, we planned the band’s first international tour. In fact the seventy-four band members and guests that traveled to Nogales, Sonora was the largest group that the U.S. Consulate has sponsored, ever. As Dan Shearer, editor of the Green Valley News, stated:

A bus full of musicians from Green Valley managed to do in two hours what it takes diplomats and politicians years to pull off: They reached across the border Thursday night and made a nation smile.”

Chatting backstage with Alejandro Encinas of Imfoculta, Chad Cummins, U.S. Consulate General, and Dr. John Snavely, band conductor

Chatting backstage with Alejandro Encinas of Imfoculta, Chad Cummins, U.S. Consulate General, and Dr. John Snavely, band conductor

Gazing out into the audience at the Teatro Auditorio de Nogales, the house looked like a sell-out. More than 800 people turned out for our concert. We played classic American jazz, a medley of Elvis Presley tunes, a Mexican march and even a sexy tango, with dancers performing some sensuous kicks and bends. I watched heads bobbing to the music, and people clapping in rhythm to our marches. There were shouts of “bravo,” and a couple of standing ovations.

Bev and Chuck do a steamy tango

Bev and Chuck do a steamy tango


Dr. John Snavely, our conductor, donned festive hats and jackets to match the music–a Russian fur hat for “Pictures at an Exhibition,” and a scarf glittering with sequins for the Elvis medley. Of course he wore a huge sombrero and colorful poncho for “Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass,” and the audience erupted in laughter and cheers. One patron laughingly told him afterwards that he was wearing the sombrero backwards. But no matter. This was a cultural love-fest, and both the band and audience reveled in the light-hearted fun.

Rehearsing "Buglers' Holiday"

Rehearsing “Buglers’ Holiday”

Honored with the presence of Mayor Ramon Guzman of Nogales, Sonora, Chad Cummins, U.S. Consulate General, and Alejandro Encinas, Director of Imfoculta (Cultural Center), as well as Arizona State Senator, Andrea Dalessandro, the VIP section of the auditorium was well represented with borderland stars.

This event was community organizing at its best. Several non-profit organizations in both Mexico and the U.S. worked together to transport the band, reserve the theater, gather enough chairs for band members, feed seventy-four hungry musicians after a long rehearsal, carry instruments and music stands back and forth from bus to stage, and deliver the group safely through checkpoints and customs officials. Many band members were dubious and nervous about traveling into Nogales for this musical adventure, but were delighted with the teamwork and camaraderie of our Mexican brothers and sisters. There were smiles all around.

Tim, Karen and Frank in the with posters in the lobby of the Teatro de Nogales

Tim, Karen and Frank with posters in the lobby of the Teatro de Nogales

So we’ll be back, Nogales!

And the Green Valley Concert Band accomplished this miracle of music with very little cash. The U.S. Consulate granted the band a modest stipend to defray the cost of the bus plus a few miscellaneous expenses. It doesn’t cost much to share good music and good will. Barriers were torn down in China with a ping-pong game. Leonard Bernstein helped crumble the Berlin Wall with his “Ode to Joy” and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. And the Green Valley Concert Band brought smiles and a few nostalgic tears to a crowded theater playing “Heartbreak Hotel” and the “Zacatecas March.”

Our own government could take a lesson from all of this. Billions of dollars do not build friendships and trust. Sharing artistic and cultural dreams succeed where walls and guns fail.

Val Roehl (right side) shares a laugh with concert goer in Nogales

Val Roehl (right side) shares a laugh with concert goer in Nogales

Viva Mexico!

Viva La Banda de Valle Verde!

Special thanks to Alma Cota de Yanez (FESAC), Bob Phillips (Border Community Alliance), Christina Almeida (U.S. Consulate), Tim Welch (Green Valley Concert Band President), Bill and Sue Krinke (Green Valley Band Managers), and the many organizations in Mexico responsible for the food, the security, the movement across the border, and the hospitality at the theater.

