Instruments tuned up by their creator, Urban Steel is set to sway Rochester. Next stop, Antigua?

Instruments tuned up by their creator, Urban Steel is set to sway Rochester. Next stop, Antigua?

NOTE: This article first appeared in the D & C. The missing pics can be found at D & C article/Urban Steel

• June 12, 2014

Last month James Monroe High School welcomed a very special guest indeed, legendary Antiguan steel drummer Veron Henry. Fifteen years ago, Henry brought his world renowned Hell’s Gate Steel Orchestra to play in Rochester. As it was too expensive to transport their instruments by plane, Henry and his team instead built a set of “pans” here at the John Marshall High School. The band subsequently donated these nine instruments to the school.  Thus began two of the great musical traditions of the RCSD: the Steel Drum program (now at Monroe) and Urban Steel.

Principal Armando Ramirez with Veron

But drums need regular tuning, especially ones past ten years old. To assist, Henry generously returned to Rochester and tuned up his creations. Needless to say, his visit was a treat for teachers and students. The pans are good to go.

Music teacher Lisa Scott is responsible for much of the current popularity and success of the steel drum program. The only one of its kind in the District, the program works in two ways. At Monroe, Scott has designated Steel Drum classes throughout the day. Hundreds of students have learned to play and perform at school concerts. Last year three steel drum ensembles, ranging from grades seven to twelve, participated in the Spring Music Fest Concert.

Monroe music teacher Lisa Scott’s Steel Band class

In addition to the classes, Scott runs Urban Steel, a group consisting of selected students based on musical abilities and commitment.  In the past, Urban Steel functioned as professional performing band raising money to support a cultural exchange program the RCSD has had with St Joseph’s Academy, a school in Antigua West Indies. For over ten years, Scott, and now retired Marshall music teacher Mary Taylor, have led the students through hundreds of gigs in the community, performed for a number of very distinguished people and played prestigious events, recorded three CDs, won an award from the Grammy Foundation, and participated in ten highly successful exchanges with St Joseph’s.

St. Joseph’s Academy in Antigua at the 2012 Pan Competition

Throughout, Scott has done it all. She teaches the instrument, as well as arranges the new music, schedules and executes the performances, maintains the equipment, drives the truck to shows, drums with the students when necessary . . . and irons the uniforms!

Myself tuning the drums

Since its inception, one of the richest aspects of Urban Steel has been the cultural exchange visits, allowing Rochester students a potentially once in a lifetime experience to jointly perform with their Antiguan peers. Unfortunately, the trips have not taken place for several years.  Scott hopes to revive the program, raising money through shows and other events. The band has been invited to play at a number of venues this summer and, shortly, a rehearsal and performance schedule will be released. As Scott says:

The sooner we raise money the sooner we can get the exchanges up and running. It’s a huge undertaking but the support we have at Monroe has been incredible and I’m sure we can do it.

So Rochester, when you find yourself delighted by Urban Steel this summer, feel good that are not just listening to great drumming but also furthering a worthy cause.

Urban Steel performing at Unity Hospital


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For more information (including booking the band) contact Lisa Scott at [email protected]

For other good happenings at Monroe see: Celebrating diversity at James Monroe High School   Monroe forging ambitious literacy partnership with SUNY Geneseo   One Parent Resource Center at a time at Monroe   In its first appearance, Monroe video club wins big at Digital Media Festival, “The Digies.”

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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