The music of the steelband is alive and well in the American state of Virginia with the energetic youth orchestra, Mosaic Steelband, led by Dr Anthony Hailey. Mosaic, one of the bands that competed in the International Panorama in August in Port-of-Spain, is a non-profit organisation that offers after-school youth development steelpan programmes in Norfolk, Virginia and several surrounding communities.
The organisation is based in the Crispus Attucks Cultural Center, a historic black theatre where the stage side is based. They also have a junior group for primary students, an adult group and a senior group.
At the competition in August, they brought smiles to many at the Queen's Park Savannah with their enthusiasm and their distinctive racks festooned with United States flags. They performed the classic winning arrangement of De Fosto's Pan in a Rage that Jit Samaroo originally arranged for Renegades in 1996.
While Hailey was in Trinidad, he gave a talk at the International Pan Conference (ICP) on the positive aspects of pan in youth development. Mosaic has a number of ongoing programmes, set to expand in the new year, with a focus on underserved communities in their region.
As Hailey noted in his talk at the ICP, when you teach pan to teenagers who are often going through stressful times in their lives–especially those in disadvantaged communities–there's a proven positive effect. They learn to focus, to break down a complex task into constituent parts, to build their memory, to work together and to feel a strong sense of accomplishment and self-worth, often reflected in better classroom performance.
Hailey, originally from North Carolina, is also a professor of music at Tidewater Community College and will be starting a steelpan ensemble there in the spring in addition to his work with Mosaic. Hailey first heard pan at college at East Carolina University where he joined the university steelband, where his fascination with pan blossomed. He went on to graduate school at West Virginia University, where he met pan pioneer Ellie Mannette.
Hailey got his doctorate in world percussion in 2005 and since then, he has been teaching pan and percussion with a special interest in African percussion. He has researched the topic in both Ghana and Nigeria and has used Ewe drums from Ghana in the steelband performance.
Taking Mosaic to T&T was a dream come true for Hailey. He went to Trinidad for Carnival several years ago and played for Skiffle, Starlift and Renegades. When he first heard about the International Conference on Pan and the International Panorama, he wanted to attend.
"I had been (to Trinidad) and wanted my students to experience it. I wanted to take my ensemble," he said.
Hailey obtained initial support from the US Embassy in Trinidad for the band to make the trip. He noted that this Embassy support was key, as it gave the band's members the impetus to start serious local fund-raising–holding events, seeking grants and finding donors.
In addition to the approximately 20 members of the Mosaic stage side, Hailey got another batch of his former students, who loved pan, to join the band. Mosaic also hooked up US Virgin Islands youth steelband Rising Stars, whose director Henry Potter also wanted to take students to the International Panorama. For the competition, members of their host steelband, Sangre Grande Cordettes, filled out the ranks.
Leading up to the competition, all three groups were practising at their home locations. The arrangement came together when the three groups finally met at Cordettes panyard in the week before the competition.
The Mosaic musical director picked Pan in a Rage as their tune of choice because "I love Jit. I love his arrangements."
Hailey had a written score of the arrangement and over the years, he would pull it out and think his students were not quite up for the challenges it presented. Late last year, after seeing the growth and evolution of the Mosaic stage side, he finally felt they could do it. The process was long and hard.
"Initially, they really struggled with it and hated it, but once they got it, then they loved it."
Hailey said everyone who visited Trinidad and participated in the competition had a great time and he can really see a difference in his stage side.
"They are energised, they are really friends now, and at rehearsals you can tell," Hailey said.
"Mosaic Steel Orchestra member Precious Jernigan summarised our experience best when she said: "Trinidad has taught me a lot about having confidence, commitment, dedication, courage, pride, happiness, and hard work in everything I do. This sentiment was felt throughout the band."