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Not Into The Clarinet? Trombone Not Your Jam? This Youth Orchestra Is All About Steelpans

The steelpan drum, an instrument made popular in the Caribbean, is the catalyst for a new youth music program in Wilkinsburg.

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, the steelpan was traditionally made from used oil barrels and discarded metal objects. Modern versions are made from 55-gallon industrial drums and are played widely throughout the Caribbean. The shiny silver pans are bowl shaped. Melody and rhythm are played with mallets that hit notes indented inside the pan.

Leigh Solomon Pugliano and her husband David Pugliano, through their organization Barrels to Beethoven, have created the Wilkinsburg Youth Steel Orchestra, a music program they hope will provide cultural and arts education.

“It’s a great chance to spread steelpan to another community," said David. "The benefits are really great for young people, who just find confidence in playing an instrument that is very unique."

The steelpan holds a special place in the heart of Leigh who was introduced to the instrument in Guyana, South America where she was born.

“I grew up playing the steelpan, and as a young immigrant in the United States, it’s something that gave me and my sisters confidence, it allowed us to travel, meet different kinds of people and helped us throughout our growth,” said Leigh.

And that growth is something she and her husband want to foster in young people in the Wilkinsburg area.

“Build that connection, that sense of pride, that sense of community, and for people to come from out of where they live and teach other neighborhoods about their community, about their experience through music and through performance,” said Leigh.

The Youth Orchestra will focus on the technical aspects of the steelpan, as well as music theory and performance.

“I think anybody who finds a love for music, whether they have prior instrument experience or not. If music that you can connect with, this is definitely a great program for you,” said Leigh.

Daynerah Lovings of Wilkinsburg has been attending The Barrels to Beethoveen Pan Camp for two summers.  She said she enjoys the challenge of the instrument.

“It’s fun to do, and some of the songs are hard, but I get them,” the 10-year old said.                                           

Leigh said that Wilkinsburg is the beginning of what she hopes will be a larger movement in the Pittsburgh area.

“So young people throughout the Caribbean would learn the steelpan performing within a band within their community, and those bands would grow, and eventually compete at Panarama and different festivals throughout the year," she said. "So we want build that same culture here in Pittsburgh starting with Wilkinsburg.” 

David said the orchestra is open to young people ages 12 and up, who live in Wilkinsburg and surrounding areas.