Please direct your comments and thoughts to Peg Bowden in the “Comments” section of the blog.  I can also be reached at pegbowden1942@gmail.com

If you wish to receive regular postings (usually once/month) to this blog, register in the Announcement List space in the right-hand column, and you are automatically on the email blog list.  This is a new system.  Many of you have already registered.

The Green Valley/Sahuarita Samaritans is a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent deaths in the desert.  Information and contributions can be directed to:  www.gvsamaritans.org

The Green Valley Concert Band is an all volunteer community band that stages some of the best band music in southern Arizona.  Their website is:  www.greenvalleyconcertband.org

Kino Border Initiative directs the activities of the comedor in Nogales, Mexico.  The mission is to help create a just, humane immigration policy between the United States and Mexico.  Their website is:  www.kinoborderinitiative.org

The Border Community Alliance is an exciting new organization in southern Arizona focusing on the economic, cultural and humanitarian needs of the Arizona borderlands.  Non-profit status is pending.  Contact Bob Phillips at: rtp9@earthlink.net   for more information.

~ by Peg Bowden on January 28, 2014.

9 Responses to “Horns Across the Border”

  1. Peg, What a wondrous, heart-warming story!

  2. Peg, What a monumental inspiration you,the Green Valley Band, and the support infrastructure provided for all of us to begin this new year! Thank you for never giving up, for believing that music heals, builds relationships, and most of all leaves us all with hope,! I was in the Samaritan contingency who came over to honor you. As I was walking to the “teatro” after a joyous dinner at Las Rocas, I noticed a day worker,sitting alone on a bench in one of the many plazas. We smiled and greeted him. He looked up, his face creased with tiredness, and said clearly in English,” I am glad you are here,” As we passed others hurrying along the streets, it reminded me of any busy city at 6 pm, except people actually looked into your face and casually greeted us with”buenas”. There was a sense of newness. Maybe walking to a place to share in listening,sitting amongst Mexican families enjoying the same melodies we all remembered is the beginning of a dream to break down the racism, stereotypes of who has the power. Being at this “first” made me see that it is really the children, the extended families, the hard working citizens of Nogales, Sonora, along with leaders like the Green Valley Band who our the real architects of change.

  3. An exciting story of a precedent-setting event! Beautifully told and wonderfully documented with photos. I feel like I was there. ¡Bravo! to all who made it happen.

  4. Thanks for sharing this story Peg and for using all of your gifts to reach across borders – wish I could have been there for the event

  5. Hey Peg,

    I just got to read your most recent blog as well as the GV news article about your concert. I am sooo happy for you and all of the other musicians, organizers, etc! It really is something special. The cross-border Nogales community never ceases to amaze me. It makes me smile to think about a community acting as a community, regardless of that wall. People should really try to duplicate the model that you and the community and humanitarian organizations on the Nogales border have set into motion. I take it this is the first concert with more to come in the future?
    Marty Ethington

  6. Dear Peg, With tears in my eyes and a warm feeling of gratitude in my heart,I read an email, here in New Zealand of a feast of music, minds and hearts in Nogales, Sonora Mexico. Congratulations to all who participated. Well done.

    It seems fitting, today, to pass along the wishes of another fine musician-communicator, Pete Seeger, “May you stay ‘Forever Young.’ ” Joanne and Chris Amoroso

  7. The concert was wonderful, Peg. It must be fun for you to play with such a talented group and be directed by John Snavely. He is a hoot! The Mexicans there absolutely loved it.

    Congratulations and thanks for all your efforts to put this together. What diplomacy!!


  8. Amazing story of how love was shown through music. Kudos to everyone who helped make it happen. Politicians, take note!

  9. Bravo to you, Peg, and all your talented cohorts. I like the several versions of the simple fact that the wall hurts people. And, to echo another blogger, how blissful it must be to make music with others. You’re a true ambassador for joy.

    Judith Whipple

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