Hello Music Friends
On April 17th I traveled to Summit Academy Middle School in Akron, OH to perform with a group of fantastic youths. In addition to being a guest artist with the "Steel Dragons", I had the good fortune of seeing the kids perform their spring play "The Lion King". Personally speaking, the most captivating part of the whole experience was that these exceptional students are part of a program that is specifically designed for students with AD/HD, Asperger's Syndrome and related disorders. The majority of the students are on an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) that helps them attain goals based on their needs.
The steel drum band is an after school program that is highly sought out by the kids. The standards of being a band member are very high in that it requres a certain GPA, self-controlled behavior dedication to practicing and reliable attendance. Although the majority of students who seek out the program face behavioral challenges, come from abusive/unstable families, battle social adaptation skills and learning deficits, when it comes to playing the steel drum and being a part of the band, those conditions are non existent and become irrelevant. The band members make concious efforts to adhere to the bands poilicies so that they may continue participating. I learned of one of the students who had experienced alot of rejection and turmoil for most of her life, who made the statement " The steel band is the only thing in this school that I want to be a part of ".
In chatting with the steel drum band director, Mrs Angel Lawrie, I learned and observed that the students had gravitated towards the steel drum and that it has been a tool that has helped them build cohesion amongst the band and develop an appreciation for themselves, their peers and for music. I found it very interesting that the kids experienced a calming effect from the steel drum and its tone. The kids were also quite adept at relating to the pattern of the note layouts.
While I was equally impressed with the quality of music being taught and played by the band, I must say that their enthusiasm for what they were doing was terrific. On the night of the performance, the concert hall was filled with over 300 supportive parents, relatives and friends. Mrs Lawrie told me that they had moved the concert to a larger facility (The Shaw JCC) in order to accomodate the bigger crowds. During their first few years of existence, they were not able to handle the outpouring of concertgoers as the school grounds were much too small-Nor did they anticipate such successful attendance.
I also got to shake hands and congratulate many of the students afterwards. I made friends with a young fella named Isaac. Isaac earned one of the lead roles in the school play- " The Lion King ". Isaac shared with me that proir to coming to Summit Academy Middle School, he was constantly bullied by the students at his previous school. The combination of his peers not understanding his special needs and just being at a stage where kids can be very mean really had made him go into recluse. All of that changed when he got to the academy. He felt as though he was able to "breath" and be himslef again. According to him, It seemed as though the students and faculty knew exactly what he needed. As a result of being in such a comfortable, nurturing environement, he was able to explore his talent and his love for acting. I must say that he played the role of "Scar" with convincing passion. It was an honor to meet his beaming parents and to have him autograph my program as a momento of his outstanding progress.
I must say that the whole experience was very rewarding. I felt pride about the steel drum as an instrument and it was amazing to me how the kids embraced it. I had never known of it being used in such a setting with such profound effects. I learned so much from the kids and I will always remember my visit. I look forward to being a part of their September concert too. I'll have to practice hard and be prepared, because I know that they will be!
Be sure to click on the link below. The article speaks more about Summit Academy and features and audio interview with Mrs Lawrie.
Summit Academy steel drums are built, tuned and maintained by Steve Lawrie of Pantuner.