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America

Published on June 16th, 2013 | by Kitoko Chargois - Pittsburg Post Gazette

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Steel drum program for teens a hit but needs permanent funding

In Alloy Studios on Penn Avenue in Friendship, the ringing tones of the lead pans mix with the steady beat of the drum set and the deeper thrums of the bass as a group of students runs through Harry Belafonte’s “Dolly Dawn.” It was another Tuesday rehearsal of Soundwaves, a program of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater that teaches students ages 12-17 how to play the steelpans. At 3:30 p.m. today, the group will perform in Garfield on Penn Avenue betweeen Atlantic and Pacific avenues as part of Penn Avenue Arts in Motion. Janera Solomon, the theater’s executive director, wasn’t content to just listen to the students rehearse. She picked up a pair of mallets and joined the students, bobbing along to the beat. As the daughter of renowned steelpan craftsman and musician Phil Solomon, she has had a life immersed in music.

A steel drum ensemble established last year at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater is making waves — not to mention music. (Video by Kitoko Chargois; 6/15/2013).  When she became executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, she had a vision of creating student ensembles as a part of the theater’s mission. “I’m a former teaching artist. I taught in a lot of schools, a lot of communities, and I’ve gotten to see how great it was for kids to learn a new instrument and a new art form,” Ms. Solomon said.

She knew that she wanted to create a youth steel band ensemble, a dream that evolved into a six-week after-school program taught by Mathew Docktor. “I was pretty excited. I mean, my father makes these instruments. It’s not like I just bought them in the store,” Ms. Solomon said. When the six weeks were over, she heard from the students: “Is it just over? Can we keep playing?” “So we contracted Mat, and we said we’re going to keep going,” she said. That was April 2012. Two years later, Soundwaves comprises six students from Barack Obama Academy of International Studies and CAPA. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the students join Mr. Docktor for a 21/2-hour session.

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